Demystifying Publishing Jargon: 100 Common Terms Every Author Should Know – The Urban Writers

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Demystifying Publishing Jargon: 100 Common Terms Every Author Should Know

by The Urban Writers

When trying to break into the writing business, you may notice a lot of jargon you don't understand. Learning these words and phrases will help you navigate your publishing journey. If you know all the phrases and words you need, things will seem less overwhelming and complicated. 

Publishing Jargon

If you are new to publishing and don't recognize many of the words being thrown at you, you're not alone. Many who are just starting out don't know the jargon and have no idea how to respond to it. Learning how to respond to it and understanding the meaning behind any feedback you get is critical to improving your writing. 

It helps to know what to say to agents, publishers, or anyone else who may be interested in publishing your writing. Being knowledgeable makes you easier to work with because you already have the means to communicate and understand certain terms or phrases without an explanation.

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Five Words You Should Know to Get Started

When beginning your publishing journey, you will likely run into words you don't understand. If you have only started looking into getting your work published, you may see the word query or the word synopsis come up a lot. These words may not seem like much at first, but they are important. 

  • Agent: Many publishers prefer to work with writers who have agents, so knowing and understanding them is essential. They work as a negotiator for you in a way that helps you secure better publishing contracts and with communication between you and your editor. Typically, agents are paid a percentage of the writer's advance or sales once the book is published. 
  • ARC: ARC stands for the advance reader copy. The purpose of an arc is to have people who will review your work upon reading it. This is one of the final steps before publishing because it gives the writer any last-minute criticisms they can use to make their story better and helps the book gain traction upon publication. 
  • Blurb: A blurb is what you see on the back of the book or on the inside flap. It tells the reader more about the work and can include reviews from other well-known writers. If you write something another writer loves, others may be more inclined to buy it. This is also where the section about the author is placed. The writing for these should be short, with enough information to get the reader interested. 
  • Copy editing: Editing is one of the most vital parts of publishing, so understanding the different types of editing is important. Copy editing is the part of the process that checks the work for errors, including spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If your work is non-fiction, this also requires the work to be checked to ensure accuracy. 
  • Copyright: Without copyright, your work isn't protected. Brushing up on current copyright laws is important and can help keep your work from being used by others. To minimize the risk of your work being stolen, it is a good idea to get it registered as soon as possible. While this isn't required, it makes it easier to prove the work is truly yours. 

Five Common Words to Look Out For 

  • Filler: Filler is used to help lengthen articles or stories, though its use should be minimalized. Editors will look out for filler or filler words and will likely ask you to remove them before the publishing is completed. 
  • Genre or niche: This will help you build your career by making your work easier to find for potential readers. For example, if you write nonfiction books about self-help, this is a niche you have experience in. If you write historical fiction, then this is also considered a niche or genre. This will help you find your audience, so learning all you can about it is a good idea.
  • Hook: If you want to draw your readers in and keep them interested, you need to find a way to hook them from the very beginning. When reading your work, they should be pulled in and want to keep reading. Having a great hook will help your book stand out, especially if you are busy sending queries to agents or publishers. 
  • Proofreading: Once your work is finished, you always want to proofread. This allows you to check for any final mistakes you could have missed and is even more effective when you work with your editor to complete this. It is always best to have more than one set of eyes on your work to ensure nothing is missed before publication. 
  • Query: To get your book published traditionally, you will likely want to find an agent since they know how to get publishers interested. They will help you navigate through the process and will sometimes supply you with a good editor to ensure your work is polished by the time it's released. To get an agent, you need to send a query, which is basically a letter to agents describing your work in a way that gets them interested enough to invest in your ideas. 

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Types of Publication 

Publishing can be complicated, and there is a lot to consider before taking the leap. First, you will want to know more about what these different types of publishing are and the details of how they work. 

  • Subsidiary publishers: Otherwise known as vanity publishers, subsidiaries are publishers who will publish an author's work for money. Unlike traditional publishing, you are the one paying to get everything polished instead of the publishing company. When you pay them, they help you get your work published, but there are no guarantees. 
  • Traditional publisher: Traditional publishing is one of the most common forms of publishing, but it also requires a lot of work. If you want to get your work traditionally published, you need to put your very best into your work. Publishers and agents won't accept manuscripts they don't believe they can sell.
  • Self-publishing: Self-publishing has risen in popularity over the years and saves writers years of being rejected by agents and publishers. However, the issue with self-publishing is you need to pay for everything yourself. The printing, marketing, editing, and so on all need to be done by you, and if you aren't careful, your work could end up costing you money. 

