LTWF Special: Glossary of Terms

29 May


Here at LTWF, we use some industry terms that may not be familiar to all. To make things easier for someone who’s just starting out in this publishing business or maybe someone who just wants to brush up on some vocab, we’ve compiled a list of common words. If you have any more you’d like us to define, please say so in the comments!


Acquisitions editor: An editor who can acquire/purchase manuscripts on behalf of their publisher.

Advance: Funds paid to an author for his/her book. An advance is typically broken up in 2 or 3 payments. Payments can be triggered by signing a contract, turning in the completed manuscript, or the book hitting shelves. It is considered an “advance” because it is paid in advance of the book being available/sold in stores, and is paid “against royalties”– meaning that when your book begins to sell copies, those royalties go first toward paying your publisher back for the advance.

Agent: Short for Literary Agent. An agent works on your behalf, submitting your work to the apropriate publishers and negotiating contracts.  Agents typically take a 15% commission on whatever they sell for you, and 20% for international sales.

ARC: Abbreviation for Advance Reading Copy. ARCs are sometimes referred to as Bound Galleys.

At Auction: A term used to describe the sale of a manuscript when multiple publishers become involved in a bidding war.

Backlist: the titles written by an author which are not his/her most recent release– whether they are the previous books in a series or stand alone titles. Having a “strong backlist” means your previous books are still available and selling well.

Bookscout: an independent person utlilized by publishers to find exciting projects.

Copy Editor: An editor whose sole purpose is to fix gramattical, syntax, punctuation, etc. These are the last edits done before final proof reads.

Copy Edits: This is when the author received her manuscript, marked up by the copyeditor, and must approve or reject the changes.

CP Abbreviation for Critique Partner. For more information, check our post here.

Deal: A “deal” refers to the purchase of a manuscript by a publishing house.  The publishing industry generally uses the following euphemisms to describe the advance paid to the author:

Nice Deal – $0-$49k

Very nice deal – $50k-$99k

Good deal – $100k-$250k

Significant deal – $251-$499

Major deal – $500k and up

Denouement (pronounced day-noo-maun): Consists of a series of events that follow the climax, and serves as a conclusion to the story.

Earnout: The term for when a book “earns out” its advance– the royalties have exceeded the original advance, and the author will begin to see more funds.

Editor: a person, typically employed by a publishing house (Unless a freelance editor) who is the initial reader of your work and the one who will purchase it on behalf of the publisher. They will be your point of contact at the publisher, as well as providing you with your revision letter.

Foreign Rights, aka Translation Rights: The right to publish your book in a foreign country or in foreign language. You will receive a seperate advance for each country that purchases rights. HOT books often sell to 10-20+ countries, meaning that the foreign rights purchases can exceed the original advance and be rather lucrative. Other books sell no foreign/translation rights at all.

Frontlist: An author or publisher’s new releases.

Full: Short for ‘full manuscript’.

Genre: A classification of what ‘type’ a book is. For example: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary, Horror, SciFi, YA, MG, etc.

High Concept: A book in which the concept is easily stated, with a large hook and commercial appeal. IE, Prada & Prejudice is about “A girl who trips in her Prada heels– and lands in Austen Era england.” Jurassic Park is “A theme park with live dinosaurs.”

Hook: The element of your story, typically related to the concept/plot, that will “hook” a reader.

Lead Title: A publishers “big” book for the month or season– the one they are pushing the hardest, often the book they paid the most money for.

Line Edits: The stage of editing after major revisions are complete– typically involving word choice, cutitng a sentence or paragraph, tweaking punctuation, adding clarification in certain spots, etc.

Midlist: A midlist author is an authors whose books sell modestly or reasonably well but do not hit any bestseller lists.

MG: Abbreviation for Middle Grade, which tends to be targeted at 5th through 8th grades.

