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Revised and Updated: The BookEnds Publishing Dictionary, Fifth Edition

Recently a few retweets reminding me of my once-popular publishing dictionary. It was something I used to update every 1-2 years. Well, apparently it’s been four long years since I’ve looked at this.

While some of the words and definitions remain the same, there have been a number of additions or updates as publishing has changed. For those who have been regular readers of the blog, I apologize for the repetition. But just like any good dictionary, we need to revise, and here is the New and Updated Publishing Dictionary.

AAR: The Association of Authors’ Representatives is an organization of literary and dramatic agents that sets certain guidelines and standards that professional and reputable agents must abide by. It is really the only organization for literary agents of its kind.

Advance: The amount the publisher pays up front to an author before the book is published. The advance is an advance against all future earnings.

ARCs: Advance Review Copies. Not the final book, these are advance and unfinalized copies of the book that are sent to reviewers. **Sometimes called galleys.

Auction: During the sale of a manuscript to publishers sometimes, oftentimes if you’re lucky, you’ll have an auction. Not unlike an eBay auction, this is when multiple publishers bid on your book, and ultimately, the last man standing wins (that’s the one who offers the most lucrative deal).

Big Five: The five biggest US publishers–Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan.

BEA: Formerly BookExpo America, recently renamed just BookExpo, is the largest book rights fair in the United States. This is where publishers from all over the world gather to share rights information, sell book rights, and flaunt their new, upcoming titles.

Blurb: A one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. People often compare a blurb to back cover copy, and while it’s similar, it’s frequently more streamlined and focuses on the heart and the chief conflict in the story. This is sometimes called a pitch and is what you use in your query letter as well as the pitch you would use in pitch appointments.

“Blurb” can also be used in a publicity sense. You might ask someone to “blurb” your book, in which case they’ll give you a positive quote that can be used to help sell the book.

Book Proposal: The author’s sales pitch for her book. A good book proposal is used to introduce agents and editors to your book and show them not only why it’s a book they need and want for their lists, but also how well you’ll be able to pull it off. A book proposal is typically not an entire manuscript, but chapters, a synopsis, marketing information and an author bio.

Category or Category Romance: “Category” is the shortened term often used to refer to category romances. These are romances typically, and almost exclusively published by Harlequin/Silhouette in their lines. Examples of category books are published in Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Superromance, or Silhouette Special Edition. Note that not all Harlequin/Silhouette imprints are considered category.

Commercial Fiction: Fiction written to appeal to a large or mass-market audience. Commercial fiction typically includes genres like mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy. Popular commercial fiction writers include Nora Roberts, John Grisham, and James Patterson.

Commission: The percentage of your earnings paid to your agent, typically 15%.

Copy Edits: Edits that focus on the mechanics of your writing. A copy editor typically looks for grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, and style.

Cover Copy: The term used to describe all of the wording and description on the front and back cover of your book.

Cover Letter: This is the letter that should accompany any material you send to an agent or an editor. A cover letter should remind the agent that the material has been requested, where you met if you’ve met, and of course the same information that is in your query letter—title, genre, a short yet enticing blurb of your book, and bio information if you have any. This can often be interchanged with Query Letter.

Cozy Mystery: A mystery first inspired by Agatha Christie featuring an amateur sleuth in a warm and cozy environment or world. Typically the stories contain little blood (although always a murder), and no gore.

Credentials: What make you qualified to write a book and knowledgeable in your field of expertise. Credentials are usually defined by your level of education and experience on the job.

Editor: The person who buys on behalf of the publishing house. While jobs differ from house to house, typically the acquisitions editor is your primary contact throughout the publishing process. Her editorial guidance comes in the form of the book’s overall structure and writing. She’ll supply major revisions if needed.

Fiction: A story/book based on research and imagination.

Foreword: An introduction to your book that’s always written by another person, preferably someone well known and highly credentialed.

Full: A full manuscript.

Galleys: Another word for ARCs. Galleys aren’t always bound, but are also sent to reviewers as well as other sources for publicity. Galleys are often a copy of your Page Proofs.

Genre: The classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction include mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and in nonfiction you might see sub-genres like business, health, parenting, pets, art, architecture, memoir, or current events.

Hardcover: A book printed with a hard cover.

HEA: Happily Ever After. Something often required in romance novels, but of course not always.

Hook: What makes your book stand out from every other title on your bookshelf. If you’re writing mystery it’s that one element that makes your book different from other mysteries, outside of the mystery. If you’re writing a business book it’s how you make your business book different from the others in your field.

Imprint: The name within the publishing house that the book is published under. Usually done as a way to market certain types of books. For example, Aphrodisia is an imprint of Kensington. It is still a Kensington book, but by publishing under Aphrodisia you are branding the book as erotic romance. Prime Crime is an imprint of Berkley that brands the books published as mysteries.

Indie Author: Authors who publish independently of publishers or traditional publishing. Also considered self-published authors.

Independent Press: A very different term from Indie Author, an Independent Press is a smaller, often privately owned, publishing company that operates in the same way a larger traditional publisher operates.

Literary Agent: A literary agent works on behalf of the author to sell her book and negotiate with publishers. A literary agent also helps with career planning and development and sometimes editing and marketing.

Literary Fiction: Fiction that appeals to a more intellectually minded, smaller audience. Literary fiction tends to have a stronger focus on writing, atmosphere, and style than commercial fiction might. Popular literary fiction authors include Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and Elizabeth Strout.

Marketing: Marketing is advertising that is paid for, including ads in magazines, display units in stores, and things like postcards or posters.

Mass Market: Also called “rack size,” these are paperback books originally designed to fit in rotating book racks in non-bookstore outlets (like grocery stores and drugstores). Mass market paperbacks are roughly 4″ x 7″ in size.

Middle Grade: A genre targeting kids between the ages of 8-12, with characters around that age. Like other genres, there is a distinct middle grade voice agents and editors will look for.

MWA: Mystery Writers of America is the national organization of mystery writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Narrative Nonfiction: Nonfiction written in story form like memoir, biography, autobiography, etc.

Nonfiction: Writing based on fact.

North American Rights: These are the type of rights licensed to the publisher, allowing the publisher only to handle and represent book rights in North America. This means that the author and the author’s agent are responsible for selling/licensing rights anywhere outside of North America (and usually a designated set of territories).

Novel: Book-length fiction. Therefore, note that it is redundant to say “fiction novel.”

Option: Also called the right of first refusal. This is a clause found in almost every publishing contract that gives the publisher the right to have a first look at your next book before you can show it to any other publishers.

Partial: A partial is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a partial usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a partial usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Proposal.

Pitch: Frequently verbal, the pitch is your Blurb. It’s a one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. It’s what you use to describe the story and entice readers to read the book.

Placement: When your book gets special treatment in the bookstore. Outside of just putting your book on the shelf where it belongs, publishers can pay to have it put on tables or in displays. This is called giving your book placement.

Platform: A term typically used for nonfiction authors, it’s what makes a writer stand out from all of those with similar credentials. A platform is more than just your work experience or educational background, it is the media coverage or speaking engagements that give you national, or at least local, recognition to potential readers.

Preempt: When a publisher makes an advance and royalty offer high enough to take the book off the auction table. In other words, a publisher offers enough money that the author and agent agree that they will sell the book without asking for bids from other publishers.

POD: An abbreviated term for Print on Demand. Print books that are only made to order. They don’t often appear in bookstores, but are frequently available online.

Print-on-Demand: ***see POD

Proofs/Page proofs: This is the last stage of editing that a book goes through. They are a copy of the designed pages, and the author is given one last chance to review the typesetter’s “proofs” to check for typos or other small errors. Proofs are also what are used to make review copies for reviewers and sometimes rights sales.

Proposal: A proposal is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a proposal usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a proposal usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Partial.

Pseudonym: A fictitious name often used by writers who want to hide their real identities. The use of a pseudonym can happen for a variety of reasons. Some writers prefer to keep their real identity hidden because they are writing something controversial (erotic romance, for example), while others like to create alternate identities for different styles of writing, and even others use a pseudonym as a way to re-launch a stalled career.

Publicity: Advertising that is free. Publicity includes magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and of course MySpace and other networking Web sites.

Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to obtain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book. A query letter is your introduction and sometimes only contact with an agent and should not be taken lightly.

Revisions: This is when the bulk of your edits are done. Revisions are typically done with the editor acquiring your book and sometimes with your agent before even submitting a project. Revisions can include anything from fixing punctuation to rewriting the entire book. It’s a collaborative process between the agent or editor and the author.

Royalties: The percentage of the sales (monetary) an author receives for each copy of the book sold.

RWA: Romance Writers of America is the national organization of romance and women’s fiction writers and a great source of information for all writers.

SASE: Short for self-addressed, stamped envelope, a requirement for any author who wants a reply to a snail-mailed query.

SCBWI: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is the national organization for children’s book authors.

Sell-Through: This is the most important number in publishing. It’s the percentage of books shipped that have actually sold. For example, if your publisher shipped 100,000 books but only sold 40,000, your sell-through is 40%. Not so great. However, if your publisher shipped 50,000 books, and sold 40,000, your sell-through would be 80%. A fantastic number.

Serial Rights: These are rights for serialization often sold to magazines. Cosmopolitan magazine, for example, was once serializing erotic romances, which means they paid to publish a portion of the book around the same time the book is first published.

SFWA: Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is the national organization of science fiction and fantasy writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Single Title: A term typically used in romance (the romance genre) to differentiate category books from those published by other publishers. Single title books tend not to follow strict guidelines like category romances do and can be published by publishers like St. Martin’s Press, Berkley Publishing, Random House, etc. Mira and HQN are Harlequin imprints that also publish single title. Single title tend to be longer, 80,000 to 100,000 words. Note, single title books can be part of a series.

Slush/Slush Pile: Any material sent to an agent or an editor that has not been requested.

Stand-Alone: Stand-alone books are those that are not part of a series. This would mean the book is not at all connected to another, aka Gone Girl. Any book that is even loosely connected to another (set in the same world and/or recurring characters) would be considered a series.

Subsidiary Rights, aka Sub Rights: These are rights to use the books in other formats. Sub rights could include foreign translation rights, book club rights, movie rights, audio rights, etc.

Synopsis: A detailed, multipage description of the book that includes all major plot points as well as the conclusion.

Tag Line: The one line often used on the front cover of the book to grab a reader’s attention. Tag lines, while fun for writers to write, really aren’t necessary until you have a publishing contract.

TOC: An abbreviation often used in publishing to describe the table of contents, otherwise thought of as the general outline and organization of your book.

Trade: To make it easy, trade is the shortened name for trade paperback books and is basically any paperback size that is not mass market.

Vanity Press: A publisher that publishes the author’s work at the author’s expense (not a recommended way to seek publication by most agents or editors). Remember, money should always flow to the author, not away.

Voice: The author’s style or characteristics of the author’s writing that are unique to that person.

World Rights: When World Rights are sold/licensed to the publisher the publisher has the ability to represent the book on the author’s behalf and sell foreign translation rights anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that the author does get a piece of the pie no matter where the book is published.

YA or Young Adult: Books targeting a teen audience, typically featuring characters between the ages of 14-17.

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9 comments

  1. Going to hit you up with a question that may or may not hit the, WTH category.

    What is Editorial Romance?

    If it is question that will take some investigating, please don’t worry about it. But at one time I’d considered submitting to a house where a new line, Editorial, was being requested. The author they gave as an example, did NOT know what “Editorial” was either. I’m actually a fan of this author and will eventually get caught up enough to read the book the house suggested I read to gain understanding. Not one author I asked, knew this new “editorial romance” definition being requested.

    Again, if you shouldn’t have an easy answer, I’ve pretty much decided I wouldn’t be a good for that house, anyway. Their great, but my stories, (according to their guidelines) never fit withing their “must be,” “must have” settings.

    But I hate not knowing something. Drives me nuts and though just maybe you might know.

    Thanks Jessica and may you and yours have a wonderful holiday season without bloopers. (Unless they aren’t your bloopers and then I’ll wish you have your camera ready!)
    🙂

      1. Its driving me crazy. A well-known Publisher had a call on Twitter. Emailed for more details, and that (among a few other requests) were what was requested. “Very sexy editorial” and “Edgier editorial.”

        Thanks! Was just curious.
        Happy Holidays.
        🙂

  2. This is a fantastic, go-to resource!

    Next time you revise, please consider adding the terms *high concept* and *upmarket* as both are used widely but not necessarily understood by all. Asking for a friend. 😉

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