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.


Should You Give Editors Your Social Security Number?

Q: I was recently given an assignment with a local magazine and the editor asked me for my Social Security number. I’m uncomfortable handing out that type of information and wonder if it’s normal for editors to ask for it. Or am I just being paranoid? —Anonymous A: It’s not unreasonable...

Are Online Images Fair Game to Use On Your Blog?

Q: Recently someone informed me that I violated copyright [by posting] one of his cartoons on my blog. I apologized and removed the image. Now I’m worried about other images I’ve used. My blog is simply to connect with other writers and I don’t make any money from it. What are...

More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?

Q: I have an editor that’s always changing “over” to “more than” in my articles. For example, if I write “The baseball player received an endorsement deal for over $10 million,” she changes it to “more than $10 million.” I’ve always thought both were acceptable. Am I wrong? –Anonymous A: Throughout...

Winner Winner! 8th ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest Winners Chosen

Agent judge Lindsey Clemons of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents recently wrapped up the eighth “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog and has picked her three winners. The winners (listed below) receive a free year of WritersMarket.com access as well as a critique on their first 10 pages from Lindsey. Congrats...

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...

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...

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...

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:...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...