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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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

My Gnome Attack Book Lands Mention in Reader's Digest; Good News Has Inspired Another Free Giveaway to Commenters

(Update: Notified winners are Tom F & Eliza C. Congrats you two!) In appreciation of the extreme good news that How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack got a nice mention in … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 of that has been done that you need to be careful. Try for something that is fresh and appealing without being too off the mark.

2. So many thrillers are male-driven. No matter how smartass the obligatory female character may be, if she always needs to be rescued, it’s a drag. Read more

Subject/Verb Agreement for Sentences with Prepositional Phrases

Q: Which is correct: Each one of us “were” or “was” chewing on some sort of candy the day after Halloween. Is it “were” because it’s so close to us? Or is … Read more

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