It's Good to Know: A Glossary of Writing and Publishing Terms

Making it as a writer has become increasingly complicated, yet increasingly possible, with the advent of the digital age. Gone are the days of a lone author spending hours by candle light pouring his heart out, bundling the pages together, and sending it into the ether. Heck, even since I started sending stuff out in the late 1990s, the whole scene has changed. Facebook didn't exist then. The Internet was still widely distrusted. Printed out, real-world, read-them-in-the-bath copies of your book were the norm if you wanted to submit to an agent.

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Not everything in the 90s was quite so amazing. Photo by Tomasz Sienicki

Nowadays we have Kindles, self-publishing, writers' forums, Twitter, e-mail, and heck, even smartphones that do pretty much everything.

There's language to go with all of this. Interviewing Kelsey Macke the other day on her path to getting published, I realised something. For those of us already active in the online literary world, talking the talk is easy. But we've been doing it for years. Those starting out - as we all did, once - are faced with an ever growing list of terms, acronyms and slang that can act as a barrier.

Barriers are bad. Barriers keep people out. That's not what writing has ever been about.

Take this paragraph from Kelsey's interview, quoted here with her permission:

Currently, I write stories for "young people." I refuse to say that I only write YA (even though the only completed manuscript I have is YA) because I also plan on writing MG stories, and trying my hand at the new and oft debated NA category.

YA? MG? NA? They all make sense, as long as you know what they mean (Young Adult, Middle Grade, and New Adult, by the way - all classifications of books by age-range for use in-house and in-store).

Wait. In-house? It can be hard to avoid buzz words. So, let's try to clear a few up, at least.

Book Stuff:

  • PB: Picture Book (also, sometimes, Paperback). Books with lovely pictures. Young kids.
  • MG: Middle Grade. Book for kids aged approx. 9 - 13.
  • YA: Young Adult. Think The Hunger Games. Ages 14 - 18.
  • NA: New Adult. You'll see this more and more, but it's not gospel yet. Essentially, college ages. 18 - 21.
  • pp. : Pages. As in, how many.

Writing Stuff:

  • CP: Crit Partner. Someone you team up with to read each others' work and offer criticism and advice.
  • Beta: Beta-reader. Someone you get to read your book once it's done to offer feedback.
  • MC: Main Character. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • WIP: Work In Progress. The book you're working on at the moment.
  • NaNoWriMo. You'll see this one a lot at the moment, since it stands for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly event that runs through November. The aim is 50,000 words, start to finish.

Agent Stuff:

  • ms. /  mss: Manuscript / Manuscripts. The full copy of your book. Can be physical, or digital.
  • Sub / On Sub: On Submission. You submit your finished book to agents. Thus, you're on submission.
  • R&R: Revise and Resubmit. If the agent likes your book, but sees flaws, they may ask you to make some changes and then send it again. Not an offer, but a great thing.
  • Exclusive: Agents ask for exclusives if they want to make sure no one else is reading your ms. at the same time. You can say no, if you want. There's no real benefit to the writer.
  • Rep: Representation. An agent represents your book to publishers.
  • AAR: Association of Authors' Representatives. Professional organization in the U.S. for literary agents, with a code of ethics and conduct.
  • AAA: Association of Authors' Agents. Professional organization in the U.K for literary agents.
  • Slushpile: The pile (sometimes physical, sometimes not) of mss. waiting to be read. Normally unsolicited.

Publisher Stuff

  • Big Six: A catch-all term for the largest publishing houses - Hachette, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan, Penguin Group, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Though Penguin and Random are going to merge soon, which makes it the Big Five, I guess.
  • ARC: Advance Readers Copy. Before the official publication date of a book, copies are sent out for reviews and to generate interest. ARCs are not meant to be sold, though they can be traded, won, and given away.

Let me know if there are more to add. Have I left out some obvious ones? Or have you come across some new terms that need defining? Feel free to let me know in comments below. 


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