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Writing Books/Local Character Names


Ms Bobbie Christmas

First of all, I would like to point out that I am a Malaysian.

I am currently in the process of finishing up my edits for my (possibly) first book. Few people have been asking to read them before the book is ready so I passed around my prologue and first chapter around for reviews.

So far, the ONLY comment from three people I have shown, I received was that they are uncomfortable reading local names. As mentioned, I am from Malaysia, a multi cultural country and I introduced in a prologue a Malay character and in my first chapter a Sikh character. The problem stems from the fact that Malaysia have few, if not none, non-urban fiction writers and my genre is sci-fi/superhuman fiction. So every reader who are into this genre are, in a layman language, "Americanized".

I understand what do they mean because we are so used to reading English names in these genres and I struggled with it myself during the writing process. The problem with me using American or European or anything other than Malaysian is that I don't fully understand the culture, geography and history as much as Malaysia and I would like to stick to my core as a Malaysian, writing a superfiction novel with Malaysian settings and Malaysian primary characters.

One commenter claimed that my book will never get published solely because I used local name in that genre.

What I want to ask is just your opinion on this matter. Chances are, I won't be able to publish locally since Malaysia lacks in publishing house for fiction books and none (last I checked) actually specialized in anything other than contemporary and urban literature. So my primary option would be international agents and publishing house. Do you think agents, editors and publisher will get turn off by me using Malay, Sikh, Chinese, Indian names? If so, could you spare me some advice on how to improve this matter?

Sorry for the long letter, appreciate your reply and thank you in advance.

Best wishes,

Dear Jeffrey:

I cannot speak for publishers, of course, but I wonder if the folks who read your manuscript are familiar with sci-fi. I ask because sci-fi is known for using very odd names, sometimes unpronounceable ones. It would seem to me that using international names would add to the marketability internationally, because there is a definite movement in America toward being multicultural, so I would think that using names from other cultures would be a benefit, not a drawback.

Best of all, the names of characters are not enough, in my opinion, to bring rejection from an agent or publisher. If a publisher requests a name change, the change can be done quickly with a few computer commands and key strokes. Rather than caring about names, publishers look for a strong, compelling, well-told, well-written story. Concentrate on creating a good plot with interesting twists, turns, dialogue, and subplots, and make sure the manuscript is edited and clean. Those points are much more important than a few character names.

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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