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!

Review from Alison Doherty of FANGIRL

Review: FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell

Review from Alison Doherty


Rainbow Rowell

St. Martins Press, 2013

Looking over all the books I read in 2013, Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell is the one I can’t get out of my head. As both a reader and a writer this book (figuratively) blew me away, and despite two rereads of the novel I’m still not entirely certain why.

I think a short summary might offer some clues. Goodreads calls Fangirl “A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love,” then goes on to describe the plight of college freshman and Simon Snow fan Cath. Cath is internet famous for writing fanfics about the Harry Potter-like fictional world. When Cath’s twin sister moves on from their previously joint obsession to experience a world of frat boys and dorm parties, Cath feels left behind. Enter problems with her grumpy roommate, a writing professor that wants her to create original stories, her father who’s experiencing more than empty nest syndrome and … well you get the picture. Cath has a lot on her plate, and she’s unsure if she can inhabit the real world as well as the world of Simon Snow. Without the support of her sister, she’d not sure which one she even wants.

In English classes and creative writing courses, students are taught to disavow clichés within literature. There is a lot in Fangirl, and in the description above, that feels if not cliché than at least very familiar. The Bildungsroman genre is full of girls who are forced to choose between childhood games/ preoccupations and the pursuits of adults, or the lives experienced within their immediate families and existing with the values of society at large. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that throughout the book readers will see Cath learning lessons and through those lessons adjusting to life in college better.

However, something keeps the book from being boring or done before. That something is the details Rowell imbibes into each page of the book. Details that surpass the types of drinks Cath prefers from Starbucks or the posters on her walls or her predilection for sweaters that approaches the mania she saves for Simon Snow: although all of those details are also worked into the character description.

It is the details worked into the plot that make Fangirl feel both unique and timely.  While a coming of age novel of family and first love is nothing new, one based on fan fiction certainly is. The prevalence of internet and fan culture, along with the fact that this shy, straight, Midwestern girl is writing gay fan fiction (imagine a Harry Potter dating a Ron/Draco hybrid), make Fangirl feel like it couldn’t have been written in any other time.

The marketing and creation of the book also have strong connections to contemporary culture. Fangirl was chosen as the inaugural book for the tumblr book club and has inspired a plethora of fanart on the site. Web comic artist, Noelle Stevenson, designed the book’s cover. Rowell first created the story through the increasingly popular and internet based NaNoWriMo.

So maybe some of these details are the reason this book excited me so much. Or maybe the answer could be as simple as good story and strong writing. It could also be because there are lots of people who understand being highly anxious going to college and deeply missing the excitement of the Harry Potter years. Whatever the combination, one thing is for sure: the book is inspiring a lot of buzz within both reading and writing communities.

Alison Doherty can be found on Twitter @AlisonCDoherty or on her blog: