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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.
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
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
Q: I see people use “ahold” and “a hold,” but I’ve been told that “ahold” isn’t a word. Can you clear this up for me once and for all? –Nina J. A: … Read more
Q: I have a hard time staying with my stories. Every time I start one, I think of another story plot and I never get back to the other one. What should … Read more
Urban fantasy has become a catchall phrase for contemporary-set fantasy and magical realism. It draws on many traditions of fantasy, horror, hardboiled crime fiction and even romance, blending them together in differing degrees to give us new stories with old tropes. It first really broke out with Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series in the 90s and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since, cross-pollinating additional genres as it goes, including of course young adult. By this point, it’s a mature subgenre and very crowded. So can a new author still hope to break out? Of course! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go about breaking out. Read more
Q: Is it advisable to submit the same work (essay, short story, etc.) to multiple writing contests at the same time? What if the work is accepted simultaneously by two different contests? … Read more
Q: I’m interested in writing in many different categories: adult fiction, young adult fiction, picture books, poetry and, possibly, memoir. Do I need to choose just one to be successful? —Laurie B. … Read more
Q: Writing from the third person, what are the acceptable ways to indicate a character’s thoughts? I’m not excited about italics. Can thoughts be enclosed in quotes or can parentheses work? —Frank … Read more
This new series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked.
The 37th installment in this series is with agent Rebecca Strauss (McIntosh & Otis) and her author, Allie Larkin, for the women’s fiction novel, Stay (which was just published this week by Dutton!). Read more
Q: Many times publishers indicate they want “published clips” along with a query letter. What exactly are they? —Diane H. A: Published clips are any articles or stories that have been printed … Read more
The fifth “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest wrapped up last week and agent judge Rosie Wells has chosen her winners (listed below). Congrats to all three finalists! THE WINNERS (IN NO ORDER) Beyond … Read more
There are lots of dos and don’ts list out there (and I’ve added to that pile), but overall, it’s an approach that agents and agents’ assistants look for:
1. A professional style and format that says, “I am a writer, I take this seriously, I understand that how I write, structure, and format a query letter (shocker!) affects how people view my writing as a whole.”
2. Stay formal, specific and direct. Definitely mention why you’re querying this agent/agency (e.g., an interview you read with them, titles they represent) so it shows you’ve done your research and aren’t just sending this into the stratosphere hoping for a reply. Read more
Q: Why are so many people using “alot” instead of “a lot”? There’s no such word as “alot,” right? I can’t find any source that says it’s an acceptable word, yet it’s … Read more
Q: I’ve been to a few writing conferences and have heard several authors say they “co-published” their books. What does co-published mean? –Charles M. A: A co-publishing agreement is one where the … Read more
Note from Chuck: This contest is now closed. Thank youfor submitting. Winners will be notified by email byaround June 2. Winners announced on the blog thereafter. ——– Welcome to the fifth “Dear … Read more
Apologies for the delay in announcing winners, but agent judge Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary recently wrapped up our fourth “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog and has picked her … Read more
Q: I’ve seen a word spelled two ways and was wondering which way is correct: “eminent” or “imminent”?—Phillip M. A: Actually, both are correct spellings because both are words in the English … Read more
1. Write down questions to ask the agent. Some debut authors are nervous about taking up an agent’s time so they will not communicate concerns or questions upon an offer on representation. After the initial rush and excitement of the offer, there will most definitely be questions, but oftentimes, the mind will go blank when you are actually on the phone. Make sure you take some time to mull over any questions you may have at this step in the process, so that you are prepared when the offer comes in!
2. Make sure the agent has all your info. Make sure, after signing, that the agent has all of your contact information, and also ask what promotional materials they might need for their website (a jpeg of an author photo, the link to your website, etc). Read more
Q: Can you differentiate let and leave (as in, “Let me alone” and “Leave me alone”)? I get confused as to when each should be used. –Jan I. A: There is a … Read more
This is so cool. Very soon after holding a copy of the new 2010 Guide to Literary Agents in my hand last summer, I got some more good news: my other new book, Formatting … Read more
Q: I’ve been a writer since junior high (not a very good one) but now I’m 16 years old in High School and I feel very strongly that my work and skill … Read more
Note from Chuck. It’s April 28 and it’s beentwo weeks. Regina has asked for until Mondayto pick her top winners. Winners will beannounced as soon as we know. Thanks! Note from Chuck: … Read more
The (third) “Worst Storyline Ever” Contest is now closed and judged. Thank you to all who entered. Here are the winners! “Worst Storyline Ever” Contest GRAND-PRIZE WINNER “When a pack of dingos … Read more
1. They try to throw too much into the story, thinking it will appeal to more people that way… Read more
Q: Is there a special rule regarding which pronoun to use when talking about a non-specific gender (“he/she,” “he or she,” “he”) or is it completely the writer’s choice? —Jarrett Z. A: … Read more