Publisher’s Jargon Every Writer Should Understand

Dress for success by understanind publishing terms.

Dress for success by understanding publishing terms.

On our writing journey there’s always new things to learn. Writing jargon, one of them, can be confusing. Mastering this terminology makes us a professional. Yes, a professional. You know, the self-help gurus always say: “Dress for the job you want not for the job you have.” So let’s all put on our professional writing garment by learning and using writer’s terms.

How about starting with a few terms you might find in a Market Guide or on the submission page of a website.

Assignment: A description of an article a publisher would like to run. Study the publication to get a feel for what they like, and then make your article shine. Your article could still get a thumbs down after you submit it.

On Spec: An editor likes an idea presented in a query letter and asks for the complete manuscript on spec. This means, after all your work, they may not publish it. Be sure to follow the editor’s instruction in creating your article so it meets their needs. Be prepared to rewrite before it is accepted. And even after all that, it may still be rejected.

Byline: Your name under the title or at the top of a page. What we all love to see.

Clean Copy: a manuscript free of typos, grammatical and formatting errors. This is so much easier to achieve with our PCs compared to typewriters years ago. I love not having to deal with whiteout, carbon paper and retyping. Don’t be lazy and assume the spellcheck has you covered. Get another set of eyes on it. You might want to print it off and read it out loud to be certain you have caught all errors.

Cover Letter: A letter sent with a submitted article. It contains your writing credentials and a little bit about your article. Be sure to include information the editor requests.

Electronic Submission: A manuscript submitted electronically. That seems like a no brainer, but it is important to do this correctly. Most editors want your submission as an attachment. Some however want it in the body of your email. Check the submission guidelines. Be sure your name is on the attachment, i.e. Cindy Huff- My Article Title. They may even request your name in the subject line of your email. If a full manuscript of your book is requested, send as a zip drive. Otherwise your email will be too large and pretty much impossible to open.

Fair use: The amount of material that can be quoted without securing permission. This can be tricky. Check the permission page at the front of a book. Websites often have the permission information at the bottom. Some authors allow zero quotes without permission. Some require you to credit them with a specific tag line. While others allow you to shamelessly quote the whole book. When in doubt ask permission. The old adage it’s-easier-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission does not apply here. Your article or book may never see the light of day if permission has not been secured. No publication wants a lawsuit. Click for further information.

Fillers: This is exactly what it sounds like. A small piece to fill a space. In Reader’s Digest this might be a quote or a joke. Some periodicals are looking for quizzes or puzzles. They might be a small news item. Check submission guidelines for specifics. A nice chunk of change can be made from fillers.

First person articles: A true personal story written from the viewpoint of the one who experienced it. The pronouns I, me, my, our, etc. are used.

Kill fee: Small fee paid to the author for an article that wasn’t used. Submission guidelines state whether they offer a kill fee.

Payment on acceptance and Payment on publication: I mention these together because if you see the word payment, you will cause yourself frustration.

Publication payments vary from magazine to magazine.

Publication payments vary from magazine to magazine.

Payment on acceptance: Check is sent with letter of acceptance or just before your article is published.

Payment on publication: Check is sent after it is published, which could be months even years later. The editor may save your piece for just the right magazine theme which is schedule for a future date. Seasonal articles fall in this category. Keep a record of when you sent the article and when you received your confirmation letter of payment on publication. You may want to send a follow-up inquiry if you feel the time-line is getting too long.

Platform: A writer’s sphere of influence. This can be FB friends, church and club affiliations, twitter, blog, website or speaking engagements. Anything that lets the publisher know you are able to help market your book.

Published clips: Originals or copies of articles an author has written to present to an editor. It might be included in a query letter or shared at a writer’s conference. Some publishers will visit your links, but most prefer to see these clips. It lets them see your style and quality of writing. Scan some into a file so they can be sent electronically if an editor requests them.

Query letter: A letter to an editor sharing or pitching an article or book idea. You would include the idea, your qualifications for writing the article or book. Then add when you will have it completed. If you met the editor in the past, mention this as well.

SASE: A self-addressed stamped envelope. This is a rare bird in our electronic age. But some publishers still prefer the manuscript mailed rather than an electronic submission. This is where the SASE comes into play. Their address is in the return address corner, your address is on the front and correct postage to return your manuscript is affixed. That is also the envelope they will probably use to mail a check so don’t think not enclosing one with your article shows you have confidence they will accept it. It only shows you don’t follow directions.

Sidebar: A short piece to accompany your article. It will appear on the side of your article usually in a shaded box. It contains, graphs, bullet points, pointers. Things that add additional information but are not needed in the original article. Editors usually pay extra for sidebars.

 Research submission guidelines thoroughly. free stock photo.

Research submission guidelines thoroughly. free stock photo.

Slush pile: Where all unsolicited manuscripts go to die. To keep your work out of the slush pile read submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Many publications don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. Some only deal with agents. While others will take unsolicited manuscripts, but if you violate even one point in their writer’s submission guidelines your manuscript is toast. A requested manuscript can end up in the slush pile if any part of the guidelines is missing. There is a tiny (more like minuscule) possibility that it could get rescued from the slush pile and published, but don’t hold your breath. Do your homework to avoid the slush pile. Be sure nothing is missing from your submission before your push the send button.

Unsolicited ms: A manuscript sent to an editor cold. No one asked for it. Again read the guidelines, and if they will accept unsolicited ms, add a query letter explaining why you sent your manuscript. If the guidelines say no unsolicited ms, do not send one. It will be deleted, placed in the circular file or if you are lucky, it will die a slow death in the slush pile.

Submission guidelines: Lest I forget the obvious and in case you have figured out the definition by my constant reference, writer’s guidelines or submission guidelines are the specific instructions from the publisher regarding sending your work to them. It mentions word count, themes, formatting, types of submissions, and dates of submission. (Some publishers only take manuscripts during a small window of time.) The publishers often times break it down to very specific items. Some have a page for new writers with examples of how to submit to them. Read, read and reread the guidelines.

Next Monday I’ll explain the terms rights and royalties.

Feel free to comment on any of these terms and add a few I haven’t mentioned. A few of you have sent me messages on Facebook saying they can’t find the place to comment. For those who are on my main page click the word comment in the list below or click on the title to take you to the post page where you will see an area to comment on the bottom. Hope that helps.

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