Before polishing anything, you want to ensure you are making the right decisions for yourself and your work. If you think you can do it all yourself, then self-publishing may be the easiest way to go. However, if you want to get your work traditionally published, you will need to ensure you're putting in the work to make your story the best it can possibly be. 

Demystifying Potentially Confusing Terms or Expressions

Some of the words or terms you hear when working to publish your work may catch you off guard a few times. There are a few that are only understood by those who are actively working in writing. People who aren't writers have no idea what you're talking about, and if you're new, it's something to learn right away. 

  • All rights: Most of the time, writers own the rights to their own work. However, they also have the option to sell these rights to others to do with as they please. This term is often seen when authors sell all the rights to their work to a publisher or someone else who is interested in it. When this happens, you give up any rights you have to the work and can no longer use it as your own. 
  • Fair use: Using the work of others and claiming it as your own isn't something that is tolerated in the publishing world. That said, there is fair use, which means you are able to take small pieces out of the work of others to draw attention to the original work or use it as a reference without infringing on any copyright laws. 
  • Lead time: This is the amount of time that passes between your editor working on your manuscript to publishing. Sometimes edits can take a while, especially when you haven't gone through your work and edited it the best you could prior to sending it to the editor.
  • Personalized rejection: Personalized rejections are a little more encouraging because they let you know that the agent at least has some interest in your story. 
  • Boilerplate: This is the term used for standardized contracts, which is an agreement made between parties, one of which is given contractual terms. Most of the time, these terms are non-negotiable. 

Common Phrases to Learn

There are plenty of phrases in the writing industry. If you want to be caught up on all the latest things happening in the publishing world, you will need to understand the words being used. The better you understand them, the easier it is to connect to what they are saying. 

  • Exclusive: This is when authors are given the opportunity to have their submission considered, even when there is no agent involved. Most publishers only want authors with an agent, but this gives you a chance to submit your work without one. The exclusive time period typically has a cap, so you need to submit within a certain timeframe. 
  • Form rejection: A form rejection is a type of rejection from agents that is very generic and usually copied and pasted somewhere in the letter. It can be painful and discouraging, especially when you want a certain agent. When you begin querying, you will likely receive a lot of these. Even though agents may want to respond to everyone personally, there simply wouldn't be the time to do so. 
  • Feature: Articles that don't focus on the news but rather topics that provide information about human interests. 
  • Foreign rights: If you plan to sell your written work in other countries, you will likely need to sell the foreign rights to your work in order for it to be translated or sold. You can also offer reprint rights, which will allow you to maintain ownership over your work while granting your permission for it to be translated or sold. 
  • Imprint: This is the name publishers apply to their specific line of books. 
  • Novella: A short story or a book that is between 7,000 to 30,000 words is considered a novella. Many non-fiction and fiction books are written as novellas. 

Unspoken Rules of Writing

When you finish your writing and feel it is ready to be submitted to agents or publishers, there are a few things that are important to know. Certain agents and publishers have different rules when they are seeking new authors. Always ensure you know what they are looking for before making your pitch. Here are some important phrases you should know. 

  • Show, don't tell: You don't want to tell your readers what is happening in a story by explaining everything. Instead, paint a picture. Show them your world; don't just explain it. 
  • No prologues: As with any rule, there is a little leeway, but the common consensus is that most agents and publishers don't want prologues because they don't add anything to the story that can't be explained later on. 
  • Never use a passive voice: Using a passive voice is never recommended. While it is okay to use it in certain situations, when you are trying to publish your work, it is best to ensure your work is written in the active voice instead. 
  • Always get an outside edit: Having a second set of eyes on your work is always a good idea. Self-editing all your own writing can lead to more mistakes. When you have more than one set of eyes, the other person may be able to see some of the things you missed and can offer suggestions for things you haven't thought about. 
  • Write every day: When you are a writer, it's easy to fall into a bout of writer's block or find yourself less interested in your work. Writing every day can help improve this, especially if you always have something to write about. 
  • Use simple words: There is no point in using big words that most people don't understand. You want your readers to engage with the content, which isn't easy when there are words being used that they don't understand. 

