Ask the book Doctor

Ask the Book Doctor: About Pronouns, Prologues, Prefaces, Forewords, Introductions, History Books, and Publishers that Contact You First 
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: When is it correct to use “their” instead of constantly using “his and her?”
Example 1: Anyone at any age can learn to use their intuition. 
Example 2: Cultural symbols differ for each person because of their backgrounds.
Example 3: She and he need to find their own musical instrument.
A: It is correct to use “their” only when it refers to a plural, so one way to avoid overusing “his or her” and other such wordy phrases is to make the noun plural, so the pronoun can be plural. Another way is to recast the sentence. Here are some potential rewrites of the examples you sent:
Example 1: Anyone at any age can learn to use intuition. 
Example 2: Because of differing backgrounds, everyone has differing cultural symbols.
Example 3: All musicians need to find their own musical instruments.
Q: Explain prologue, preface, foreword, and introduction. What are the differences?
A: A prologue precedes a work of fiction (a novel) and gives backstory, setting, or prior events leading up to the main story.
A preface or introduction precedes a work of nonfiction. The difference between a preface and an introduction is slight, in that both are written by the author to introduce the book and explain how it came about, but a preface often closes with acknowledgments of those who assisted with the book.
A foreword, however, which also precedes a work of nonfiction, is written by someone other than the author of the book. The foreword should precede the preface or introduction.
It’s fine to have a foreword and introduction or a foreword and preface, but not a preface and an introduction.
Q: How can I make my history book more interesting? Can you comment on interpretive sense for a historical writing?
A: History books become interesting when they relate interesting stories and show the interplay between personalities, countries, cultures, and times. Contrast and conflict add interest to writing of any kind. To show that conflict and contrast, the author might personally interpret events, use conflicting historical “facts,” rely on the opinions of others in the same era, or even use the opinions or interpretations of historians today, especially in light of the outcome. Anytime you can resurrect actual dialogue or quotations, that, too, aids readers in understanding and enjoying the content. In other words, writing that shows, rather than tells, engages readers, and writing that tells, rather than shows, lectures to the reader.
Q: I’m being bombarded with info from [name of publisher and marketing company deleted]. Are they the true scam that they seem to be? They send e-mails, and if you respond, someone replies to you almost instantly. They claim to have a thousand authors that they’ve published. I would greatly appreciate it if you'd give me your thoughts, even though I know in advance what you’re going to say.
A: First, when a publisher contacts you (and especially if it “bombards” you) before you contact it, a big red warning flag should go up, unless you already have a best-selling book on the market. Next, when a publisher also claims to be a marketing firm, a red flag should rise, because no traditional publisher makes such a claim, even if some publishers do help with marketing. Next, when a publisher makes claims regarding the number of authors they’ve published, another red flag should rise. Traditional publishers do not make such claims; they may refer to best-selling authors and titles in their catalog, but they don’t speak in terms of the number of authors they publish.
Yet another giant red flag went up for me when I researched the firm and found nothing on the Internet about the company. Any respectable business has a presence on the Internet.
Indeed, when any company responds instantly with great eagerness, it has something to sell you, not something to give you, and if a traditional, respectable publisher likes your book, it sends you money in advance of publishing your book; it never asks you for money or sells you any services.
You knew all those things, though, because you said you knew what I was going to say, but thank you for letting me say it.
Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at


  1. This information is hugely helpful. I especially liked the prologue, preface, foreword, introduction explanation. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

    Rain Chapman
    Author - Heart of the Maze


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