Questions & Quandaries Blog

Online editor Brian A. Klems has been writing for Writer’s Digest since 2003. He covers the most pressing grammatical, ethical, business and writing-related questions—and often does it with a bit of humor.


Staples or Paper Clips?

Q. When I’m submitting a manuscript to a publisher, should I paper clip or staple the pages? Are the rules the same when submitting to a contest?—D. Fuson A. In general, publishers want manuscripts paper-clipped, not stapled. It’s more difficult to read through 300 pages harnessed together by staples than it is to take...

An Interview With Novel Journey

Hey Everyone, The good folks at Novel Journey were nice enough to interview me and share it with their readers. If you get a chance, stop on by:http://www.noveljourney.blogspot.com Brian

When's the Best Time to Query?

Q: When is the best time to query agents? I’ve heard different things, like winter is bad, summer is slow, but it’s OK in the spring. Is this true?—Kristen HoweA: Spring, summer, winter or fall—agents are continually looking for good manuscripts. You’ll occasionally find one who says that she doesn’t buy around the holidays...

Novel and Short Story Word Counts

Q. How long is the typical short story supposed to be? How about novellas and novels? Are there guidelines with regard to word count for a first-time novelist? —Molly Heyl A. There are general guidelines for each literary category: Short stories range anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 words; Novellas run from 30,000 to 50,000;...

Do I Have to Live Close to an Agent to Get One?

Q: I live in a small town where there are no agents. Do I have to have an agent in my town or can I get an agent from another town or even another state? Do I really have to meet them in person or can it be strictly a phone and e-mail relationship?—Claira...

I versus Me

Q: I get confused when trying to decide when to use the pronouns “I” and “me.” Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times I just can’t decide. What’s the rule?—Anonymous A: Pronouns can be a little tricky from time to time, particularly “I” and “me,” but all you need to do is follow these guidelines...

How Do I Get Paid on Time?

Q: What steps can writers take to ensure timely payment? —Anonymous A: This kind of thing happens all the time: writer does job, submits invoice, waits for check, check never shows up, writer buys carton of eggs, Googles editor’s home address and, well, you can guess what happens next. There are several things that...

Can I Use Contractions in my Writing?

Q: I know that grammatically we shouldn’t use contractions at all unless it’s‑in speech, but I see that many nonfiction bestselling authors use them. What are the current guidelines for their use?—Henry A: Contractions aren’t wrong—they’re just less formal than the expanded forms. Using them depends on your audience. They’re far more acceptable today...

Multiple Submissions Etiquette

Q: Is it proper to send out the same article to multiple publishers at the same time? What happens if several magazines accept the article?—Casey Magan A: Hmm, did you send this same question to other magazines, too? Sending out the same query to separate publications (simultaneous submissions) gives you more opportunities to get...

Accurate Writer's Guidelines

Q: I read Writer’s Digest and keep tabs when they run market listings and I also own a copy of Writer’s Market, but sometimes I go to the publisher’s or agency’s website and its guidelines are different. Which is more accurate?—Angel A: Companies’ websites are likely to be more up-to-date than any listing in...

Tracking Queries

Q: What’s the most efficient way to track magazine queries? I’ve been doing it by date on a single sheet of paper, but that seems haphazard. —Ellen Ryan A: There isn’t a “right” way to track queries. You could create a database on your computer. You could write them on napkins and stuff them...

How Do I Get Into Sports Writing

Q: I love sports and have always enjoyed reading my local paper’s sports page. Now that I’m focusing on my writing career, I’d like to join the ranks of those who cover sports. How do I break into sports reporting? –Anonymous A: Sports writing—much like book publishing—is a fairly competitive field. And, while I...

Will My Book Get Published?

Q: I have the first five chapters of a novel written, and I think they’re reasonably good. It would be nice, however, to know if I even have a chance at getting the book published once it’s completed. Is there anyplace I can submit what I’ve written to have it looked over, or should...

Will I Get Sued if I Use Real Names in my Memoir?

Q: I am writing a memoir and need to know if I can use real names in the book. I am going to write about some terrible experiences and some don’t show people in a favorable light. Can I use their names? Also, how can I be sure to protect myself from any possible...

Can I Trust That Writing Website?

Q: Is there a way to verify the legitimacy of Internet-based sites that offer writing classes? How can I check on their standing in the business community?—Cynthia Cheng A: Ah, the Internet—where anyone can be an authority on anything. You’re right in wanting to protect yourself, and one easy step is to contact Writer...

Using Famous Names and Proper Nouns in Fiction

Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of professional sports teams, TV networks or real people (e.g., the Los Angeles Dodgers, FOX Network or Rupert Murdoch)?—Jeff Stanger A: If your character is a Dodgers fan or loves watching FOX news or happens to walk past Rupert Murdoch on...

Hiring a Public Relations Specialist

Q: I’ve finished my book, landed a contract and have a publication date. Should I hire a public relations specialist to spread the word? –Ozzie G. A: While most of us don’t have loads of extra cash to drop on hiring a PR specialist, most of us don’t have a bestseller on our resume...

Is It People or Persons?

Q: What is the correct way to write the following sentence: “Mark was one of the most generous persons I’ve ever met,”  or “Mark was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met”? Help!—Mark A: Ironically, Webster’s New World College Dictionary’s definition of “people” uses the word “persons” five times. Why? The meaning...

Query Letter Synopsis

Q: Every time I start to write a query letter, I seem to write an entire synopsis of a work. How do I know where to stop? — Adora Mitchell BaylesA: This is an extremely common question. Most writers (myself included) can babble on about their brilliant ideas (which we all have many) and...

No Agent? No Problem

Q: I would like to know what an author is to do if a publisher were to offer up a contract to him or her when there is no agent involved?— C. L. FreireA: Negotiating a book contract is a lot like buying a car—there’s some give and take, not everyone will get the...

Starting a Sentence With "But"

Q: So, BK, what about starting a sentence with “but”? Is there a rule for that? Because I do it all the time. But I really don’t want to, if it’s against the rules. It’s just so hard to be good sometimes. —Amanda Joann SmithA: I once covered this in the magazine and what...

When Burnout Sets In

I’ve been planning to start writing a novel that is burning inside me but my day job gets in the way—and it’s not because of time. I get paid to write; I’m a science writer. I do a lot of writing for the Web about vaccines, infectious diseases and things like that, but no...

How Hollywood Handles Book Options

Q: I’m curious to know how a novel gets optioned for a movie. What’s the process and, as an author, what can one expect?—Marlon Sanders A: The first step in this process, of course, is to write an amazing novel. That’s how Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) did it. That’s how Christopher Paolini...

Looking To Get Paid

Q: I’ve been writing articles in one of the local papers here in our hometown, but I’ve never been paid for my work. The Editor/Publisher of the paper knows me personally. Do I have the right to ask for some compensation for my articles? (Thanks to avid reader Soly Paraiso for this question) A:...

Everyday Versus Every Day

Q: Sometimes I see “everyday” as one word and sometimes I see it as two (“every day”). Are both correct? Is there a difference? —Karen S. A: The English language is tricky sometimes, and this instance is a perfect example—yes both “everyday” and “every day” are correct, but they can’t be used interchangeably. While...