Movie/Film Option: In which a studio is purchasing the exclusive right to produce your book as a movie. It DOES NOT obligate them to do so, but it does prevent other studios from being able to. Typically renews every 2-3 years, and the author sees money with each renewal, regardless of whether the film is ever made.

MS: Abbreviation for manuscript.

MSS: Abbreviation for manuscripts.

Novella: The definition of a novella varies depending on genre, and can be as low as 10,000 words or as high as 70,000. Famous novella’s are 1984, Of Mice and Men, Fahrenheit 451, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Animal Farm.

Novelette: Shorter than a novella, this is a term for a short piece of prose fiction. Novelette’s are usually around 8,000 to 18,000 words.

Option: A clause in a publishing contract which allows a publisher to have the first right of refusal on your next manuscript. See also: Movie/Film Option

Over the transom: A term often used when referring to unsolicited submissions. “It was submitted over the transom.”

Partial: Short for ‘partial manuscript,’ typically 3 chapters or thirty to fifty pages.

Pitch: A short summary of your story intended to interest an agent or editor.

Preemptive Offer: An offer made by a publisher intended to be enticing enough that the author accepts without allowing the other publishers to consider the material.

Prose: Regular/ Narrative fiction writing (as opposed to poetry/verse or Non-Fiction.)

Query: A term for the letter submitted to agents in order to elicit interest and ultimately an offer of representation. Query letters follow a standard format. Here’s a good starting guide.

Remaindered or Pulped: When a book is stripped of its jacket and destroyed, typically as a result of lackluster sales.

Reserve against returns: A portion of the books sold during any royalty period may be held as a ‘reserve against returns.”  Typically 10-20% (sometimes larger), is held by your publisher in reserve until some time has passed and they are reasonably confident that bookstores will not ship a large quantity of books back ot the publisher.

Royalties: The money that writers make from book sales.  Initially, royalties go toward “earning out” the advance paid to them. Once a writer has earned out, they will begin to receive checks.  Royalty periods typically occur twice per year.

Sell-In: How well a book is stocked by bookstores. A good sell-in means the chains and independents are all stocking your book.

Sell-Through: The success of the book to sell the copies which the bookstores have purchased. A 50% sell-through would mean that 50% of the books shipped to stores were sold to consumers.

Serial Comma: Also known as the “Oxford comma”, a serial comma is a comma used in places that don’t require a comma for grammatical reasons. It is often placed where one would naturally pause (such as before a conjunction).

Slush Pile: The set of unsolicited manuscripts sent directly to the publisher, or to a literary agent. It is the pile of manuscripts or queries that they haven’t yet read.

Speculative Fiction: A genre classification that contains Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror

Subs: short for ‘submissions’

Substantive edits: Editing of  a manuscript in a way that changes more than word choice or punctuation – it looks at the “big picture” rather than the little details. It may involve changing plot lines, revamping characters, etc.

Vanity press: A publisher which is paid to print your book (rather than paying the author.) A vanity press does not typically distribute your work.

WIP: Abbreviation for Work In Progress

YA: Abbreviation for Young Adult. YA encompasses a lot and has fuzzy restrictions. See this helpful post on Wikipedia for more info.


18 Responses to “LTWF Special: Glossary of Terms”

  1. McQuinn May 29, 2010 at 12:49 AM #

    I’m so glad you girls posted this. I needed it!

    Question: What happens when royalties are insufficient to repay the publisher’s advance? I’m assuming the publisher bares the risk. Correct?

    • Vanessa May 30, 2010 at 8:51 PM #

      Yes, exactly!

    • mandyhubbard June 1, 2010 at 11:47 AM #

      Yes, Vannessa is correct. If your book does not earn out (as in, royalties are less than the advancce) the publisher takes a loss.

      It is bad for your career, because they may not buy another book from you….

  2. McQuinn May 29, 2010 at 12:50 AM #

    And gah! **Bears

  3. Glaiza May 29, 2010 at 3:48 AM #

    Wow this is really informative, definitely bookmarking it for when I need it lol.

