The Words of the Writing World

This post was originally shared on my old blog in September 2013.

I talk a lot about writing and stories, for obvious reasons, and you might not always know the terms I use. So today I’m sharing a little dictionary of the language of bookish fandoms to help you better understand and interact with this wonderful weird world! I’m not going to define basic English class terms (“plot” and “metaphor” and such), but if you have a question about a particular term at any point, just let me know!

Clipart on a red background of a business woman sitting in front of a laptop holding up a book and pencil icon in one hand and a question mark icon in the other

Advance: The money that a traditional publishing company gives an author upfront in exchange for the right to publish their manuscript. The advance must be “earned back” from sales before the author receives any royalties.

Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC): An early copy of a novel given to reviewers before publication. This edition is also used for final proofreading and is therefore sometimes referred to as a “proof.” It may also be called a “galley.”

Alpha Readers: Trusted people who read a writer’s story while they write it, generally chapter by chapter, to give critique.

Alternate Universe (AU): An alteration of an existing fictional world, often seen in fanfiction, fanart, or other non-canonical creative works.

Audience: The readers of a piece of writing. Every piece of writing has a specific intended audience, but not all its readers or fans will be in that audience.

Beta Readers: Trusted people who read a writer’s story after they are finished writing it to give critique. 

Blog: A useful online platform where people write about their lives and/or businesses. You’re on one right now, funnily enough!

BroTP: A non-romantic ship–in other words, you love the friendship between these two characters.

Canon: Something that is an official part of a fictional world/story/character as approved by the creator. This is usually limited to what is in the actual story itself, but creators may have other headcanons that become a part of the fanon.

Category: The age group of a book’s intended audience.

Children’s Publishing: The world around the publication of books ranging from picture books to YA novels, though YA novels are not always included when this term is used informally.

Comp Titles: Other stories that are compared to a writer’s manuscript, generally for pitch or publicity purposes.

Contract: A magical legal piece of paper that means you are now in an official business relationship with either an agent or a publisher. These are usually very complicated and jargony and need to be looked over carefully before being signed.

Critique: Comments given about how a writer can improve a piece of writing. In the ideal case, critique is offered directly to the writer when requested (reviews shared online after a book is published are for readers, not writers–don’t tag writers in negative reviews!) and is neither blandly complimentary nor viciously cruel, but instead helpfully constructive.

Critique Partners: Two writers, usually of similar styles or genres, who swap stories with each other in order to give critique.

Did Not Finish (DNF): When a reader decides not to finish reading a book.

Draft: Different versions of a piece, progressing in number the more the writing is edited. You want a good few of these before you do anything in the way of publishing.

Editing: The process by which a writer changes their manuscript after writing their first draft to make it actually good. This must be done to the brink of perfection. It is not optional and is sometimes known as “the e-word.”

Editor: A professional who edits for profit. A traditional book editor is usually a high-ranking member of a publisher’s staff. Many of them will not look at a writer’s work unless the writer is represented by a literary agent. When a writer says they’ve been accepted by an editor, it generally means they are on track for publication.

Elevator Pitch: A pitch that can be given within the space of an elevator ride, about 20 – 30 seconds. It is a very important tool for writers going to writing conferences.

Fanart: A piece of artwork focused on a fictional world/story/characters that was not created by the artist. Fanfiction is technically one kind of fanart, although the term “fanart” is usually used in reference to visual forms of art.

Fandom: The space filled by a group of people (“fans”) who enthuse about a story to the point of being almost more insane than the actual creator. They like to hang out together, create related art, and discuss their particular fictional obsession. It is important for creators to give fandoms and fans the respectful space they deserve. 

Fanfiction: A fictional piece written about someone else’s fictional world/story/characters. Fanfiction is not canon, but may gain many fans of its own, thus becoming accepted fanon, and is often rather amusing or extremely inappropriate.

Fanon: Something that is not actually canon for a story, but that is widely accepted by the fandom anyway.

Formatting: The “right” style of punctuation, spacing, margins, and more as defined by a specific publication that you are submitting to or being published by. Chicago style is usually preferred by traditional book publishers.

Full Manuscript Request: When an editor or agent, after receiving a pitch, asks to be given the entire manuscript to read. This is also known as a “full request,” “FM,” or “FMR.”

Genre: A classification system for books defined by the subject and content of the story, including areas like “fantasy,” “science fiction,” and “realistic,” as seen with my list of recommended books.

