The Devil's Dictionary Of Publishing Terms

Recently, the marvelous Liana Brooks posted a link to her Glossary of Publishing Terms. I was in mid-afternoon brain-death and hoped it was going to be something snarky á la Ambrose Bierce. Instead, it was a clear and concise, perfectly helpful breakdown of many things it took me nearly a decade to learn. How useful and disappointing!

It was clear that if I wanted snark, I was going to have to bring it myself.

Et voilà!

The Devil's Dictionary of Publishing Terms

  • Author: Someone who takes a little time off Twitter each day to arrange words in a more or less pleasing order for profit. Nervous, excitable, and often drinks to excess.
  • Critique-partner/group: Either the best friends or the worst enemies an author can have—and frequently both at the same time.
  • Alpha/Beta reader: An author's spouse or parent.
  • Agent: Like the great white shark from which at least one agent takes inspiration, agents were once populous but their numbers are declining. This is due to any number of industry factors, including increases in digital publishing, the recession, gay marriage, and the recent demise of the giant, scarred, and senile whale more commonly known as Borders.
  • Editor: Someone who knows quite a bit more about your book than you do. And then, magically, helps you fix it. (Hi, Meghan!)
  • Reader: Another person who knows quite a bit more about your book than you do, since they have given you money for the dubious privilege of reading it. Alternatively: your mother. (Though not my mother, who has repeatedly promised not to read any of my erotic romances. Hi, Mom!)
  • Draft: A steaming pile of crap.
  • Manuscript (MS/MSS): A pile of crap that has been left to cool.
  • Word count: The sum total of all you have ever accomplished in this world. It creeps upward, but not as fast as the sand in your life's hourglass falls downward. Try not to think about this when drinking to excess.
  • Novel: A book where all the adjectives and frothy descriptions have been let stand.
  • Novella: A book that is short on plot and character development.
  • Short story: The dust bunny of the literary world—occasionally they form larger collections that are then swept under the rug.
  • Flash fiction: If all the flash fiction in the world were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised. (Hat tip to Dorothy Parker!)
  • POV: Point-of-view. Shorthand term for the theory that if a human brain gets exposed to a broad enough set of perspectives at once—it will explode.
  • MC: Main character. Perfect, except for one socially sanctioned flaw, like stubbornness or vampirism.
  • WIP: Work in progress. A manuscript doomed never to be completed.
  • DL: Dialogue. For historicals, simply write the way you normally speak, then pepper it with outdated curse words: Lawks! Demme! Gadzooks! For contemporaries, everyone in the Northern US speaks 'normal,' and everyone in the Southern US has a twang. {Side note: if anyone can think of a contemporary romance where either hero or heroine has a Boston accent, I would find this very interesting.}
  • Genre: This book will never win the Nobel Prize for Literature, because you can describe its basic plot with a simple formula like: Boy meets girl. Man builds robot. Detective solves murder.
  • Sub-genre: Viking boy meets modern girl. Victorian man builds steam-powered robot. Scandinavian detective solves Scandinavian murder.
  • Publishing: The first thing Gutenberg printed was the Bible. The second thing Gutenberg printed was an essay lamenting the death of publishing.
  • Traditional publishing: A new term that sometimes means print publishing, and sometimes means New York publishing, and mostly means someone is bringing it up only to talk about how it is dead or nearly so.
  • Big 6: There are more than 6 of them. Or fewer than 6. But certainly not 6 exactly.
  • Indie publishing: A new term that sometimes means small-press publishing, and sometimes means digital publishing, and sometimes means self-publishing, but really means that you certainly did not receive an advance.
  • Self-publishing: An old term with a new spin that sometimes means you're a bold innovator, and sometimes means you're a sap.
  • Hard cover: A book you will get as a Christmas gift from a relative and never read.
  • Paperback: A book you buy to save money on the hardback, but then proceed to destroy and dog-ear until it falls apart and you have to buy another.
  • Trade paperback: A slightly larger size of paperback, that goes to pieces slightly more slowly and is slightly more expensive. Also looks 'more literary' than a mass-market paperback.
  • Ebook: Not a real book. Or else the future of all books.
  • Bonfire fodder: To be honest, this is the first time I have ever seen this phrase, and I am beyond delighted with it. The idea of books as Solstice sacrifices tickles me just pink. Once I burned my high school math textbook in a fireplace, and it was magical.
  • E-publisher: How is an e-publisher different from a traditional or an indie publisher? Fish.
  • ARC: Advance reader copy. The bane and delight of booksellers the world over, any given ARC will either be brilliant and precious and the Next Big Thing, or will languish in the back room unread for years to come.
  • Proof copy: A much-sought luxury item, like a sleek and speedy Jaguar. But one that comes with a lot of anxiety, like a sleek and speedy jaguar.
  • Revision notes: A list of parts where your book is broken—which is, perversely, reassuring. Because you tell yourself it means only those parts of your book are broken.
  • Query: A short, cheerful, to-the-point description of your manuscript that is terrifying to both authors and agents.
  • Synopsis: The longest, hardest way to make your much-loved, slaved-over manuscript sound dull and shoddily written.
  • Advance: Magical elven coins that turn into dry leaves when you A) realize they count against royalties, and B) are taxed.
  • Royalties: Very small numbers that nonetheless feel as though they are ten times larger, because these are what make you a Real Author.
  • Earning out the advance: Hitting the jackpot.
  • NYT: The Old Grey Lady, whose book review section is mostly full of Young White Men.
  • NYT Bestseller: Have you seen that old political cartoon where William Pitt and Napoleon are carving up the globe like it's a turkey? I imagine something like that happening to the NYT Bestseller list, but with J. K. Rowling (who famously broke the list), J. D. Robb/Nora Roberts, and James Patterson.
  • Review: Like having stage fright and performance anxiety at the same time, but at least it's acceptable to not be wearing pants.

An etching by Gustave Dore, showing a muscular, pale-skinned man with long hair, princely armor, enormous batwings, and a forlorn expression. One hand is resting on the rock face behind him, supporting his unsteady body.

{Olivia Waite is a little obsessed with all things devilish lately, on account of her forthcoming novella, Damned if You Do. Just be grateful she didn't feel like telling you all about apple varieties today. BECAUSE THAT DAY'S A-COMIN'.}