Even more terms every aspiring writer should know (but most don’t)

Well, I had thought that I could get through the rest of the alphabet today, but it turns out that people in the publishing industry favor words starting in N and beyond. Go figure.


And, to be perfectly honest, blogs full of definitions are a trifle easier on me. I write this free, gratis, and without pay, out of my great love for the PNWA and its members, and I have a HUGE deadline coming up this Saturday. As in BOOK deadline.


Thus, I’m a little strapped for time. Since Friday is my birthday, I would like to have enough done so I could sneak away from my computer for a couple of hours to celebrate. It’s my 39th, and since there’s a lawsuit pending over my memoir (A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK, available for presale now on Amazon! The more often I repeat this information, the happier my agent is.), I may well not have any worldly possessions remaining by my 40th. This year, then, would seem to be the year to whoop it up.


And if you would like to give me a birthday present, loyal reader, do me a favor: READ YOUR ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT IN HARD COPY AND OUT LOUD BEFORE YOU SEND IT OUT TO ANY AGENTS AND EDITORS. It would make me very, very happy.


Okay, here are the definitions du jour:


LEGS, n.: A book’s capacity to keep selling over a long period of time, as in, “My, that book has legs!” This is one of the few advantages that books by unknowns have over books by celebrities: celebrity books, even the ones that sell magnificently at first, almost never have legs.


OPTION CLAUSE, n. (also known as RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL): In a PUBLICATION CONTRACT, the section that specifies that the publisher gets the first look at the author’s next book (or sometimes, the next book in the same genre), before it is shown to other publishers. The option clause does not guarantee publication of the next book. Basically, this is the standard clause that came into fashion when two-and three-book contracts, which used to be the norm, fell out of favor. (There were too many second books that did not live up to the promise of the first. Judith Guest’s ORDINARY PEOPLE was brilliant, but did anyone but me read her next? Not enough of us, apparently.)


PROPOSAL, n.: An array of materials about a NF book or article not yet written, designed to sell the book in question to editors. If you are interested in writing a nonfiction book, check out my earlier blogs (August 23–29) discussing the ins and outs of this difficult task.


PUBLICATION CONTRACT, n.: The formal agreement between the publisher, the author, and the agent (if any) that specifies that timing and terms of publication. This is the document that will spell out the ADVANCE, ROYALTY rates, etc., all of which your agent will negotiate for you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it over very carefully before you sign it, however.


PUBLICIST, n.: A person who sets up readings and interviews for book; often also the person who prepares the PRESS KIT. In the past, publishing houses had in-house publicists; now, it is not unusual to expect the author to be her own publicist. (And lest you think that sending out your own media kit is a waste of time, recall this: well over half of the stories in any given newspaper are either placed by publicists and/or are the direct result of material provided by press kits.)


QUERY, v.: To send a cover letter and synopsis out to an agent or editor in the hope of exciting professional interest. Do keep that in mind: the SOLE purpose of the query is to engender interest; make sure you are marketing your work effectively. If you are gearing up to send out a query, do yourself a favor and read my earlier posts (circa Sept. 7-8) to get tips seldom seen in writers’ guides.


QUERY LETTER, n.: A polite, formal introduction of the author to the agent or editor.


READING, n.: Any opportunity to read your work aloud in public, to be listed on your WRITERS’ RESUME. It’s definitely worth your while to give readings periodically before you have a book out, both for the experience (it’s not as easy as it looks to read aloud well, especially if you are nervous) and as a SELLING POINT for you as an author: editors like authors who have experience presenting their own work.


REQUESTED MATERIALS, n.: What you should write on the outside of the envelope containing chapters an agent or editor has asked to see. This phrase will help keep your work out of the SLUSH PILE.


RETURNS, pl. n.: Unsold books that the bookseller sends back to the publisher for credit. Publishers, understandably, do not like these.


REVIEW COPIES, pl. n.: BOUND GALLEYS sent to book reviewers and other opinion-makers in advance of publication. Very often with plain or unattractive covers, the major publications get literally hundreds of these per week.




RIGHTS, n.: Generally, refers to the ability to be the first press in North America to print a piece of writing. The foreign rights (also known as TRANSLATION RIGHTS) are usually sold separately.


ROYALTIES, n.: The author’s share of the cover price of a book; as these are not standardized, first-time authors generally receive a lower rate than established ones. Hardcovers, TRADE PAPER, and paperbacks usually yield different rates of royalties for the author. Often, contracts will specify that the author’s percentage rises with the number of books sold (e.g., 10% for the first 10,000 copies, 12.5 for the second 10,000…). The PUBLICATION CONTRACT will specify these rates, as well as the rates for serialization rights, etc.


SASE, n.: Acronym for Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. What you should send with EVERY submission to an agent. Use actual stamps, rather than metered postage.


SELF-PUBLISHING, v.: When the author pays for every aspect of publication, handles distribution herself, and keeps all of the profits. Often confused — erroneously — with SUBSIDY PUBLISHING. A risky venture, but occasionally very lucrative. (Kevin Trudeau’s controversial NATURAL CURES ‘THEY’ DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT, for instance, has been immensely profitable, but then, he had an immense promotional budget that permitted lengthy infomercials.) A big caveat, however: most newspapers and periodicals have hard-and-fast rules that prevent self-published books from being reviewed.


SELLING POINT, n.: Any attribute that makes you and your book stand out from the mass of other books. Too many writers assume that their books should be published simply because they have written them. To a publishing professional, the question is not so much WHETHER a particular book should be published as “WHY should I publish it?” The selling points form the answer to this question. I have discussed selling points within the context of my earlier postings on how to write a book proposal, but if you missed that, I shall be writing about how to determine what your book’s selling points are again soon. Same bat time, same bat channel.


I shall stop here for today – Ss are inordinately popular in the industry, so there isn’t a convenient stopping-place nearby. Remember, if you have a term you would like to see me define that I have not covered here, drop me a note via the COMMENTS function, below. Always glad to be of service.


And in the meantime, keep up the good work!


— Anne Mini


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