Headcanon: Something that a person imagines to be true of a fictional world/story/characters.

Internet: A place where fandoms and creators often hang out.

Literary Agent: A professional who represents an author in the publishing world. They send manuscripts and queries to publishers, giving the author a better chance of traditional publication, and negotiate contracts.

Logline: A dramatic, one-sentence summary of a novel. It is very annoying to write.

Manuscript: The full text of an unpublished book.

Middle Grade (MG): A category of books written for preteens, ages 9 – 13ish.

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, officially in November, although there are spinoffs every month at this point. It is a very useful tool for getting a novel written, as it sets a specific word goal (50,000) and gives you a structured, social environment in which to reach it.

New Adult (NA): A somewhat controversial category of books written for college-age adults.

Novel: A lengthy fictional story that is published in book form. It is usually 45,000 to 100,000 words in length, but this varies by category and genre.

Novella: A fictional piece of writing somewhere between 25 pages and 45,000 words in length.

One True Pair (OTP): Two (or more) fictional characters that you ship very intensely.

Pantser: A writer who doesn’t plan the plot before writing a piece and just jumps into it, writing “by the seat of their pants.”

Partial Manuscript Request: When an editor or agent, after receiving a pitch, asks to be given a specific portion of a manuscript to read. This is also known as a “partial request,” “PM,” or “PMR.”

Pitch: What you say to get an agent or editor interested in working with your book. Pitches come in many different forms and sizes, both written and verbal, including the elevator pitch, query, and proposal.

Plotter: A writer who plans most of their story before writing the actual piece.

Point of View (POV): The perspective from which a story is told. Various types of POVs exist, as taught in English classes.

Proposal: Like a query, but for non-fiction. I don’t know much about this because I write fiction.

Publicist: A professional whose job is to promote and market books to get them sold.

Publisher: A business that makes money by publishing and selling books. They may also be referred to as a “publishing company.”

Publishing: The act of taking a manuscript and converting it into a sellable book.

Query Letter: A one-page formatted business letter requesting that an agent or editor consider a novel for representation or publication.

Reader: A very cool person who allows writers to make use of their craziness. Valuable and desired.

Revise and Resubmit (R&R): When an agent, after reading a full manuscript, asks for it to be revised in a number of ways and then resubmitted to be considered for representation.

Royalty: The percentage of money an author receives for each sale of a traditionally published book.

Scam: An “editor” or “agent” that’s really just taking advantage of you. There are lots of different kinds of scams, but most involve you paying the editor or agent in advance. This can ruin your reputation as an author and is really just awful to go through. Be wary!

Self-Publishing: When an author publishes their book by paying upfront for the services of a self-publishing company and other freelance professionals. The author ultimately manages all of the formatting, artwork, editing, publicity, etc.

Shipping: Being a fan of a fictional romantic relationship. When you “ship” two characters, you want them to end up together, and they therefore become your “ship” (or possibly even your OTP). Non-romantic shipping also happens, to a lesser degree.

Short Story: A fictional piece of writing that is shorter than a novella.

Spelling and Grammar: ​Something one can be creative with, but only if they know how.

Synopsis: A document of varied length, either 1 – 2 pages or 8 – 12 pages, that summarizes the entire plot of a novel.

Traditional Publishing: When an author publishes their book through a traditional publishing company without upfront payment, with and with the help of employed professionals. This requires lots of jumping through hoops/pitching of your manuscript.

To Be Read (TBR): When a reader intends to read, but has not yet read, a book.

Trunking: When a writer decides to permanently stop working on and/or trying to publish their book. (Sometimes writers change their mind after trunking books, though.)

Work in Progress (WIP): A novel that is currently being written, edited, or sent out to agents/editors.

Worldbuilding: Creating a fictional world for a story, usually most applicable in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. This process is very complicated and the bane of many writers’ existences.

Writer: A person who is a bit mentally unstable and likes to express it by telling stories through the written word. They are also known as an “author,” although that term is a little more formal. I generally use “author” in reference to published writers only.

Writing Conference: Where a bunch of writers get together, often with agents and editors, to attempt to get their crazy out in public and also to improve upon it somewhat. These are very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Writing Group: A group of writers who work with each other on their insanity. Often they are all critique partners with each other.

Young Adult (YA): A category of books written for teens ages 14 – 18ish.

Thank you for reading! I hope this dictionary proves helpful for you.

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Image via pixy.org.

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