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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Publishing Industry (Glossary of Terms)

Author, novelist, writer... What's the difference? Spelling, for the most part. I've never found a satisfactory definition to differentiate, although I tend to think of writers as non-fiction news people (a bias left over from my newspaper days). The real difference is between an Author and a Published/Contracted Author.

When you switch from writing-for-fun to writing-for-money the whole game changes. No one I've met was born knowing the industry terms. Here's the abbreviated list, feel free to add more to the comments of you think of something I've missed.

Author: the person that writes the books

Critique-partner/group: the person or people who give back and editing advice on the early drafts of the book

: another form of crit-partner

Agent: a person who works for a percentage of the sales as a the go-between between an author and an editor of a large publishing house

Editor: 1) a person who buys the book and preps it for publication by helping the author change edit the book; 2)a person the author pays to line edit their book before publication (see copy edits and self-publishing)

Reader: the person who buys your book (we like these people!)

Draft: a version of the book that is not the polished final form

Manuscript (MS/MSS):
a polished form of the book that is sent to editors or agents

Word Count:
the number of words in your book

Novel: a book that is above 70,000 words (although going over 120,000 is not usually acceptable)

Novella: a book that is between 20,000 words and 50,000 word - predominantly published in anthologies or as ebooks

Short Story: a story that is under 20,000 words - predominantely published in 'zines or as 99 cent ebooks or in anthologies/collections

Flash Fiction:
a story told in under 500 words (give or take) - published in collections or 'zines

POV: point of view

MC: main character F (female) or M(male) may apply

WIP: work in progress - sometimes NIP as in novel in progress

DL: dialog or the talking that happens in a book

where the book goes in the book store (Fantasy, Sci-fi, YA, Romance, Mystery, ect)

Sub-Genre: the readership the book appeals to (military sci-fi vs space opera vs SFR)

the industry that turns stories from ideas on a computer to books in the reader's hand

Traditional Publishing: the process of writing a novel, querying an signing with an agent, shopping a manuscript to editors, signing contracts, revising, editing, getting an advance, and publishing the novel - this process usually takes 1-3 years between final draft and published novel

Big 6: the six major New York publishers who dominate traditional publishing

Indie Publishing: smaller publishing houses that will often publish authors who do not have agents - advanced are sometimes paid depending on the house and contract - this process usually takes a year to eighteen months between final draft and published novel

Self-publishing: the author buys cover art, pays for an editor, and publishes the book through something like CreateSpace - this can be done very quickly

Hard Cover:
a book with a hard cover

Paperback: a book with a soft paper cover

Trade Paperback: slightly larger than the standard paperback

a digital version of the book

Bonfire Fodder: a book that was not well-edited or well-written and that will be burnt at the next solstice bonfire

E-publisher: a publisher that focuses on publishing ebooks rather than printed books (Google Samhain) - some publishers will also publish a print version but the ebook will come out first

ARC: Advanced Reader Copy- a copy of the novel that is sent out to reviewers before the book is officially published - some ARCs will be slightly different than the final print version and can become collector's items

Proof Copy:
a penultimate draft of the book that the author and editors read looking for misprints, typos, and other problems

Revision Notes: editing notes written by an editor or agent for the author

Query: a short (250-300 word) letter to an agent or editor introducing the book but not giving away the ending - a query letter must include: Title, Genre, Word Count, 2-3 paragraphs about the book (usually focusing on the first 3-5 chapters), a short paragraph about the author listing any previous published work or awards, and author's contact information

Synopsis: a bare bones summary of the book that gives away the ending and mentions every major character

money paid to the author by the publishing company before a book reaches the shelves

Royalties: a percentage of the sale price off of each book that an author earns

Earning out the Advance:
when an author has earned enough money to equal the advance paid out - at this point the author begins earning royalties

NYT: the New York Times - a newspaper with reviews and lists of books

NYT Bestseller:
a book that has sold well in the opening week of publication much like an opening-weekend movie

Review: the readers comments on the book

Did I miss anything?

Edited to Add (ETA) suggestions:

R&R: Revise and Resubmit when agent or editor request changes prior to accepting a book

Also see The Devil's Dictionary of Publishing Terms by Olivia Waite - it's everything I wanted this list to be, but somehow failed to make it (because I was serious). I tip my hat to her.


  1. - Self-pub editors aren't always just line editors. Many are content editors as well (and many self-pub authors pay good money for content edits separate from line editing), so your distinction is a bit misleading.

    - In certain genres (romance, for example, a novel starts at 50,000 words (not 70k) and goes up to 120,000 words. Most other genres I've seen a novel starts at 60k.

    - Short story writers tend to get annoyed when you class anything over 5k words as a short story (I only know that because I was labeling my 8-10k stories as "short", and was promptly corrected). 5k - 20k words is a novelette (which to my knowledge, was used by the sci-fi community first). Shorts are 1k - 5k.

    - Flash fiction is anything up to 1k words, everywhere I've seen it defined.

    Obviously, there isn't an actual "standard" for word counts, but these are what I see everywhere, including most publisher sites I've checked out...

  2. Thank you, Jamie. :o) I was trying to keep it from getting too complicated.

  3. Thanks for posting those. :) I appreciate it.