For today’s chapter of the Word Weaver Podcast I thought it would be helpful to walk through a complete guide/glossary of literary, writing, and publishing terms. I know that when I first started out on my book publishing journey — and even now — I found myself Google-ing all of these new words, phrases, acronyms and jargon. Lots of websites, books and publishing veterans are so well-versed in this literary language that they just assume you know what they’re talking about! After asking a million times, “Sorry, what exactly does that mean?” I decided to create my own simple, easy to understand guide for these new-fangled publishing terms. I hope this is a helpful breakdown and handy reference guide for all of you word weavers out there too!
I also received a listener question asking me to go over manuscript specifications and formatting so I included that below as well :)
How to Format Your Manuscript
Manuscript: evolved from Latin and means “written by hand.” Manu is “hand” and scriptus is “to write." It refers to a writer's unpublished work whether it's handwritten or typed. A full manuscript is your fully finished body of work, whether it’s your first or final draft. A partial or unfinished manuscript is your work-in-progress. Many literary agents, editors and publishers simply refer to a manuscript using the abbreviation MS or MSS (plural).
In terms of manuscript formatting, the disclaimer is that each literary agency has specific requirements (outlined on their website) – so make sure that you follow their guidelines before firing off your MS to an agent. That being said, the general rule of thumb for a completed manuscript is:
Times New Roman font (boring but it’s a classic!)
Double spaced (always, always, always double space your manuscript! Even if you think it looks better at 1.5 spacing, all professional literary agents and editors expect double spaced)
Standard 1” margins
Simple cover page that includes the book’s title and subtitle (if you have one) centered about 3/4 of the way down the page, with the author(s) name(s) centered below the title. In the bottom right corner (or left-hand, but I prefer bottom right) include your contact information: email, phone, address, website and any social handles if necessary
Page numbers (I do the bottom right corner) on every page except for the title page
Header at the top of each page (example below)
[LAST NAME BOOK TITLE GENRE]
For reference, my full manuscript ended up being about 90,000 words and 400 pages long (double-spaced, TNR font).
Fiction: imagined, made-up story not based on facts
Non-fiction: true, factual story
Historical Fiction: a made-up story based on a real time and place in history but the characters and events are not true, accurate or real
Historical Non-Fiction: a true story based on historical fact
Science Fiction (Sci-Fi): writing based on real OR imaginary scientific developments and these books are usually set in the future
Autobiography/Memoir: the writer’s story of his/her own life (note: many celebrity “autobiographies” are ghostwritten but are still marketed/defined as memoir)
Biography: the writer’s account of someone else’s life
Novel: people often interchange novel and book, but a ‘novel’ is a fictional, untrue or imagined story (so since my book is non-fiction, I am not a novelist)
Prose: literary work that uses familiar, conversational forms of language
Protagonist: the main character, often the hero or force of good in a story
Antagonist: the person or external force that works against the main character or hero of the story
Setting: the place, location, and time frame where the story takes place
Exposition: at the beginning of the story where the characters are introduced, the background is established and setting is described
Conflict: problems, obstacles or struggles that appear in a book — there are FOUR BASIC types of CONFLICT in a book:
1. Person vs. Person: conflict between two or more characters
2. Person vs. Self: a character has an internal struggle with themselves/their mind
3. Person vs. Society: problem between a character and the world or society in which they live (i.e. school, law, religion, etc.)
4. Person vs. Nature: conflict between a character and some natural element like a blizzard, tornado, a mountain climb, lost at sea etc.
Climax: no sexual innuendo here but this is the high point in the action of a story, the big point of CHANGE where something happens that forces your character(s) on a path where some sort of transformation happens
Falling Action: right after the climax / point of transformation and the subsequent consequences that lead towards the story’s end
Resolution: what editors commonly use instead of “the ending” where all of the loose ends in the story are tied up
Alliteration: repeating initial consonant sounds to emphasize and link words, used a lot in poetry (ex: I love alliteration so the drop-down headers on my website are: plot, purpose, portfolio, prose, podcast, places, and play)
Simile: comparing two things using the words “like” or “as” – ex: “Her smile was as cold as ice.”
Metaphor: similar to a simile in that a metaphor also compares two things that are essentially different but with some commonalities; however a metaphor does not use “like” or “as” — ex: “Her smile was ice. (note: you are encouraged to use similies and metaphors sparingly and to avoid clichés (they should be unique and specific)
Personification: human qualities attributed to animals or objects — ex: “The wind exhaled.”
Foreshadowing: hints that help the reader anticipate the outcome without giving away the ending (helpful to foreshadow at the end of each chapter to entice readers to keep coming back for more
Imagery: use descriptive words or phrases that appeal to all five senses (smell, hear, touch, taste, sight)
Onomatopoeia: words that imitate sounds — ex: hiss, buzz, swish, crunch
POV: Point Of View — when this is circled or noted by an editor or agent on your manuscript it usually means that you aren’t using the correct POV or should think about switching it
First-person: the narrator is a character, usually the main character, and written using “I” and “we”
Third-person: narrator who is separate or outside the story, and instead uses “he,” “she,” “they,” etc.
Third-person limited: the narrator tells only what ONE character perceives/their POV
Third-person omniscient: narrator can see into the minds of all of the characters and writes from all of their POVs
Unreliable narrator: narrator who is telling the reader the story but they themselves might not have all of the information (i.e. they seem suspicious or lack credibility) — common in thrillers and mystery novels (Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window use unreliable narrators)
Reliable narrator: you trust that the narrator is telling the story with full factual information (most books are written from this POV)
Comps: in the publishing world, “comps” does not refer to product comps, complimentary, or computers etc. It means COMPETITIVE or COMPARATIVE titles/authors. A literary agent usually requires 3-5 “comps” to help them define your genre to publishers and the press. Comps should show how your book is similar but also different/unique from another title and author
Acquisition: when the publisher buys the rights to publish a book from the author. Publishers have key meetings where the team sits around a big table and decides which books to buy – that meeting is called “Acquisitions” or the “Acquisitions Meeting.”
TBR: To Be Read (referring to a pile or stack of books that a reader hopes to get through) i.e. “My TBR pile is overflowing!” Used frequently on Instagram and Twitter with the bookstagram community
WIP: Work In Progress (writers often refer to their partial manuscripts as WIPs)
ARC: Advanced Reading Copy or Advanced Review Copy (same as ARE/Galley)
ARE: Advanced Reader’s Edition (same as an ARC/Galley)
Galleys: When I first heard this I thought of Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp “down in the galleys” of the ship… but in the publishing industry galleys are the same as ARCs, AREs or uncorrected proofs. Galleys are created by the publisher months before the final printing and release of the book. They are sent to reviewers, booksellers, bloggers, journalists and other people crucial to the critical and commercial success of the book. There might be some typos but galleys/ARCs are bound like paperback books. Occasionally called “pre-first editions”
Advance: sum of money paid to an author upon signing a contract with a publisher. The terms are negotiated by the author’s literary agent – the one catch is that the author’s advance needs to be “earned out” by sales of the book once released (i.e. it’s not “free money” the publisher is essentially investing in the author’s ability to sell the book). Upon the book’s release, the author will have to “earn out” - or sell at least the amount of the advance - before the author makes a profit. Advances are typically paid out in 4 instalments: after signing the contract, after the finished manuscript is submitted to the publisher, after the book is published in hardcover and finally after the book is published in paperback
Backlist titles: books that have been published in the past or a long time ago but they’re still in print – ex: Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird
Blurb: short quote or paragraph of text on the back of a book; basically a short summary for the reader of what the book is about. Blurbs also include quotes from other authors or celebrities that you see on the cover and are often used to pitch the book to media.
The House: In Canada we have “5 big banks” and in the publishing world there are “5 big houses” — term for Publishing Houses such as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster etc. There are also many smaller publishing houses that are just as amazing and can often provide more individualized author attention. Beneath all of these “houses” there are various imprints that specialize in different genres, interest areas or types of books. For example, Penguin Random House has over 50 imprints such as Penguin Classics, Putnam, Bantam, Alfred A. Knopft, Crown, Doubleday etc.
ISBN: every book is assigned a unique ISBN number and it stands for International Standard Book Number, a 13 digit number that’s used to identify each book
The Jacket: term used to describe the book’s front cover (often removable on hardcovers). In key internal meetings at publishing houses where decisions are made about the graphics and blurb copy for the cover, these meetings are called “Jackets.”
Literary Agent: you’ve heard this before (I use it a lot) but what the heck does it actually mean and what the heck does a literary agent actually do? They are the person responsible for managing an author’s entire career – including helping them to develop, pitch and sell their book to publishers. They also act as the facilitator or mediator between the author and their editor. In return, literary agents take a percentage (standard is 15%) of an author’s advance and royalties.
PUB DAY: I also picture an English pub with pints of beers, which would actually be a great way to celebrate, but PUB DAY is the author’s official PUBLISHING DAY when the book is officially on sale online and in bookstores
Pre-Orders: the period during before the book is officially released but is available for “pre-order” purchase online. Pre-orders are SUPER important and can make or break whether an author is a bestseller. For example: if you get pre-orders for 8-12 months, ALLLL of those sales count on the first day that your book is officially released (PUB DAY). The New York Times Bestseller list looks at sales by week, so technically if you had 8-12 months worth of pre-orders and they all counted on your first day of the first week, that is typically your best bet for making any bestselling list
Slush Pile: this always makes me crave a Slushee from 7-11 (!!) but the “slush pile” is a stack of manuscripts that have been sent to a literary agent or publisher for consideration that they haven’t had a chance to read yet
Unsolicited submissions/manuscripts: you’ll see this mentioned on pretty much every publisher’s website, whereas before a writer could often bypass having a literary agent and directly submit their manuscript to a publisher, nowadays every publisher requires a manuscript to be submitted ONLY from literary agent — i.e. they do NOT accepted “unsolicited submissions” or “unsolicited manuscripts” directly from the writer. Literary agents, in that sense, are gatekeepers and vet manuscripts for the publishers that they actually believe are worth their time. That’s why it can be so hard to even secure a literary agent in the first place, as they won’t accept any submissions that they don’t believe they could sell to a publisher.
Word weaver links
Word Weaver Podcast Soundtrack
Late July by Shakey Graves
Way With Words by Bahamas