Common Terms New Writers Should
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2008 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
(You can find the first half of this list here:
Learning everything about the world of publishing is the only way to
make wise decisions about your future as a writer. In recent months,
though, I have learned that even the simplest terms can be
misunderstood, or in some cases purposely misrepresented to new writers.
Knowing the terms that are used, and what they mean, can help new
writers make informed decisions on how they want to approach the idea of
presenting their work to the public.
The list from this and the previous article are in no way exhaustive.
They are simple and I hope will help to clear up some of the confusion.
Publishing means, quite simply, putting the work before the public.
This can take many forms from the big name publishing houses
printing the book to people self-publishing on websites. It has
nothing to do with whether or not the author is paid in any way.
Handing out copies of books on street corners is publishing.
However, if you go to Lulu.com -- for instance -- and put together a
book just for family and friends and give them as presents, you're
not published. As long as you don't have the book listed on Lulu in
the open area, where anyone who comes along can get it, you are only
making copies that are, in essence, no different than print the
copies off on your printer and giving them away.
Not being paid for the work has no affect on whether something is
published or not. Neither does the formal registering of the
copyright have anything to do with whether or not something is
published. The only thing that matters is whether or not the
material was presented to the public in any form.
2. Query Letter
Some publishers and agents ask that you query first before you send
the submission package. This is simply a single page letter giving
the absolute bare-bones idea of your novel. It is a difficult piece
to write, especially when you know that your chance to submit may
depend entirely on those few paragraphs. Some places also ask for
the first five pages of the manuscript. Some people suggest that
you send those first five pages with every query.
Like a cover letter, the query letter needs to be free of any
mistakes. This includes making certain that you have spelled the
person's name right. Double check everything, and especially such
things as your own email address if it is included.
3. Submission Package:
This is the collection of material that you get together for the
publisher, according to what the publisher has asked for. This
might include part or all of the novel, a synopsis, a dictionary for
any constructed language, a marketing plan (which is being
increasingly requested) and author information. Unless the
publisher specifically says so, never include art
4. Vanity Press
This is a company that has the author pay to be published. Since
the advent of Lulu.com and Café Press, there is no reason at all for
a person to pay to have a book published, even if he or she doesn't
want to go through the traditional publication routes. Vanity
presses prey on the author's wish to see their book in print, and
often lie to them about either how good it is or about how
impossible it is to be published anywhere else.
Never pay to have a book published unless you have a very specific
Any time that the author
presents a book without going through a publisher, it is considered
self-published. Some traditionally-published professional
authors will sometimes use this method in order to bring out some of
the stories they have regained copyright to, or to add to a series
that has otherwise fallen out of print. These books will often
do pretty well because the author already has a fan base to draw on.
New authors who
self-publish are not considered professionals. Too often, the
books that are self-published (either through a POD service or on a
website) are not well-written and are not edited at all. This
presents a big problem for those who are good writers, but who still
want to pursue the self-publishing route. Major bookstores
will not take the books for their shelves, reviewers (who have been
burnt too often on self-published work and the reaction to an honest
review) will not accept them. The author is reduced to selling
the books on the Internet or in person, and must, in essence sell
every book himself.
This choice can be
fulfilling as long as the author knows what to expect and what not
to expect, but it is not an easy choice for someone trying to create
a true writing career. However, it should be noted that
nonfiction seems to do better in self-publishing, especially if the
work has a narrow focus that would not make it a good book for a
5. Serial Rights (and others)
Serial rights are usually sold to periodicals, and include the right
for the magazine or newspaper to print a section of the longer
piece. Sometimes they have the right to print the entire novel in
several pieces, usually before the novel is released in book format.
There are so many different 'rights' that have to be assigned when
publishing a novel, short story or article these days, that it can
be difficult to keep them straight. Sometimes the wording changes
from contract-to-contract, especially as new technology brings new
possibilities. First North American Serial Rights, for instance,
includes several different parts -- the First sale, all North
American sales, and serial right sales. There are also (among
others that might pop up) foreign rights, movie rights, audio
rights, and even ebook rights -- which no one had considered
important until a few years ago.
Getting a contract means checking all these rights and making
certain what you are signing away. This is where having an agent
can be an essential part of making certain you get a fair deal. If
you do not have an agent, or you are working in the short story
market -- which isn't lucrative enough for agents -- make certain
that you understand the terms. Search the Internet and go to
writing sites and ask questions. There is no reason to sign
anything you don't understand.
In the publishing world, this term means making unauthorized copies
of published materials -- in other words, ignoring the author's
copyright and stealing his or her work. These works turn up on
various websites and boards where others can download them as well.
Piracy is not the same as plagiarism. In plagiarism, a part of a
larger story or article is quoted within someone else's work and not
giving proper attribution -- in other words, claiming the words as
something you wrote. People often say there is a 10% rule -- change
10% of the wording -- to get past the plagiarism charge, but that is
a fallacy. The work has to be substantially different -- meaning
you can learn information and use what you learn, but you must write
it in your own words.
7. Public Domain
Most works enter into the public domain because they are older and
their copyrights have expired. This means they are free to be
copied by anyone, and you will often find public domain books as a
mainstay of publishers of classic material. Any work published in
the United States before 1923 is now in public domain. Certain
others may be as well, because the laws changed several times
between 1923 and today, which allows some material to be in public
domain and others not to be.
Books may also enter the public domain through the agreement of the
Material that appears on the Internet is not automatically placed in
the Public Domain. The work on the Internet -- everything from
stories to poems, blog posts to articles, and pictures to digital
art work (including website designs) are copyrighted to the person
who created them. As writers (whether published or not) we should
be especially careful to respect the copyrights of others.