Writing Terms – what’s it all mean?

When I started writing, one of those most confusing things was figuring out the lingo. I read articles about getting published and had to research more just to understand what “query” meant and to see if my manuscript was “unsolicited” or not. So, for you other confused souls I’m here to help.

Here’s some terms writers should know.

Agent: Your new best friend. These are bookworms turned contract signing ninjas! (Okay, so really, they help you polish and submit your work to publishers for a small cut of your earnings). If you’re serious about writing you’ll need one, eventually. Avoid agents who charge reading fees. That’s a no-no. Agents should never charge to read your stuff.

Author: You. Yes, you can call yourself that.

Contract: THE JACKPOT! This is a magical sheet of paper that says the publisher liked your book enough to make millions of copies! Maybe not millions but that’s what it feels like when you sign your first one. In reality it’s a legal contract you have to sign before a publisher can print your book. It outlines pay and copyright terms. Most exciting kind of boring paperwork you’ll ever sign!

Cover Letter: Short, simple, but catchy intro to your story and yourself that attaches to your manuscript when submitting. 

Editor: The big-wig, head honcho at the publishing company (or magazine, or website). You should know their name when you submit your stuff to them. People like it when you know their names, and editors… they’re people too.

Literary Agent: I once thought an agent and literary agent were two different things. They’re not. Don’t be an idiot like me. (see “Agent”)

Manuscript: The printed, or digital final draft of your story. Ya, that one – that took you 7 years to finish. It is glorious.

Publishing House: The big (sometimes little) company that prints your book. Here’s a nice list of some.

Query or Query Letter: Let’s call it a sample idea. Like those Costco taste testers that tempt you with little bites, a query letter is an idea you think might interest an editor. You give them a quick summary of the idea, and they let you know whether they’d be interested in seeing your writing about that. No guarantee they’ll publish your work, just a good way to get a feel for what editors wants. Mostly used for magazine and online content.

Self-Published: Traditionally, this is when you cut out the middle guy, skip the publisher all together and create and print copies of your book at your own expense. This side of the writing industry used to have a bad rep but is constantly evolving. This form of publishing is far more accepted now. Google it to see what’s new.

Slush Pile: That big, ugly inbox that holds all the manuscripts that editors have to work through and accept or reject.

Submission / Submit:  The scary act of mailing or emailing your manuscript to an editor (then restraining yourself from obsessively checking for a reply – they take forever to reply).

Unsolicited: You’ll sometimes see this as “unsolicited manuscripts” or “unsolicited work” it all means the same thing, it’s writing you submit all by your lonesome, without an agent. Most writers get their start here.

Writing Contract: Like with literary agent, I thought writing contract was different than contract. They’re not. Apparently I struggle when you add a second word to one I already know. Don’t judge me. (see “Contract”)

Hopefully this little guide will help you have more confidence in the writing world. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and writers, editors and illustrators are some of the nicest people you’ll ever work with.

Keep plugging away at those writing goals! And follow me for more tips and motivation!



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