Necessary Words for Writers: What Do Those Agents and Editors Mean?

Necessary Words for Writers: What Do Those Agents and Editors Mean?

by Donna Lee Anderson


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From A to Z-acquisition editor to zap fiction-Necessary Words for Writers provides a thorough reference guide that defines and describesthe words and vocabulary most often used in the publishing industry.Like a one-on-one, writer-to-writer conversation, author Donna Lee Andersonmakes sense of this jargon-filled world.

Synopsis, outline, query, red line, blue line, and deadline may be common words in the English language, but they have certain, distinct meanings in the sometimes-complicated publishing arena. Necessary Words for Writers serves to demystify the terms to help writers better communicate with professional editors, agents, and publishers. From queries to manuscripts, this reference will help writers more easily negotiate in the publishing industry.

Advance Praise for Necessary Words for Writers

"At last! A reference book that puts all the Necessary Words for Writers in one place!"

-Janelle Meraz Hooper, author

"Necessary Words for Writers is the essential guide for writers wishing to learn the lingo of the business. In simple, direct language, D. L. Anderson explains the vocabulary associated with each step along the road to publication and gives specific examples to provide additional clarification of unusual and confusing terms."

-KK Brees, author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen

"I think there may be even a few veteran writers who may need to refresh their understanding of these terms ... including me!"

-Rob Jacques, tech writer and teacher

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781458206428
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publication date: 11/05/2012
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

Necessary Words for Writers

What Do Those Agents and Editors Mean?
By Donna Lee Anderson

Abbott Press

Copyright © 2012 Donna Lee Anderson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4582-0642-8

Chapter One

ACQUISITION EDITOR (See also Slush Pile)

The person at the publishing company who is in charge of receiving and rating manuscripts for possible publication.

To be or not to be published.

In most publishing houses and agent offices, and even at small presses and some self-publishing companies, someone (or possibly a department) is designated to screen/read incoming submissions and then help decide if the company wants to pursue publishing that particular manuscript.

When the decision to publish is made, the acquisition editor will usually be responsible for taking a given manuscript through its various stages of editing until it's sent to the printer.

Unsolicited manuscripts (those that have not been requested) go into what's called a slush pile when they are received. Acquisition editors can and do pull manuscripts from this pile to read and decide what actions need to be taken. Does it get a form letter of rejection, or is it something the company is interested in pursuing?

This acquisition editor can also be charged with contacting certain authors and inviting them to write a new, particular kind of manuscript.


Full and very detailed descriptions of physical actions that help the movement of a story line.

Romance, mystery, and adventure writers all incorporate these kinds of descriptions.

If action descriptions are meant to be the main thrust of the story, then it is probably action fiction. If your story describes in great detail (punch for punch) the danger of men fighting on top of a train in the Swiss Alps, it definitely is action fiction.

Descriptions of cowboy fights, war time battles, or vampire attacks can all be called action fiction; however, depending on how in-depth the details are written it could be classified as General or Gritty or Edgy Action.

General Action: Details about such things as a car race in progress, being on an African adventure, or about a couple on an Alpine ski trip could be for all ages to enjoy and is called general action.

Edgy Action Fiction: Details written about a car crash and the bleeding afterward—but doesn't describe the smashing of the drivers head on the windshield is edgy action. The description of the animal attack (but only the aftermath confusion), or details about the ski trip that may show all the action (up to but not including sex) would be edgy action, action on the edge of having the details written in a too-graphic or too-realistic way.

Gritty Action Fiction: These actions would include very graphic descriptions that include explicit details of such things as bloody bones sticking out of a leg following the car crash, African adventures with vivid animal attacks including how it felt to have your face ripped off, or a ski trips that end with sex scenes. Showing explicit details about everything, and written with a specific audience in mind, showing every nasty or ugly detail is gritty fiction.

ADVANCE (See also Royalties)

Money paid to the author before the book is actually ready to be sold to the public.

Up-front money paid before the royalties start to roll in.

Author advances vary from publisher to publisher and may be negotiable when an author signs the contract to sell their book. If an author has an agent, then the agent will usually negotiate for the author.

The advance is just that—an advance against future earnings—until the book sales generate enough money to pay back the advance to the publisher, and then the author will get paid again (and those proceeds are called royalties).


Early copies of a book that the publisher sends to reviewers and interviewers.

A preview of coming attractions.

An Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) is sent to interviewers and reviewers so they can read the book (or at least part of it) in advance of author interviews or publicity appearances. These copies can also enable people to write reviews (yes, to advertise your book) in newspapers and magazines and to stimulate interest that could get the author interviews on TV, on the radio, or in print. Some interviewers will ask for a short synopsis or blurb about the book in lieu of a copy. And, sending an ARC to the author is considered a courtesy but not a necessity by some publishers.

