Common Publishing Terms and Abbreviations

Below is a list of common terms and abbreviations you might see as you read my posts or other publishing blogs. About a year ago I wrote a similar list, and it has turned out to be one of my most popular posts, so here it is, revised and updated!

  • Agent: Literary agents are professionals who represent an author’s career. The most well-known task an agent performs is selling the writer’s manuscript to a publishing house and negotiating the contract. Agents do much more than this, however, and function pretty much like career managers.
  • Beta reader: Usually beta readers are people that an author asks to read his/her manuscript and give critiques and respond to the story. This is not the same thing as a critique partner.
  • Big 5: Previously the “Big 6,” these are the major New York publishing houses: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. Many other significant, international publishing houses exist, though, such as Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Harlequin.
  • Category: a broader term than genre that addresses the age range the book is written for or about. All books fit into one of these categories: picture book, middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult. Some people separate the younger categories into more divisions than that, but those are the basics. Young adult and new adult categories are a bit different than the others, because while they are written about characters of a certain age, they aren’t written just for readers of that age group–adults make up a huge percentage of their readership.
  • Crit/Critique. An evaluation (usually from another writer) that aims for showing both the strong and weak elements of a MS. Critiques from other writers, especially authors and agents, can be a great way for writers to improve their writing.
  • CP/Critique Partner. Writers who critique each other’s work in an on-going relationship. The critiques CPs give can be tougher than a beta reader’s feedback, and CPs often know each other’s writing strengths and weaknesses, and can push each other more. These can be great relationships to establish because of the encouragement, resources, and support writers receive from each other.
  • Editor: Depending on the type of editor, editors acquire books for their house to publish and guide the book through the editorial process for publication. Like agents, they do much more than this, too.
  • Form rejection: A copy-pasted rejection from an agent to a writer who queried. Most of the time this is what writers will receive. Most agents receive 100+ queries a week (I’ve seen some agents report 800+), so personal responses are often impossible
  • Genre: A term to describe the kind of story a book is. When writers are asked what kind of books they write, they often respond with the category and genre– young adult fantasy, for example, or adult romance. Science fiction, contemporary, mystery, thriller, magical realism, and historical are all genres.
  • MG: middle grade. Writing written for middle grade readers and adhering to certain age group conventions.
  • MS: manuscript. An unpublished work of fiction or nonfiction. Plural: MSs.
  • NA: new adult. Characters and plotlines that revolve around situations common to the 19 to mid-twenties age group. Some say this is a subset of adult fiction, and others maintain it’s its own category.
  • Personalized rejection: A rejection from an agent to a writer who queried, but some element of the letter is personal. A line or two complimenting the work but explaining why it’s not right for the agent may be included. This is an encouraging sign and a compliment from the agent, and is actually a good thing to receive. If a writer is excited about receiving a rejection, this is likely why.
  • Pitch: A brief description of a manuscript highlighting the main elements in a way that makes others want to read more. Contests sometimes ask for a 1, 2, or 3-sentence pitch. Writers should have one ready for contests and conferences, and many writers create the pitch while they are plotting the manuscript to help keep them focused on the story’s core.
  • Query letter: A letter, often a professional email, that writers send to agents asking them to consider them for representation. The letter includes specific details about the manuscript the author has written and relevant credentials the writer may have. Some agents want 5 or 10 pages and/or a synopsis included as well. Conventions for queries are very particular.
  • R&R(or R/R): Revise and resubmit. The request from an agent or editor to have the writer make certain changes to the manuscript and then resubmit the work for consideration. These happen frequently, and are an excellent sign of the story’s potential. The agent’s current list of titles, market trends, and the writing itself may be reasons the agent asked for an R&R, to see how well they can work with the author and how open to feedback the writer is.
  • Request: An agent (or sometimes editor) requests to see a certain number of pages of a writer’s manuscript. These can be “partials”–generally 30, 50, or 100 pages– or else “fulls”– the entire manuscript. Usually agents request a partial first and then request a full if they are considering representing the writer. A request is a BIG deal, particularly if it’s a full.
  • Slush/ slush pile: the queries and submissions waiting in the query inbox of an agent or editor.
  • Small Press: A publisher with annual sales below a certain level, or else one who publishes a small list of titles per year. There can be significant benefits to publishing with a small press, such as increased attention from your publishing team.
  • Submission: Usually this refers to when an agent takes an author’s manuscript on submission– actively submitting it to editors, hoping to receive an offer of publication. It can also mean the submission materials writers send to agents or contests.
  • Synopsis: A 1-2 page summary that reveals the main elements of the MS in a cause-and-effect style. Agents and editors often ask for these to see how (and if) an author can wrap up the story.
  • Twitter pitch: A pitch designed for Twitter contests designed to quickly hook the reader. 140 characters or less. Twitter contests can be a good way to reach agents who may be closed to submissions (if they are participating) or get a request that may move you up in the agent’s slush pile.
  • WIP: work in progress. The manuscript an author is currently writing.
  • YA: young adult. Writing intended for a teenage audience, but with tremendous crossover appeal to adults. Publishers Weekly reported that 55% of all YA books are purchased by adult buyers, and 78% of the time, those books are for themselves. Basically, YA is written about teens, but written for both teen and adult readers.

Have you heard any other terms you’d like to know more about or have added to the list? Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Common Publishing Terms and Abbreviations

  1. Pingback: Writing Critique with Manuscript Critique Services Group - #K8chat Thursday 4/24 at 9pm EDT! -

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