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.


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...

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,...