Self-published writer's sometimes forget to include this expense in their budget and should be reminded that sending out copies of the book can help sales, and should be part of the marketing plan. Anything that the author can do to help the sales of the book is certainly beneficial to everyone, self-published or not.

AGENTS (See also Representative)

People who can represent you and help with the business side of selling your writing to potential publishers.

Who came first, the agent or the publisher?

Finding an agent to work with is sometimes a little tricky. Not all agents represent all kinds of writing (genres). Most specialize, so the writer will need to do some homework. Does a given agent represent fiction or non-fiction, or are they only interested in just a particular genre? A large agency full of many agents will probably include someone who works with your particular genre and writing style but it's up to you find and send to the correct agent.

Although having an agent to help you with your quest to be published is beneficial and remembering that some publishing houses do not accept un-agented material, some publishers do still allow un-solicited manuscripts to be submitted. Check the web site of an agent or publisher (in question) to see guidelines.

Some ways to find an agent:

Several magazines like Poet's and Writer's and Writers Digest and The Writer, and newsletters from the SCBWI and Writers World and Writers Digest keep current lists of agents for their subscribers, and they update these lists regularly. Some are free but if you're in the market for an agent, it may be worth a subscription price to be able to access the lists of these on-line newsletters.

Also look in directories of publications such as Writer's Guide. It is a large book available at bookstores, but they are also available at most public libraries.

Another place to look for a suitable match is to attend writer's conferences and make appointments with representatives from several offices. Bios for each agent will be furnished and you'll easily see which one is looking for a writer just like you. Many contracts and book deals have resulted from such appointments.

Things to know about agents:

They do move around to different agencies and sometimes open their own offices. To make sure the contact information is correct, try calling the agency and having a brief conversation with the receptionist. It could be very beneficial and enlightening. Make sure you have the correct spelling of the agent's name and their correct title and the correct address.

An agent belonging to the Association of Author's Representatives, Inc. (AAR), has committed to following certain guidelines and rules and can be expected to be creditable.


A statement or situation that is not correct for this timeline.

Something that just could not have been.

Anachronism means an action or spoken statement attributed to a specific time frame that just wouldn't be possible in this stories time and setting.


If you write about a knight in medieval days finishing a fight and using a GPS to find his way back to camp, or lighting a cigarette with a lighter as he rides back to camp on his motorcycle—those are anachronisms. Neither GPS's nor cigarettes nor motorcycles were available or used in this time period or in this world.

These are inaccurate details or anachronisms.


Usually a short account of an interesting or humorous event or situation.

Did you hear the one about ...

Although there are no rules on the length of an anecdote, they are usually very short. Now you say how short is short? They need to be as long as it takes to tell the story and get the point across.

Readers Digest is famous for its anecdotes—those short humorous paragraphs at the bottom of their pages. They are short because that publication requires that length, but other publications could have different criteria. Magazine, newspapers, newsletters, and other publications will have guidelines for this short, short story or anecdote submission, and that will dictate the length of the piece.

When telling a specific story or happening that has a humorous or strange climax, usually shorter is better. Writers get more zing in the prose that drops the ending on the reader, and then the story is finished. If you go on too long with the details, it could lose its punch or maybe even the point of the story.

ANTAGONIST (See also Conflict)

Someone who offers resistance or opposition in your written piece.

Stir up the works by adding an antagonist

The antagonist is the main opponent of the protagonist (hero or heroine). They are a major character or group of characters, or even a happening that is distinctive and significant to the story, and they can further the story by adding a problem to be worked out. (They could be the part that gives a point to the story.)

Evoking feelings by introducing an opponent of the other character(s) or situation is just one way to add spice to a story. Introducing an antagonist will also add interest and perhaps depth.

Antagonist should not to be confused with a protagonist (who usually is the main character of a story); however the antagonist (the bad guy) can certainly be one of the main characters too.

ANTHOLOGY (See also Story Collection)

A collection of stories or poems published in one book, and contains more than one author's writings.

Being published in an anthology is a good way to start your publishing life.

Organizations, such as women's clubs, churches, and writing groups, often gather to contribute to an anthology. It is usually a compilation of short stories or poems or essays written around a central theme. Individual contributions are from several writers, as opposed to just one author.

