Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Common Terms New Writers Should Know,
Part 1

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 this problem.

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.


1.    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 book. 

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.

2.    Copyeditor:

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 possible.

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.

3.    Copyright:

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.

4.    Ebook

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 is published.

5.    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.

6.    POD (Definition 2)

Publish on Demand is considered to be a vanity press term, referring to way the company presents the idea of book publication to the author.

7.    First Draft

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 this point.

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 you. 

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.

8.    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.

9.    Galleys:

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.)

10. Guidelines

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 those guidelines?

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.