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.


Should You Post Your Novel Online for Free?

Q: Is it a good idea to serialize an unpublished novel in a weekly blog? I have a completed sci-fi novel and was thinking about releasing it online, but I wasn’t sure if I should do this. Would it be good publicity for my novel, or would it make it harder...

Why “Start Your Novel Is With Action” is Bad Advice

The cliché "start your novel with action" has a flaw—and it's a major one: What good is the action if it isn't grounded in context that’s important to the story or draws you to the main character? It's much, much better to start your story with tension, like a character conflict...

Are Serial Commas Necessary?

Q: When writing a sentence that contains a series of something (e.g., a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker), do I need a comma before the “and” connecting the final two elements? I’ve seen it with and without. Please help. —Anonymous A: The reason you’ve seen it both ways is...

Plethora Doesn’t Mean “A Lot”

Q: Can you use “plethora” to mean “a lot,” as in, I own a plethora of baseball hats? A: The misuse of “plethora” is a pet peeve of mine. The word “plethora” doesn’t mean “a lot,” it means “too many or an overabundance.” In the example, Many voters feel that there...

Is "None" Singular or Plural?

Q: The word “none” should always be singular, right? —Anonymous A: This is a major misconception. “None” can be a singular pronoun if it’s referring to “not one” or “no part,” but it also can be plural when referring to “not any.” None of the apple was eaten. Apple is a...

9th "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest: Women's/Upmarket Fiction

Welcome to the ninth (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category...

Contests: The Writer’s Fairy Godmother

With the exception of shoe size and the fact that I don’t do floors, Cinderella and I are basically twins separated at birth. My stepsisters, Query and Rejection, had been hounding me for months and I was starting to lose hope, when one magical day I received a phone call from...

Isle vs. Aisle

Q: It drives me crazy when my friends mistake “isle” for “aisle.” Can you set the record straight so I prove to them once and for all there is a difference? —Elizabeth W. A: It’s true that these two words sound alike, but you’re right—they have completely different meanings. Here’s an...

Win a Free Writing Course With Holly Lisle

Chuck says: Here’s the deal. Writer Katharina Gerlach is a writer from Germany who writes fantasy and historical novels for all ages, both in English and German. She previously wrote for me on the blog. She is giving away a free scholarship to a boot camp online worth some dough. Check...

Should You Give Editors Your Social Security Number?

Q: I was recently given an assignment with a local magazine and the editor asked me for my Social Security number. I’m uncomfortable handing out that type of information and wonder if it’s normal for editors to ask for it. Or am I just being paranoid? —Anonymous A: It’s not unreasonable...

Are Online Images Fair Game to Use On Your Blog?

Q: Recently someone informed me that I violated copyright [by posting] one of his cartoons on my blog. I apologized and removed the image. Now I’m worried about other images I’ve used. My blog is simply to connect with other writers and I don’t make any money from it. What are...

More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?

Q: I have an editor that’s always changing “over” to “more than” in my articles. For example, if I write “The baseball player received an endorsement deal for over $10 million,” she changes it to “more than $10 million.” I’ve always thought both were acceptable. Am I wrong? –Anonymous A: Throughout...

Winner Winner! 8th ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest Winners Chosen

Agent judge Lindsey Clemons of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents recently wrapped up the eighth “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 their first 10 pages from Lindsey. Congrats...

Can I Resell an Article That's Already Been Published?

Q: When submitting an already published article—which carried one-time rights—what information do I owe the new editor?—Jack C. A: You need to tell the new editor the name of the publication and the issue date in which your article first appeared. Also, make it clear that you sold them only first...

I Could Care Less or I Couldn't Care Less?

Q: Every time I say, “I could care less,” my husband stops me and says, “It’s ‘I couldn’t care less.'” But everyone I know says it the same way I do. Which is correct?—Anonymous A: For years, my grandma beat “I couldn’t care less” into my head just as often as...

How do you Represent the Deceased in Fiction?

Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of the dead, e.g., JFK, J. Edgar Hoover, etc.?  —Thomas W. A: When writing fiction, it’s generally OK to use the names of deceased people in your work and even create events that didn’t actually happen (Forrest Gump...

8th "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest: Literary Fiction

This contest is closed as of the end of Sunday,Jan. 23, 2011. Winners announced in threeweeks or less. Thanks for entering! ——————— Welcome to the eighth (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal:...

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...