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.


Agent Advice: Irene Goodman of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency (and News About More of Her Auctioned Critiques!)

This installment features Irene Goodman of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Irene’s clients are regulars on the New York Times, USA Today, Walden, Publishers Weekly, and Bookscan bestseller lists. Together with her dynamic staff, her agency represents over 80 authors. Originally from the Midwest, Irene has a B.A. and a master’s...

''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction

Note from Chuck: It’s Feb. 1, 2010, which means this contestis now closed. Thank you for entering. Winners should be announced within 7 days or so.Meanwhile, our next contest should startwithin a week or two, as well.  It’s for writersof kids books! —————————— “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest: Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction...

Which Word Count Do Agents Want?

Q: Traditionally, a novel’s word count was estimated by multiplying the number of pages by 250 words per page (assuming standardized margins, font, double space, etc.) Now, word processors can give exact word counts instantly. When agents ask for a novel’s word count, do they want the “traditional” word count or...

Two Contests for Kids Writers

If anyone prides themselves on having a beat on ongoing writing contests hosted by editors, agents and other professionals, they should contact me. I would love to have a recurring contests update on here. Recently, I got wind of two different contests happening now/soon. Check them out: 1. Kids agent Mary...

Defining Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult

Q: I’m writing a children’s book and I see that most publishers have different classifications within the genre—picture books, middle grade, young adult, etc. What are the differences? –Kara G. A: Like any genre, there are plenty of subcategories for children’s books. Ultimately, though, there are five main classifications that you...

What to Charge for Online Writing

Q: Do you have any suggestions on compensation for writing online? –Jillian L. A: Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for this question. While there is pay for online writing, there isn’t much. Worse yet, it’s often hard to come by unless you are an expert in a field that lacks experts...

Lead, Lead or Led?

Q: What’s the difference between “lead” and “led”?—Jake S. A: “Lead” has two specific meanings. As a noun, lead (pronounced like “bread”) is a metallic element. It’s labeled on the periodic table as “Pb” and sometimes found in really old paint. The U.S. government banned lead paint in 1978. Lead pencils...

Meet Rick Qualliotine, Co-EP

I’m writing this while sitting in the office of our Co-Executive Producer, Rick Qualliotine—the only person at The Wanda Sykes Show who has actually PAINTED HIS OFFICE… making this easiest the coolest office in the place (one wall is a bright warm orange-yellow).  Rick started his career in theater, producing plays...

What is an M.F.A.?

Q: What exactly is an M.F.A. and how is it beneficial to writers? –Matthew G. A: While the initials M.F.A. sound like an outer-space contraption that the government is trying to hide in the desert, it’s actually a very valuable credential earned by some writers. An M.F.A., or Master of Fine...

Can You Copyright a Title?

Q: I’ve been working on a book and the title is very important—I use it as the URL for my blog, for a weekly column I write, etc., and I want people to identify it with me. Can I copyright a title so others can’t use it? –Anonymous A: Copyrights cover...

Can You Start a Sentence with "Because"?

Q: My grammar school teachers always told me that it was wrong to start a sentence with the word “because,” but I commonly see it in books today. What’s the rule?—Roger Allen A: Grammar teachers across the U.S., please don’t hate me, as I’m about to expose the awful truth you’ve...

Two and a Half Men: Giving Characters Tangible Wants & Conflicts

I often talk in my TV-writing classes about the importance of giving characters TANGIBLE wants, obstacles, conflicts, etc.  In other words, we sometimes give our characters internal objectives and obstacles– like the desire to find love, absolve guilt, give forgiveness, be at peace, etc.– but it’s important to find physical, tangible,...

Do Agents Steal Your Stamps? (The SASE Conundrum)

Q: Do agents steam off the stamps on self-addressed, stamped envelopes (SASEs) and resell them?! The agents demand pages, SASEs, that sort of‑thing, but—and I know this sounds cynical—many of my queries disappear.—Don B. A:Of course agents don’t steam off stamps from SASEs and resell them. They steam them off and...

Can I Query Before I Finish My Novel?

Q: I’m currently writing my first novel and am about halfway finished, but I have completed an outline and synopsis. Can I start querying agents now? A: Being a first-time novelist, it’s important to finish your book before sending out any query letters. Without a track record, you have no proof...

UPDATED: Can You Write the Sequel to Someone Else's Book?

NOTE TO READERS: AFTER WRITING THIS Q&Q I READ A COPYRIGHT LAW THAT DIDN’T JIVE WITH MY ANSWER, SO I CONTACTED AN ATTORNEY TO SET THINGS STRAIGHT. GLAD I DID, BECAUSE I WAS OFF. AFTER SOME DIGGING WE FOUND THAT THE GREAT GATSBY WILL ENTER THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IN 2020, NOT...

What is a Kill Fee?

Q: I got a contract for a magazine story that I’m writing, and it makes reference to a “kill fee.” What is a kill fee and why would a publisher and/or writer use one?—Frank A: A kill fee what you get if your editor decides not to buy your story after...

Are Men Writing Romance?

Q: I notice that there are very few male authors or stories written from the male point of view in Romance novels. Could this be because most editors or publishers in this genre are women? The best romance novel ever written, in my opinion, was “LOVE STORY,” and a male wrote...

How Do You Regain Copyrights to Pieces You've Sold?

Q: About 20 years ago, I sold a short story to a magazine. One line in my contract stated the payment was for “full rights” and another said, “On acceptance of this payment, the author transfers the copyright interest to … .” Does this mean I can’t sell the story ever...

The Difference Between Authorized and Unauthorized Biographies

Q: I’m considering writing a biography about someone relatively famous in my hometown. I’ve noticed that biographies fall into one of two categories: authorized and unauthorized. What’s the difference? A:  The difference between an authorized biography and an unauthorized biography is this: An authorized biography is written with the help/cooperation of...

U.S. vs. Canadian Formatting

Q: I’ve been bouncing some ideas for comedy TV scripts, so I bought a script-formatting book. The book is published in the U.S and I live in Canada. I was wondering if formatting rules are any different between the U.S and Canada. And what is the best formatting program to use?...

Subjunctive vs. Indicative Mood ("If I Was" or "If I Were"?)

Q: Could you explain the difference between the indicative mood and the subjunctive mood, and when to use the subjunctive mood? It’s so seldom used correctly that it leaves me scratching my head. When in doubt, should I err with “If I was” or “If I were”?—Lori McRae A: Statements of...

How Do I Track Book Sales?

Q: Is there a way to find out the current sales for a given book that may (or may not) be in print? —Tony P. A: The short answer to this is no. Due to the volume of distribution channels, there is no outlet where you can find an accurate and...

Bi-annual vs. Biennial

Q: What’s the difference between bi-annual and biennial?—Anonymous A: I see these words treated as if they were interchangeable—most often by marketing departments—but they aren’t. And marketing departments should be extra cautious, as misusing these two words could cost them quite a bit of money. “Bi-annual” means twice a year, or...