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.


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 use the stamps...

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 that you can...

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 2010 AS I...

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 all. For example,...

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 it from a...

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 again, even as...

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 the person whom...

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? Thanks for the...

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 fact require the...

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 reliable sales figure...

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 two times within...

Where Can Authors Find Contract Forms?

Q: My co-author and I have been asked to provide a collaboration agreement to our agent.‑ Where can‑we find a template for creating this document?—Michele A: Templates for author contracts can be found in Tad Crawford’s Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self-Publishers (Allworth Press). It’s a great resource for finding all the...

What Should You Include in Your Bio for Agents?

Q: I’ve recently finished my first novel and have begun searching for an agent to represent me. Some of the agents ask for a writer’s bio. Could you please tell me exactly what information I should include in this bio? What should be left out?—Terrie Smith A: Writers are often advised to write bios...

Dos and Don'ts

Q: When writing about a list of “dos and don’ts” do you punctuate it like I just did, or does “do’s” need an apostrophe. I know it’s plural, but it looks odd to spell it “dos.” –Heidi Thomas A: Funny you ask, as this recently came up during an editorial meeting with our managing...

SHARLA'S QUESTION: Are web scripts useful writing samples?

Hey, folks— Today’s reader question comes from Sharla.  First of all, I have to say—Sharla, MAJOR THANKS for your super-nice comments on Small Screen, Big Picture!  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it… and I’m glad you found it helpful! As for your question… here it is: “I’ve been hearing everywhere that...

Can You Use Your Spouse as a Source?

Q: I have a feature idea that includes interviewing an interesting, successful TV/film art director for an architecture or home design magazine. My problem is, he’s my husband. Ethically, does this prevent me from writing and submitting this story?—Corrie A. A: While this feels Dear Abby-esque, it’s legitimate to question your ethics when writing...

Don't Use "Exact Same"

Q: Is the term “exact same” correct? As in: “The sisters were raised in the exact same environment?”—Judy R. A: No, the term “exact same” isn’t correct. Why? For the same reason “end result,” “unexpected surprise” and “basic fundamentals” are wrong—they’re redundant. While all these expressions have sneaked into daily conversations around the water...

My Girls

Hey All, No Q this week due to the wonderful birth of my second daughter over the weekend. Mom and baby are doing great, and my oldest daughter couldn’t be more excited to have a sister (mainly because we’re letting her watch more Dora than usual). I’m a little sleep deprived, so I’m afraid...

Spinoff Contest Winners!

First of all, thanks so much to everyone who entered Script Notes‘ first-ever writing contest and sent in their TV spinoff ideas!  There were some hilarious entries… some disturbing entries… and some downright baffling entries… but all of them were a blast to read! As you probably know, the winner of the contest will...

Complement vs. Compliment

Q: I’m always getting the words “complement” and “compliment” confused. Can you set me straight once and for all?—Adam P. A: These two words used to give me a hard time, too, but with a little trick that I learned I was able to set it straight once and for all—and, hopefully, you will...

Last Chance to Submit for the Spinoff Contest!

Hey, guys– Just wanted to remind you that midnight tonight, March 22, is the cutoff for submissions to the Script Notes Spinoff Contest!  Submissions can be emailed to WDScriptNotes@FWPubs.com, or click HERE for all the rules! We have some awesome submissions so far… so take a shot at winning an autographed copy of Larry...

5 Days Left…

Hey, guys– Just a reminder… only 5 DAYS LEFT in our first-ever Script Notes TV Writing Contest!  Submit your logline and 150-word synopsis for a spinoff to any current TV show (comedy, drama, or reality) and win an autographed copy of Larry Brody‘s bestselling TV book, Television Writing From the Inside Out.  The deadline...

PITCH WORKSHOP: Erica's Logline

Hey, folks– Today’s Pitch Workshop submission comes from Erica, who’s looking for feedback on the logline for her feature film idea, Love Bites.  Below is Erica’s logline… eagerly awaiting your notes! Title: Love BitesGenre: Romantic ComedyLogline: To reclaim a powerful amulet and battle Van Helsing’s heir, Dracula’s son must learn how to seduce a...

Is It OK to Write a Fictional Story About a Historical Character?

Q: Is it OK to write a fictional story about a historical character like Paul Revere or John Hancock? —Charles A: The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one: Is Brian A. Klems breathtakingly handsome? In case you hesitated, the correct answer is yes. Capital Y-E-S. (Also, when...