Common Terms New Writers Should
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2008 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
New writers stepping into the field are faced with several problems, and
some they may not even realize. Terminology for the writing field can
be confusing and misinformation abounds on the Internet. People often
tell others what they 'know' when, in fact, they sometimes don't
understand the fundamentals of what they are talking about -- and this
is, unfortunately, a growing trend. The writing world, despite have a
huge professional presence on the Internet, has more than its share of
Understanding the terminology of the writing community can help you
better comprehend what others are discussing. It will also help you
when you deal with professionals when you begin your own submissions and
begin the discussion of contract terms.
For the next few Issues, I'm going to define a few very common writing
terms. These are phrases many of us already know and do not need to be
told. However, there are a lot of new authors stepping into the writing
ring, and it helps if they understand what we're saying. That way, the
next time someone begins talking about galleys, when they really mean
submissions, or copyright when they really mean print rights, even new
writers will be able to tell the difference.
Advances and Royalties
When an author accepts the contract from a publisher, it often comes
with an agreement that the publisher pay the author a set amount of
money. This is an 'advance' which is an advance against royalties.
Royalties are the amount of money the author gets per sale of each
The amount of the advance varies depending on several things,
including if the writer is already a known name or not. A writer
might also accept a lower advance so that it is paid off more
quickly and he starts getting royalty checks earlier.
If the book does not 'earn out' -- that is, does not make back
enough to cover the amount already paid to the author -- the author
does not pay the money back to the publisher. The publisher is
gambling with the company money, and betting that this book will
gain them more than they spend to produce it.
This is the person who looks over the manuscript after the author
has made it the best that he or she possibly can. Sometimes writers
miss things -- and sometimes copyeditors do as well. They are just
an extra set of eyes to try and make a book as near perfect as
They may also suggest some changes in things like pacing, etc.
These are suggestions. Generally, the publisher will side with the
author in those cases -- after all, the publisher already decided he
liked the book. This does not always happen, and in fact, there are
times when a book is pulled from the publication lineup because the
three involved (author, copyeditor, publisher) cannot come to an
agreement. The author has the say about the book.
There are good and bad copyeditors, and it's certainly not a perfect
system. It's just a step that helps to make the book better.
Copyright, at the bottom line, is the right of the author to say who
can publish the book. The copyright remains with the author, even
when a publisher prints a book. Look on the copyright notice of
books and you'll see that most of them are in the name of the
author, not the publisher or anyone else. Occasionally, the author
may work in a closed universe system -- Star Wars, Star Trek, the
various game systems, etc. -- in which case the copyright will be in
the name of whoever owns the rights to the overall universe.
Copyright is automatic the moment the material is created in a
tangible form -- paper, computer files, a recording, etc. This
means that anything published on the Internet is fully protected by
copyright. There is a second level of copyright that requires the
material be registered, in the U.S., with the copyright office.
This is generally what publishers do for you, and it essentially
changes the level from creative to professional. With a registered
copyright, a person can sue any infringement for loss of income.
Too many people believe that if something is up on the Internet, it
is free for the taking. This isn't true. There are several sites
that also list in their Terms of Service that the author retains
copyright to anything posted there. They are not giving the person
anything he does not already own. However, there are sites that,
while saying the person retains copyright, also retain the right to
use any material that is placed on their boards. In those cases,
they are grabbing the print rights and posting on those boards is an
agreement that they can use your material as they see fit.
The Creative Commons copyright gives more freedom for distribution
of material and less control to the author. Some people have seen
this as a way of allowing their work to reach a larger audience.
An ebook is a book that is supplied in a format that can be read on
computers or hand-held devices. Some are distributed to the readers
as a file; others are read on a website. Ebooks can be found on
sites that follow the traditional publishing pattern of
submission/rejection and copyediting (for instance) or they can be
self-published. The quality of the material is not based on how it
POD (Definition 1)
Print on Demand is a technology and has nothing to do with who
provides the book. The technology allows a person to print as few
as one copy of a book at a time, so that there is no need to keep a
stock on hand. The technology uses computer files, rather than
offset printing which uses an inked plate as the starting point.
POD books are more expensive per book. However, for many small
press companies, they are more cost-effective than having to buy
several hundred copies of a single title through the offset method.
It is a very popular option for self-published writers, as well.
POD (Definition 2)
on Demand is considered to be a vanity press term, referring to way
the company presents the idea of book publication to the author.
The first draft is the first, full telling of the story. There may
be pre-work in outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding, and
various notes, but the story itself has not been fully told until
For many writers, this is the most fun of writing. It is where you
get to fly and experiment, and see what you can do with your story,
without worrying about the reader, because no one has to see it but
The first draft has sometimes been referred to as the exploration
draft, because it allows the writer to find the right path through
the story. Some people write very tight first drafts and others
allow themselves to wander all over the story line, and correct the
material in rewrites and edits.
First Publication Rights
These are the rights that most publishers are interested in buying
from the author. It is the right to be the first to show the book
to the public. Because of this, many are growing increasingly less
interested in anything that has been on open sites on the Internet
because it has already been shown to the public. There is also a
concern with being able to prove who really wrote the material after
it has been available on the Internet.
Galleys are usually the bound editions that are the last step before
publication. They don't have the cover art and they don't have some
of the other extras. An author usually gets a galley copy to go
over one last time before the book goes fully to print. Galley
copies also sometimes go out to reviewers so that the publisher can
have early reviews of the book. (There is one notorious story about
a reviewer in Sweden, I believe, who wrote a scathing review of a
book by an author the reviewer really disliked, and the review went
into print. Imagine the surprise when his boss got a call by the
publisher to explain that the author, because of real life matters,
had never been able to write that book. Even though it had been on
the old lists to be released on that day, it was still unwritten,
let alone sent out in galley copies to reviewers.)
Guidelines are the link between the publisher and the writer who
wants to submit to them. Guidelines tell you what the publisher
specifically wants. Not following the guidelines is a sign of one
of two things -- that the person either never bothered to read them
or that they think they're too good to follow them. Either way, it
is a bad impression to give the person you want to buy the rights to
your book. Do you think a publisher should be interested in someone
who can't even take the time to follow a few lines of instructions?
Do you think the publisher wants a working relationship with someone
who is so pretentious that they think they don't have to follow
Your submission is a reflection of who you are as a writer and will
help them determine if you are someone they will want to work with
for the next several years. Act professionally and make a good
impression, and it will help you take that next step in your career.
Those are our first few words. They're all common words and ideas in
the writing community, and knowing them will help you. Even if you are
not looking at a traditional or professional writing career, knowing
what the others are saying will still help you better define what you
want from your own choices.