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 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...

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...

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....

Is "Ahold" a Word?

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: Unlike “alot” which isn’t a word, “ahold” is a word recognized by Merriam-Webster, Garner’s Modern American Usage and most...

How Do I Juggle Story Ideas?

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 I do? —Rachel T. A: Buy some index cards, and keep them next to you while you work on...

Agent Miriam Kriss On: Is There Still Room in Urban Fantasy?

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...

Can You Submit the Same Piece to Different Contests?

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? Is there any obligation to notify both parties? —Dena M. A: Unless the contest guidelines specifically state that you...

Can I Write for Multiple Genres?

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. A: Absolutely not. While there are clearly advantages to focusing on one genre—platform building, audience base, honing your skill...

How Do You Style a Character's Thoughts in Writing?

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 A. A: While you’re not excited about italics (and truth be told, I don’t exactly break out the sparklers,...

What's Considered a "Clip"?

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 in magazines or newspapers. So, if you wrote “How to Train Your Husband-To-Be” and it was printed in the...

Winners Announced: Fifth "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

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 The Dreams by Stephanie Sauvinet Vicesteed by Abra Staffin-Wiebe Azrael’s Curse by Adam Heine PRIZES! Top 3 winners all...

Is "Alot" a Word?

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 in constant use. Can you help me? —Lynn B. A: You are correct: “alot” is not a legitimate word...

What is Co-Publishing?

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 author and the publisher share publication costs to get the book in print. This is more common in poetry...

''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

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 Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool...

Winners Announced! Agent Regina Brooks Names Her Contest Winners

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 three winners. The winners (listed below) receive a free year of WritersMarket.com access as well as a critique on...

Eminent vs. Imminent

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 language. But they aren’t synonymous with each other and, in fact, have completely unrelated meanings. “Eminent” is used to...