Glossary of Terms
The following is a list of definitions for commonly used writing jargon and acronyms in the broader writing industry. While it is by no means complete, we hope it might assist in familiarizing you with certain concepts. If you have further questions about these terms, or any not found here, don’t be afraid to ask!
Acquisitions Editor. Someone who works for a publishing house, trained in reading and assessing manuscripts for potential publication, and is authorized to contract a literary work from an author.
Backlist. Published books more than one year old.
Beta Reader. A secondary reader, who previews a work with an eye to spotting errors, offering feedback, and/or suggesting improvements. Typically a volunteer.
Book. A published work of literature in any format (paperback, ebook, audio, etc.).
Blurb. A short summary, usually referring to the words on the back of the book jacket. Also used to describe short endorsements of the work by relevant recognized sources or celebrities.
Copy Editor. Someone who edits a manuscript for grammar and punctuation. Typically a hired professional service.
Developmental Editor. Someone who helps guide or develop plot structure, character development and motivation, theme, tension, and pacing. Typically a hired professional service.
Edits. Also known as Revisions. Corrections, additions, and deletions made to the manuscript.
Flash Fiction. Very brief, self-contained stories with word count ranges from 5 to 1,000 words on average, and a maximum of 1,500. Also known as short short, micro-story, or nanotale.
Genre. A category of commercial fiction stories such as fantasy, mystery, thriller, or romance. See Subgenre.
GMC. Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Your character wants ______ because ______, but they can’t have it because _______. A technique for reducing the essence of the book’s plot down to one or two sentences. A critical ingredient to an effective query.
HEA. Happily Ever After. The preferred story result within the romance genre.
BICHOK. Butt In Chair Hands on Keyboard. A mantra to encourage a person to write.
Hook. The all-important first paragraph of your query letter or article, meant to “hook” the reader’s attention.
ISBN. International Standard Book Number. A thirteen-digit number assigned to every book before publication, recording such details as language, provenance, and publisher. Purchased in the USA from Bowker. One is used for each format the title is published in (ebook, paperback, hardback, audio, etc.). Some retailers do not require ISBNs but they link the title to the publisher for tracking sales, etc.
Line Editor. Someone who edits paragraph structure, sentence flow, word choice, and language-related techniques which includes voice, style, readability, and forward movement. (Typically a hired professional service.)
Literary Agent. Agents represent writers and negotiate the writer’s contract with a publishing house. Acting as an advocate for their author’s book (and often, the author’s long-term career), they handle contract negotiations and receive a percentage of the advance the author receives.
Literary Fiction. Any story which doesn’t fit into any one genre, generally regarded as more meaningful and superior to genre fiction. Literary fiction is character-driven such that any action impacts the main character(s) and understanding the impact is the point of telling the story.
MC. Main Character(s). The key character(s) whose story is being told.
Midlist Author. Authors who aren’t best-sellers but still sell a little.
MS. Manuscript. An unpublished work of literature.
Novel. 40,000 words or more.
Novelette. Between 7,700 and 17,500 words.
Novella. Between 17,500 and 40,000 words.
Pantser. A person who writes “from the seat of their pants” or without plotting the story first.
Pitch. Same concept as a query, but often used in reference to a session with an agent or editor in person (or live chat/skype, if done via the internet).
Plotter. A person who plans the story before beginning to write.
POV. Point of View. Refers to the character(s) and/or perspective from which you decide to tell your story.
Query. A sales letter through which you attempt to market your idea to an agent or editor.
Short Story. Less than 7,500 words.
“Show! Don’t tell.” Writing in such a way that the reader is able to experience the story through a character’s thoughts, words, actions, senses, and feelings rather than through the narrator’s summarization. Often used as an admonishment or as a warning that you are starting to sound like a text book writer instead of a storyteller.
Single Title. Novels more than 80,000 words in length, not published as part of a publisher’s category.
Slush Pile. An accumulative “pile” of unsolicited manuscripts that have been sent to a publisher or editor.
Subgenre. A secondary genre found in most genres of commercial fiction. For example, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, high fantasy; and romantic suspense, historical romance, dark romance, romantic comedy.
TSTL. Too Stupid To Live. A phrase you don’t want your reader to be thinking when the objective in a story is to get the reader to care about what happens to your primary characters.
Voice. The distinct style, personality, and perspective of a piece of writing. When authentic, it serves as a literary “fingerprint” — made up of the author’s innate diction preferences, sentence patterns, world-view, disposition, mood, personal experiences, etc.
WIP. Work In Progress. Typically in reference to a writer’s current manuscript.
Word Count. The total number of words in a manuscript or book.
Recommended Writing-related Books
Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
Hooked: Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton
Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, Ph.D.
On Writing by Stephen King
Save the Cat! Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King
The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman
The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by The Indie Voice
The Synonym Finder by J.J. Rodale
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hauge
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass