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Basic Vocabulary And Terms For The Publishing Industry

Whether you are hoping to have your book represented by a literary agent, or have an essay, poem, or short story published in a journal, it is imperative that you understand the language of publishing. Being fluent in this terminology will give you greater control over the sale and distribution of your creative writing, and you’ll demonstrate to literary agents and editors that you know everything from the formal vocabulary to the popular lingo.

Here is a list of commonly used (and confused) terms in the publishing business:

What is an SASE? Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. When submitting your writing to publications, send an SASE for the journal or literary agent’s response. You can also send a larger envelope if you would like them to return your writing if it is rejected. We at Writer’s Relief recommend that you simply send a business-sized (#10) envelope for their written response, not for the return of work. 

What does previously published mean? As online publishing increases, the term previously published gets increasingly murky.

What is media rate at the post office? Media rate can be applied to mailing packages containing books, scripts, sound recordings, video tapes, and computer-readable media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes). Media rate is slower and less expensive than first-class mail. 

What are simultaneous submissions? When you make a simultaneous submission, you send the same submission to more than one editor or agent at the same time.

What are multiple submissions? When you make a multiple submission, you send many submissions in one letter or e-mail to one editor or agent.

What is a literary agent? The best way to have your book published is to send your work out to literary agents first. These are professionals who can target your writing to publishers and make sure you get the best possible book deal.

What is an editor? An editor works at a publishing house or literary journal. An editor reads submissions, acquires the rights to publish them (sometimes paying for that right), and often edits the content. People who acquire short works for inclusion in a collection or anthology are also editors. 

What is a proofreader? Proofreaders edit your work for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting.

What is a copyeditor? A copyeditor edits a manuscript to meet the house style, which includes reading for accuracy and formatting. 

What is a query letter? What is a cover letter? The difference between a query letter and a cover letter is that while a query letter is an introduction to a literary or book agent, a cover letter is used when sending poetry and/or short stories to literary journals. Writer’s Relief can help you write both!

What is an exclusive read from a literary agent? If you grant an exclusive read (or right of first refusal) to a literary agent, you are granting him or her the right to read your book before any other agents see it. For more detailed information, see our article When A Literary Agent Requests An Exclusive: Solutions For Sticky Situations.

What is the difference between a short story and an essay? A short story is a work of fiction; an essay, whether personal, academic, or instructional, is nonfiction. While the lines between a personal or creative essay and a short story are often blurred during the creative formation of a piece, it is important that you decide on the genre of your short prose piece in order to market it to the right editor. Learn more: Short prose genres: Defining Essay, Short Story, Commentary, Memoir, and Mixed Genre.

What are galleys for books or novels? A galley is an unformatted version of a manuscript. Galleys are sent out to reviewers and blurb writers a few weeks before the book is put in stores in its formatted version.

What is the slush pile? A slush pile is a stack of unsolicited submissions to book agents, literary journals, or publishing houses.

What are solicited and unsolicited submissions? A solicited submission is work that an editor or literary agent has asked for. An unsolicited submission is work that an editor or literary agent has not asked for.

What is an advance on a book or novel? An advance is payment a publisher gives a writer for a book or novel before it is written.

What is a writer’s backlist? A writer’s backlist is a list of his or her older publications.

What is the masthead? The masthead refers to the “behind the scenes” information about a publication, such as the editors, publishing information, etc.

Writer’s Relief often helps writers with their submission strategies and the questions that arise during the manuscript submission process. We target submissions to literary agents and editors, write cover and query letters, proofread and format manuscripts, and track submissions. Click for more information about Writer’s Relief.

REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF WRITING CONTESTS and ANTHOLOGIES! You won’t find a better list anywhere (AND IT’S FREE!) of upcoming anthologies, special-themed journals, and contests.

4 Responses to Basic Vocabulary And Terms For The Publishing Industry

  1. Copy editors edit copy – the raw manuscript – while proofreaders read proofs, i.e. the edited copy after it has been typeset and made up into pages.

  2. A small point, but in the UK you should use the term SAE (Stamped Addressed Envelope) we take the ‘self’ as implied. Using SASE will mark you as someone who’s only used American reference books/websites.

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