Writer Jargon

When writers talk about their work, you may hear them say certain phrases and wonder what they mean. Below is a list of phrases you are likely to hear when communicating with other writers or people in the publishing industry. 

  • Minimum/maximum word count: Depending on the content you're writing, there are recommended word counts. For example, most books shouldn't be too long and should sit somewhere between 60,000 words to 80,000 words. Fantasy works get a little leeway for world-building and should be no longer than 95,000 to 100,000.
  • Writer's block: When a writer runs out of ideas for what to write, this is called writer's block. It's a common thing experienced by writers, though there are ways to help get yourself inspired again. 
  • NaNoWriMo: This is an annual writing challenge. Those who participate are expected to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It has been around for a few years and is always gaining more popularity. 
  • In the query trenches: This is what writers say when they are out querying their book. Trying to get an agent to say yes and who wants to read more is hard, so this is the term used to represent the feeling of querying. 
  • Rejection happens: Just about every book ever published has been rejected at least once, so it is something you learn to get used to as a writer. More than likely, your work will be rejected several times before finding the right home. 

Marketing Words to Know

Once you are finally ready to publish your work, you want to ensure you know how to market it. Whether you are self-publishing or using a traditional publisher, you will still want to understand marketing. The better you are at marketing, the more likely you are to get people to read your books. 

  • Net royalty: This is the amount of money paid out to the publisher after all fees have been removed. 
  • Multiple contracts: A contract that is made between the writer and publisher agreeing to publish future books. This is typical for stories where more than one book is planned out to make a series. 
  • Elevator pitch: Pitching your work is one of the most important things to understand when working toward publishing it. This should take you no longer than the time it takes to ride an elevator, meaning you must find a way to capture attention with a limited amount of time and words. 
  • Midlist: Titles a publisher doesn't expect to have limited or modest sales. This means the book likely won't be marketed as hard but will still be sold. 
  • Platform: You need to have a platform in order to gain your audience. Without a platform, it becomes difficult to get the word out there about your books. If you want people to read them, you have to let them know where to find them. 

The Pitch

When trying to publish your work, you have to work on ensuring you have the perfect pitch, which means there are some things you want to look out for. Your pitch should be something that draws people in and leaves them wanting to know more about your story or work. 

  • Simultaneous submissions: When querying, it isn't uncommon to send work to several publishers or agents at once. These are called simultaneous submissions.
  • Slush pile: An agent's pile of manuscripts sent from writers without an agent or who didn't properly follow the submission guidelines. 
  • Proposal: A summary of the story you want to pitch. This shouldn't be very long but should give the agent or publisher an idea of what they can expect from the manuscript and whether it is something they would be interested in. 
  • Biography: This is the section you want to add to your query letter that gives the agent or publisher more information about who you are as a writer and what interests you or inspires you to write. 
  • Comp titles: If you want to capture the interest of an agent, publisher, or reader, you will want to have comp titles. These are titles for you to compare your stories to in order to give people an idea of what the work is about. These are also helpful when you are seeking an agent as it will give them an idea of what they are reading. 
  • Clips: Samples of your writing that can be used to give publishers, agents, or employers an example of your style of writing so they can see how you write. 

A Few Things to Remember

Sometimes, sending in your first query is nerve-wracking. It can help to read through everything once more before submitting so you know you've given the agent or publisher your best effort and why you believe they will enjoy your work. 

  • A no from one is a no from all: If your work is rejected by an agent with a certain agency, sending your story to a different agent with the same agency is never a good idea. Typically, ideas are shared among all agents, meaning if one says no, they all say no. 
  • Submission guidelines: Always pay attention to the guidelines given to you. Ignoring these guidelines could land your work in the slush pile. 
  • Manuscript wish list: All agents and publishers have their own preferences, so make sure you are sending them something they are looking for. 
  • CV: The curriculum vitae is part of your resume that lists all your writing qualifications and accomplishments. While this isn't required to get your work published, it certainly helps. 
  • Portfolio: Most clients will want to see some of your previous work before deciding to work with you so they can make sure you're a good fit. In order to do this, you will need to build a portfolio. It should contain samples of your work, reviews from satisfied customers, and any other previous writing experience, including college.

