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.


Can I Resell an Article That's Already Been Published?

Q: When submitting an already published article—which carried one-time rights—what information do I owe the new editor?—Jack C. A: You need to tell the new editor the name of the publication and the issue date in which your article first appeared. Also, make it clear that you sold them only first serial rights, and...

I Could Care Less or I Couldn't Care Less?

Q: Every time I say, “I could care less,” my husband stops me and says, “It’s ‘I couldn’t care less.'” But everyone I know says it the same way I do. Which is correct?—Anonymous A: For years, my grandma beat “I couldn’t care less” into my head just as often as she made me...

How do you Represent the Deceased in Fiction?

Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of the dead, e.g., JFK, J. Edgar Hoover, etc.?  —Thomas W. A: When writing fiction, it’s generally OK to use the names of deceased people in your work and even create events that didn’t actually happen (Forrest Gump is a good...

8th "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest: Literary Fiction

This contest is closed as of the end of Sunday,Jan. 23, 2011. Winners announced in threeweeks or less. Thanks for entering! ——————— Welcome to the eighth (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest,...

Is it "Can I" or "May I"?

Q: I still occasionally have to stop and think about the “can” and “may” conundrum. Could you explain the differences once and for all?  —Marcus W. A: This question takes me back to my elementary school days, where my fourth-grade teacher wouldn’t let me be excused to use the restroom unless I asked her...

Can You Publish Letters From Other People in Your Work?

Q: I plan to write a series of prank letters to politicians, celebrities and manufacturing firms, and then publish my letters and the replies in a book of humor. Do the replies to my letters become my property to publish in my book? —Gene M. A: Letters sent to you aren’t your property—or, at...

Understanding ISBNs and What They Mean for Your Book

Q: What is an ISBN, and what’s its purpose? Can I apply for one without being a company/publisher? —Kathryn N. A: An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that identifies a book for purposes of commerce and supply chains (before 2007 it was a 10-digit number, in case you see it...

What Should a "Short Bio" Include?

Q: I have an article being published in a magazine and the editor e-mailed me asking for a short bio. This is my first time being published. How long is “short” and what should I include? —Robert K. A: Congratulations on your first publication! Typically a short bio consists of one to two sentences...

Should You Grant an Exclusive Read to an Agent?

Q: I recently had an agent respond to one of my queries and request my full manuscript. More interesting, he wants a six-week exclusive read on my book. I don’t want to blow my chance here, but I also don’t want to sit around six weeks only to get rejected and find out I’d...

Question Mark Placement in Dialogue

Q: When writing dialog where one character poses a question to another, where do you place the question mark? Does it go inside the quote mark or at the end of the entire sentence? –Tamara T. A: The question mark should always appear at the end of the question—whether that’s the end of the...

May vs. Might

Q: “I may go to the store.” “I might go to the store.” Is there a difference between these two sentences? I’ve always been confused as to when to use “may” and when to use “might”? —Joe A. A: Both “may” and “might” have the same overall meaning, yes, but both indicate different verb...

7th ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Young Adult

This contest is now closed. The three lucky winnerswere notified via email on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.Thanks to all who entered! New contests soon! ————- Welcome to the seventh (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal:...

Are Government Docs in the Public Domain?

Q: Am I allowed to use text from a government document in my manuscript? —Amy V. A: The short answer is yes. Nearly all documents published by the government are part of the public domain and, therefore, free to use in your work. So if you want to use statistics from the U.S. Census...

Peak vs. Peek (vs. Pique)

Q: For some reason I confuse “peak” and “peek” all the time. Is there a simple way to help differentiate the two so I can get it correct in the future? –Brian K. A: OK, so I’m not sure if you noticed but I submitted this question myself. All writers have some kind of...

Sixth ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy

As of Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010  this contest is now closed. Winners notified within three weeks. Thanks to all participants. ——————- Welcome to the sixth (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the...

Does Selling All Rights Mean I Can't Use the Same Topic Again?

Q: If a magazine buys all rights to a non-fiction article I wrote about my granddaughters’ medical problems, can I have other articles or a book published which would include the same information? I use the same description of the disease for everything I write about it.  So far I have only published articles...

Can You "Graduate College"? (Grammar Lesson)

Q: I love the English language and hope to master it some day, but I need help with the word “graduate.” I hear people say (and see them write) “I graduated high school.” This doesn’t sound right to me. Would it be more appropriate to say “I graduated from high school”?–Brent M. A: You...

When Do I Spell Out Numbers?

Q: Sometimes I see numbers spelled out (nine) and at other times I see them in numeric form (9). Which is correct?—Kevin T. A: Most writers—including me—took on this artistic profession for three reasons: We’re creative, we love to read and, most important, we want to avoid numbers at all costs. Yet somehow, even...

How to Handle Animal Pronouns: He, She or It?

Q: When I write stories that include horses, is it grammatically correct for me to say “he” or “she” when I write about a horse? Also when referring to a horse in context, can I write “who” and “whom”; e.g., “Whom shall I ride today?” —Hans C. A: It’s not often we get grammar...

Reign vs. Rein

Q: I’ve seen many top publications (I won’t name names) using the words “reigns” and “reins” as if they are the same word. I always thought they had different meanings. Can you please clarify this?  —Sherry C. A: These two words trip up a lot of writers who tend to use them interchangeably, even...

Can You Capitalize Nouns that Aren't Proper?

Q: Is it acceptable to capitalize key words in a spiritual book, i.e., Source, Soul, Spirit, Consciousness and Oneness when sprinkled throughout the manuscript? –Mary C. A: Yes, it’s OK to capitalize those terms as long as you do it consistently throughout your manuscript. If it’s an issue, your editor will correct it. Want...

Libel vs. Slander

Q: What is the difference between libel and slander?—Mark E. A: Libel is the printing of false information that’s stated as if it were fact and brings harm to someone (or some group). Slander is spoken. Think of it this way: If my mom were to go on television and tell everyone that I...

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Agent Irene Goodman On: How to Write a Thriller

1. I look for something that jumps out at me in an original way. So many thriller queries sound the same that they all start to blur. I lean toward things that have a romanticized air to them, such as finding Noah's Ark or chasing down some ancient legend or artifact. But so much...