Writing Terms and Definitions


Compiled by Jeanne Lyet Gassman

Every profession has its own "code language."  This is true of the writing profession as well. The following is a short list of terms and definitions that every freelance writer should be familiar with: 

Advance - The payment by a publisher to an author prior to the publication of a book, to be deducted from the author's future royalties 

Anthology - A collection of selected writings by various authors 

Copyright - The legal right to exclusive publication, sale, or distribution of a literary work 

Cover Letter - A brief letter sent with a complete manuscript submitted to an editor 

Creative Non-Fiction - Non-fiction that's not heavily factual; tends to be more personal experience and/or memoir 

Electronic Submission - Submission of material via modem/email or on a computer disk 

First North American Serial Rights - The right to publish material in a periodical before it appears in book form for the first time in either the US or Canada 

Galleys - The first typeset version of a manuscript that hasn't yet been divided into printed pages 

Genre Fiction - A more formulaic type of fiction such as romance, western, mystery, or horror 

IRC - International Reply Coupon--a form purchased at the post office and enclosed with a letter or manuscript to cover the cost of return postage from an international market 

Kill Fee - A pre-negotiated amount paid to the author when an editor decides not to publish an assigned piece 

Literary Agent - A person who represents an author in finding a publisher and negotiating a book contract 

Literary Fiction - Fiction that is more "character driven" rather than "plot driven."  This type of fiction tends to be more experimental and usually appears in literary or university magazines. 

Mainstream Fiction - Traditionally written fiction, also called "commercial fiction" because of its wide market appeal 

Multiple Submission - Submission of more than one short story at a time to the same editor  

On Spec - A term used to refer to assignment to an author by an editor based on the author's query letter; the editor reserves the right to reject the article but usually negotiates a "kill fee" if he/she decides not to publish the piece 

Op-Ed - A personal opinion piece, usually of a topical nature that appears in newspapers and some magazines 

Payment on Acceptance - Payment from the magazine or publishing house as soon as the decision to publish the manuscript is made 

Payment on Publication - Payment from the publisher after the manuscript is printed 

Print-on-Demand - A new form of self-publishing in which the author pays a fee to have a small number of books printed; subsequent books are printed as they are ordered.  iUniverse is an example of "print-on-demand." 

Proposal - An offer to write a specific work -- usually book-length non-fiction -- consisting of an outline of the work and one or two completed chapters 

Query Letter - A letter written to an editor to elicit interest in a story the author wants to submit 

Reprint Rights - Permission to print a work previously published in a magazine or book 

Royalty - A percentage of the retail price paid to the author for each copy of the book that is sold 

SASE - Self-addressed, stamped envelope 

Serial Rights - The rights given by an author to a publisher to print a piece in one or more periodicals 

Simultaneous Submission - The practice of sending copies of the same story to different editors at the same time 

Subsidiary Rights - All rights other than book publishing rights included in a book contract, including foreign rights, paperback rights, book club, and movie rights 

Synopsis - A brief summary of a novel or play, usually written in present tense and single-spaced 

Tear Sheet - A photocopy of the first page of previously published work 

Vanity Press - The author pays for a large number of his books to be printed; there are no royalties, and the author is responsible for all advertising and distribution 

Writer's Guidelines - Information available from the editor or publisher of a magazine concerning preferences for that particular publication 

Zine or Ezine - A magazine that is published only on the Internet. These tend to have specialized themes, and payment (if any) is usually negotiated on an individual basis.


About the Author

Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author and instructor whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has been published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies.

In 2002, she was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

In addition to her writing, Jeanne teaches writing classes and workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Recent class offerings include: Beginning Fiction, The Secrets of Getting Published, Critiquing and Editing Your Writing, and Writing Your Personal Memoir.





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