These things are important to remember because these are some of the things you will need to have in order to be published traditionally. Many rules depend on which agent or publisher you plan to submit your work to, so all of your submissions should be personalized. Don't submit your work to an agent who has no interest in the subject you've written about. 

Words of Fiction 

Fiction writing isn't the same as non-fiction writing, though many authors find inspiration from real-world events. If you want to write captivating fiction that will connect with your readers, here are a few words you should know. 

  • Protagonist: This is the main character of the story, the character who will lead the reader through the story and who they will likely root for. Protagonists are the main characters in the sense that the story wouldn't exist without them. 
  • Antagonist: The opposing character to the protagonist in a story. 
  • Characterization: Characters in a story should each have their own unique personalities. This is how the character is portrayed and how they push the plot forward. 
  • Character-driven: This is when the characters are responsible for pushing the plot forward. These characters should be well-developed and unique. 
  • Anti-hero: A character that isn't the villain of the story but who is also not the hero. These characters are typically morally grey characters. 
  • Narrative: How the story is presented and how it reflects on the events happening. Typically, the narrative is from a specific point of view, so you only see things from one perspective. 
  • Flash fiction:

Fiction isn't always the easiest to write. You need your characters and story to be believable, but they also need to be engaging and unpredictable. Finding the perfect voice for your writing can be challenging sometimes, but it is what will help your readers connect with the story. 

Feeling in Fiction 

In order for readers to connect with your writing, you want them to feel something. You want them to become attached to the characters and feel the emotions they do. Reading fiction should be an experience, which is why the following words are some that every writer should know. 

  • Ambiance: The atmosphere of a story is important as it is something that allows readers to connect to the content and characters. Each place in the story should have its own special ambiance. 
  • Audience: In order to have a successful book, you want to know the audience you're writing for. If you know who you're writing for, it is easier to portray events that readers connect with. 
  • Premise: The premise is basically the bones you build off of to complete your story. 
  • Setting: Where your story takes place. To help readers connect, make sure the setting is well constructed. 
  • Theme: The subject of the story you are telling. It's what helps your book stand out from others. 
  • Archetypes: These are the background characters for your story. They are meant to show human nature and patterns. 

All of these words are important because they are what make up your story. Without these things, your story would never be able to stand on its own. In order to be successful in your writing, you need to think about how your audience will perceive your work, and understanding these words will help you in your career. 

Forms of Writing

There are no limits to what can be written. Whatever you can imagine, you can turn into a story. It's one of the many beautiful things about storytelling. But if you want these ideas to work well and actually connect with others, these words are important to understand. 

  • Alliteration: This is the repetition of certain words, which can help add emphasis to your story and give it a good flow.
  • Novel: A piece of fiction writing that is at least 45,000 words. 
  • Manuscript: Your copy of your text and any other written work you may have, such as articles or books. 
  • Outline: A good outline should lay out the story in brief details that can later be expanded upon as the story is being written. This is also an excellent place to get to know your characters. 
  • Short story: Any fiction writing that falls below 7,000 words.
  • Voice: This is how your story is told. It is how you write to keep readers engaged as the story is being told. 

Regardless of what you write, it is always a good idea to learn as much as you can about your style of writing. Pay attention to the voice you use when writing. The more you know about your writing and the words you use, the easier it will become to captivate readers and create an amazing story for others to connect and fall in love with. 

Some Words to Think About

These are words you should be familiar with as a writer. If you are new to the writing world, learning these words can help you better connect with other writers. Knowing these words will help you build your career, and learning to understand them will help you seem more credible.

  • Broad appeal: This is when your book or writing connects with many groups of people who are interested in the work. Writing stories with broad appeal is likely to land you a bigger audience. 
  • Fast-paced: When the plot moves fast, and the story has a lot of action and adventure. 
  • Loaded words: Words that express someone is against something or words that are slanderous. 
  • Introspective: The examination of a character's feelings. These thoughts are often reflective and give readers further insight into the character.
  • High concept: Using elements that appeal to large groups of people. A single sentence that can describe the idea behind the writing. 
  • Anecdote: A short story that is typically biographical. These are used to catch the reader's attention and give an example relatable to the written content throughout the book. 