Sometimes a contest is held by a magazine or a publisher where the prize is having your contribution published in this anthology. It is not unusual for the rules or guidelines of an anthology contest to state that a committee will decide which ones are to be published. A small entry fee for the contest is not unusual, but beware if the contest rules ask for large sums of money or request you buy several books in order for your work to be included in the book (the anthology). Such tactics are often the mark of a scam.

Not only beginning writers appear in anthologies. Stephen King is one of the many seasoned authors that enjoy adding some of his short stories and thoughts to collections.

Anthologies are very popular for teaching purposes too. Having diverse styles of writing from several different writers, all in one book is a useful tool for seeing different uses of voice, point-of-view, and styles.

APPENDIX (See also Index and Bibliography)

The printed matter at the back of a book.

More stuff the author wants the reader to know.

Especially with nonfiction, notes regarding research or reference information are usually listed at the back of the book. This information is in an appendix. This section may be an index or a bibliography, the two main types of appendixes.

Information in this appendix may also include suggested additional reading on the book's topic and/or the credentials of the author (such as why he is knowledgeable about the topic).

ARC (See also Advance Reader Copy)

Early copies of a book that the publisher sends to reviewers and interviewers.

A peek at the finished product.

An Advance Readers Copy (ARC) is sent to interviewers and reviewers so they can read the book in advance of author interviews, or publicity appearances. These copies also enable people to write reviews.

(See Advance Reader Copy for more information.)


Magazines and newspapers use articles (usually non-fiction stories).

Another good way to start your publishing career.

Open any magazine and you'll see written pieces that are usually non-fiction. These are called articles. Non-fiction stories or how-to instructions in a magazine or newspaper can also be considered articles for readers to enjoy.

Fictional stories (even if based on factual information) probably wouldn't be considered articles. Instead, they would be called a piece, manuscript, or maybe just a story.

The length of an article depends on the request or guidelines set out by the publisher.

AUDIENCE (See also Genre)

People who will want to read the book or about the subject you write. The reader you are writing for.

Others (outside of your family) who want to read your type of writing.

Because a writer has a story to tell, as soon as it's finished and ready for consumption, they look for someone to read their piece. Often the first step is to look for a publisher. During this process, one of the first questions the writer might be asked is: "In what genre should this story be included?" or "Who is the story aimed at?" or "Who is the audience for this piece?"

Most writers know in advance the answer to these questions. They are writing a specific type of story that will appeal to people who like to read in that genre.

Mystery writers could write with the YA (young adult) or adult audience in mind; romance writers could write towards a historical or modern romance audience; and children's books could be written with a certain age group in mind. All these potential readers are the audience. There are many cross-over audiences too. Harry Potter is only one case in point.

Knowing your audience before you write helps with dialogue and descriptions.


The words reader and audience are mostly interchangeable in the writing world

AUTHOR (See also Writer)

Authors are anyone who writes, and especially published writers.

Author! Author! Words you'd love to hear.

It's a very exciting time in a writer's life when their first piece is published, and it's also when a writer transitions and becomes an author.

Painters create masterpieces or maybe just something for the dining room wall. Sculptors create beautiful figurines and statues or perhaps something to give to their Mom. Writers create literary manuscripts or perhaps just stories for their Grandchild. No matter why you create, it is wonderful to be recognized. Becoming a published author is one form of recognition.

Not all writers aspire to being published and some decide to publish their own works. Validation for a writer comes in many forms. Accolades from your family and friends are nice, as is being published and having strangers enjoy your writing.

No matter why you write, if it pleases you to create, keep writing. Being published is not necessary for everyone.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY/BIO (See also Bio, Resume, and Platform)

Information and facts about the author.

Tell the world who you are!

In the non-fiction writing world, an account of your education and experiences that are germane to the particular subject that you are writing about is called a biography or bio (as opposed to a resume).

Traditionally, resumes tell of education and work experience, however in a bio/biography you are telling the publisher or agent that you are the right one to write this manuscript or piece because of specific experiences or education or background. The experience you list is also called a platform and this information could also be put into your query letter.

Example (Non-fiction):

The following would be appropriate if you want to write for a gardening magazine or have written a gardening book.

Having received a master's degree in Horticulture from the University of Florida,

I've been working with these Oncidiums (orchids) for more than twenty years.

During this time I developed the first Deluxe Purple Beauty Butterfly Orchid,

This book is a step-by-step guide on how you-can-do-this-too—from dirt to lovely flowers.

Example (Fiction):

A bio is useful to publishers so they can see what you've published before. It also helps to show them you understand something about the publishing world.


Excerpted from Necessary Words for Writers by Donna Lee Anderson Copyright © 2012 by Donna Lee Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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