    • Vanessa May 31, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

      Awesome! 😀

  4. Caitlin May 29, 2010 at 11:25 AM #

    Okay because I’m ridiculous and pronounced it incorrectly until a film class my sophomore year in college, would you consider putting pronunciation by denouement?

    also I’ve heard the term “Commercial Fiction” bandied about at a few other sites and what does that mean? I originally thought like Speculative fiction or YA it was a sort of genre to put your work into but now I’ve been leaning towards the assumption that it’s more like in fashion, where there’s “high fashion” (the more literary novels that are going for awards, like Oscar bait at a film studio) and “commercial fashion” which is sell-able to the masses. Anyway is either of these the case or was I completely off base to begin with?

    • Caitlin May 29, 2010 at 11:27 AM #

      also I forgot to mention, even though you have a whole post about them, you didn’t mention CPs/ Crit partners. I think this isn’t so hard to figure out except when it’s abbreviated to CP. I kept seeing CP in people’s blogs & etc. but didn’t figure it out until I realized what it was an abbreviation for, that was a duh moment.

    • Vanessa May 31, 2010 at 10:07 AM #

      Sure thing! We’ll edit the post and add the pronunciation of denouement.

      As for “Commercial Fiction”, it is definitely what people use to describe the type of fiction that is popular (as opposed to the other type, literary fiction). I wouldn’t necessarily call it a genre in of itself, because other genres fit under commercial fiction (such as “mystery” or “chick lit”). But you could, if you want, think of it as the main genre, under which sub-genres (such as fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc) are placed. Dan Brown is a great example of commercial fiction.

      Literary fiction, as you said, does appeal to a smaller crowd (often thought of as the “intellectual” crowd). It is often based more on style and character depth, whereas commercial fiction is often thought of as those “page-turners” that focus more on narrative and plot).The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a good example of literary fiction.

      So your second guess was right! 😀 I hope I made sense.

      Oh! And as for CP, I’ll definitely add it to the list.

      • Caitlin June 1, 2010 at 10:57 PM #

        Thank you Vanessa, that helps a lot.

        • Vanessa June 10, 2010 at 3:06 PM #

          Anytime! 😀

  5. Victoria Dixon May 29, 2010 at 10:25 PM #

    Excellent notion, ladies. I’ve had problems recently in defining the differences between the following terms. I say the difference is important because I see folks all over the place contradicting one another over these terms:

    Tagline – Think movie poster verbage?
    Pitch – Verbal version of a query?

    • Vanessa May 31, 2010 at 10:31 AM #

      Logline – a one-sentence summary of the pitch for a proposed movie or television series. This sales pitch is what is used by screenwriters to try and obtain development support from a studio. It can also be used in print as a television listing.

      Tagline – A tagline is like a slogan. It is also often one-sentence (or even just a couple of words). It is often used in marketing or advertising.

      Pitch – A pitch can be written or spoken. It is similar to a synopsis, but often shorter, and needs to include all the relevant details: plot, characters, etc. The contents of your pitch will also appear in your query (though queries can sometimes be more formal than your pitch, and can also have different formats). The pitch is what agents often use to solicit interest in and introduce a manuscript.

      Query – A letter submitted by writers to literary agents in order to obtain representation. It is always written.

      Did that help at all? Let me know if you’re still unclear regarding the terms!

  6. Victoria Dixon June 1, 2010 at 5:25 PM #

    Thanks for the definitions! I was mostly pretty clear – especially BEFORE I began the online search for definition a month or so ago. I grew concerned because of how much confusion I saw from others and how much they clouded the issue for me. This did help. ;D

    • Vanessa June 10, 2010 at 3:08 PM #

      Awesome! Good to know 😀

  7. svonnah June 2, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

    Lol, I’ve been pronouncing ‘Denouement’ like day-noo-ment’! I much prefer it that way…

  8. Sara Mills June 10, 2013 at 12:59 AM #

    May I repost this list if I link back to this site?

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