A Publishing Industry Glossary

by the inestimable Rick Walton

A Publishing Industry Glossary


Advance–the best proof that your project is moving forward.

ARC– a vessel you send out into the ocean of reviewers, hoping it floats instead of sinks.

Auction–a contest where two or more editors race to see who can show the most irrational exuberance.

Author–the costume a writer puts on when he goes to a cocktail party.

Backlist–books still in print, but which the publisher hides behind his back so they are hard to see.

Book–a rectangular device for immortalizing the person whose name is inscribed on it. Not to be confused with “headstone”.

Contract–a document which, if held to the same standards as its subject, would require serious editing.

Cover letter–a letter designed to cover the weaknesses in your manuscript.

Critique–hopefully advice to help you turn your pony into a racehorse, but too often the suggestion that you turn your pony into an alligator.

Designer–a person who proves that people do indeed judge a book by its cover.

Dialogue–what people might say in real life if it were edited for clarity, conciseness, and for necessity to the plot. In other words, nothing at all like what people say in real life.

Draft–a manuscript with still enough holes in it to let the wind blow through.

E-book–E stands for everyone, as in everyone now will think they can write a book.

Editor–a young woman with just slightly more power than God.

Editorial Board–a plank that your book is forced to walk by the captain of the publishing ship. Sometimes the book is allowed to come back and join the crew. But most of the time the book is pushed into the ocean.

Endpapers–a great place to write notes when you’re out of notepaper, which is why they should be plain white.

Fiction–what a writer tells himself to make him believe he can write something people will pay money for.

Graphic novel–a comic book that went to college.

Hardcover–the best kind of book to use as a murder weapon.

Imprint–one of the personalities exhibited in a publisher’s multiple personality disorder.

ISBN–Intercontinental Satellite-Based Nuke. What an author wishes they had access to when they get a bad review.

Jacket–an outer covering designed to make a cool book hot.

Line editing–editing that does not require you to wrap your mind around the whole plot, as substantive editing does, but which allows you to work while standing in the grocery store line, the bank line, the DMV line,…

Mass-market–a type of book that most of the time the masses, with great enthusiasm, ignore.

Option clause–a contract clause that gives you the option to either say, “No thank you, take it out.” Or, “Are you out of your mind? Take it out!”

Print on demand–polite people say “print on request”.

Publication date–a blind date set up between your book and the reader. You hope for a long-term relationship, but too often it results in your book being stood up.

Publisher–a company that is looking for something new and fresh as long as it has been done before.

Quill–if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it is good enough for you.

Reader–a very smart person who likes your book, or one who is not so smart who doesn’t.

Rejection–a necessary evil, unless it involves my manuscript, then it is a totally unnecessary wrong.

Remainder–also known as “reminder”. A step in the publishing process designed to remind you that you aren’t as hot as you were starting to think you are.

Royalty–a British term for when publishers send the author lots of small pieces of paper with pictures of royalty on them in exchange for publishing their books. American publishers kept the term, in spite of the fact that our small pieces of paper do not have pictures of royalty on them, because they are afraid that if it was called “president”, we would hear it as “precedent” and start expecting them to send us those little pieces of paper more often.

Typewriter–the best writing device ever to use as a murder weapon.

Unsolicited submission–a twisted form of attempted adoption where you give your dear child away to someone who doesn’t want it.

Vanity press–a variation of “van o’ depressed”. So-called because you end up depressed with a van full of books.

Young adult–the average age of editors today.




Pet (Writerly) Peeves

via Scott Treimel (my agent & bossman):

I understand our use of language is fluid. There seems no reason to harp that “all right” is two words. (Why they remained separated when already was formed I do not know.) The use of well vs good is another lost cause. Answering How are you? with I’m good still sounds like editorializing to me, but sobeit. (I love writing that as one word, which I do in honor of my mentor Marilyn Marlow, who insisited on it.)

We bow to the vagaries of usage at different rates. I myself continue to appreciate the difference between “anxious” and “eager” and am surprised, unhappily, to see writers conflate the two. Another of my bugaboos: fewer vs less. Fewer units sold, so the book made less money is correct. Less buyers are to blame is wrong.

I hated seeing sneaked give way to snuck, but I feel that train left the station and cannot be brought back.

Yesterday I told a writer his protagonist, in context, would not feel “disgust”; she would feel “disdain”.* The writer said, Why, they are indistinct. No, no, a thousand times no. The difference between those words, in context, is the difference between his character and another.

We welcome your slings and arrows.


* That writer was me, FYI, and Scott was right! -JMC