J is for Jargon in the Writing and Publishing World

Or, I could have called this post, “seriously, just speak English!” Like every other industry, the book world is full of strange terms few on the outside can understand without a little research. So here’s a list of five (hey, it was 10, I spared you half) common jargon words in the writerly world. Happy translating!

  1. ARC – When written in all caps, ARC stands for Advance Reading Copy. This is a copy of a book that is almost, but not quite ready to be published. It’s often typeset and has the cover art like the final product, but may not have gone through final proofing. These are typically sent out to critics, bloggers, bookstores and given away to fans to create buzz for a book before its official release. These sometimes take over for what used to be called Galley Copies, black and white versions of the book with no art, used in the proofreading process. (When written as “arc” the word refers to the progression of a plot or character throughout a book.)
  2. Character driven vs. plot driven – A character driven story is one in which the characters and their personal journeys (often focused on the  emotional aspect) take precedence over the plot, which is formed by how the characters interact. A plot driven story is one where the plot is the main importance and the characters follow the plot. Most writers are naturally one or the other, but I hear its possible to be good at both. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve been told my writing is character driven.)
  3. Genre – The category your book falls into. Think of the sections of a bookstore: mystery, romance, general fiction, suspense, western, young adult. But in the publishing world it gets more complicated. For example, the general fiction section of a bookstore includes lots of other genres such as women’s fiction (chick lit), historical fiction and classics. Historical fiction has its own subgenres like historical fantasy, time slip (time travel), historical romance, historical mystery and alternate history. And yes, every genre is that complicated. (There are hard-boiled mysteries, cozy mysteries, etc.)
  4. Query letter – This is a letter you write to an agent you’d like to represent you. It’s a lot like a cover letter when you’re applying for a job. You tell the agent what kind of book you’re trying to sell, give them (I hate him/her, so I’m using them) a short one or two paragraph summary of what the book is about (think of it like the copy on the back of the book), and then tell them why you chose them and why they should give you a chance. Usually most agents ask for a synopsis (see below) and/or anywhere from five to 50 pages of your book along with the letter. But not all. Your letter has to be sharp because you can (and will be) rejected just based on it,  unseen. Interestingly, I’ve read that query letters as a first round of selection aren’t the same the world over. In America, they are a must, but I’ve read that in Britain and other parts of the world, they really just serve as an introduction and that agents put more emphasis on the synopsis and sample when making a decision. If anyone can confirm or refute that, please do. I’m interested in learning more.
  5. Synopsis – A synopsis is a two to three page summary of your novel, including the ending. (Yes, you have to give away the ending. I know, I was shocked, too.) Agents and publishers use them when trying to decide whether or not to represent a work, especially if they get bored with your manuscript. Writing a synposis is painful, but necessary. Your goal is to boil your 80,000+ word book down to its basic elements (no subplots) to show what the book is all about. I’ve read they get easier with practice, but I’m not so sure about that.

One that I would love to have someone answer for me: what the heck is literary fiction? No matter how many articles and definitions I read, I still don’t understand what it is. My guess is that if I don’t know what it is, it’s not what I’m writing!

What about you? What writing terms have you heard that you’d like defined? What terms drive your crazy? Do you have ideas for other “J” themed posts?

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