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Interesting Words You May Not Know

Learning new words is always exciting, especially when you are a writer. Some of the words listed in this section may seem confusing, but they are good to know. These words can help you better your writing and understand some of the things people say when they talk about their written work. 

  • Insipid: Lacking qualities in writing that make the story feel dull or drawn out. 
  • Dysphemism: A substitution of offensive or controversial actions or words with something more agreeable. 
  • Luculent: Another way of describing a character as being lucid or who has a clear mind. 
  • Otiose: This word is used to describe parts of a text that offer no useful results or insights into the overall story. 
  • Redolent: Redolent is another word used to describe the reminiscences of the past.
  • Epizeuxis:  A repetition of words that helps give the writing a poetic effect. 
  • Anecdoche: A conversation where everyone is talking, yet no one is truly paying attention or listening. 
  • Portmanteau: This is when you combine the spelling of two different words that have similar spellings and meanings. 
  • Malapropism: The misuse of certain words, sometimes in a humorous yet unintentional way. 
  • Polyptoton: Repetition of certain words in regard to tone or voice, but all have the same root. 
  • Imbroglio: An embarrassing and possibly painful misunderstanding. This is a good word to know because it can be used as a descriptor when there is a misunderstanding between characters, which adds to the depth of the story. 
  • Captious: A usually petty character who often brings up the flaws of others and finds every reason they can to object to whatever the other character(s) suggest. 
  • Anachronism: A person, place, or event which has been misplaced. For example, if a  story takes place in modern times, but all the towns look like they belong in the Victorian era. 
  • Denouement: This is the final part of the story, where everything is wrapped up, and all loose ends are explained. The ending of a story is one of the most important parts because it helps determine what stays with the reader once they close the book. 

A Refresher of Important Words

While you may recognize some of these words, it is always important to know their meaning and how they can impact or improve your writing. It is never too late to learn more about the words that make up the writing process and that draw in your audience. 

  • Revising: When you finish writing your book, there will likely be a few things you want to go back and change or things that don't make sense. Revising is when you work to clean up these issues in order to create a polished and well-written text.
  • Utopia: Since this word is often used in fiction and non-fiction, it's important to know. It's a place of perfection where no one does anything wrong and everyone is happy. 
  • Verb: This is a word you probably recognize but is still important to know. It is used to describe the actions or occurrences. 
  • Adjective: This word works as a modifier to nouns, giving them a different meaning. 
  • Auxiliary verb: This is a verb that is used to form the tense or voice of the writing. It helps paint a picture for the reader.  
  • Dystopia: A made-up world in which people are ruled over by awful and dehumanizing rulers who instill fear. 
  • Dark: When used to describe writing, dark typically means the story has elements of evil and potential violence, almost like horror. 
  • Heavy-handed: This is when the plot is forced along to get the story where it needs to go. Readers don't like this, and it is something you should watch out for during the revision process. 
  • Kicker:  A simple sentence that helps drive—or kick your point home. These sentences are typically comprised of single-syllable words. 
  • Pseudonym: This is also known as a pen name. It is a fake name authors sometimes use to publish their content. 
  • Foreshadowing: This is a popular word that you should definitely be familiar with. Foreshadowing is when the writing hints at future events in the story. 


Every word listed in this article is important to know and can help you strengthen your writing. There are a lot of components that go into using words to create a story or explain a situation. When you have a clear understanding of words and what they mean, it opens up doors to new possibilities. It is good to step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Trying new things can help you discover new things you never would have thought to try otherwise. 

Creating stories or writing about real-life events is a complex process that requires you to think about things in different ways. You want to capture the audience's attention. By sharing your work with others, you allow them to pick it apart to try and find deeper meaning. It helps people become invested in the story, whether it be fiction or something they read about in the news. 

People are always looking for answers, and a lot of the time, they turn to articles written by professionals to get the information they seek. As a writer, you want to ensure everything you write is accurate and easy to understand. Even if you touch on the same points as some other articles, you want to ensure your style stands out. Knowing the words listed in this article will help you gain new perspectives in writing and give voice to your writing. 

At first, trying to write a story isn't easy. But the more you do it and the more you learn about how to captivate the attention of others with words, the better your writing will be. Don't feel discouraged. If your writing isn't the best, keep practicing and find ways to improve. The world is always waiting for new stories to be written and new adventures they can immerse themselves in. As a writer, it's up to you to create these stories. 


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