The Devil’s Dictionary for Writers



Learning the ins-and-outs of publishing can be as difficult as mastering the terminology. Here are some definitions to help you understand the process. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you get medicated.




Publishing Terms

  • Acceptanceverb– a mythical plane most authors aspire to reach, but never see. The consensus is that your work will be blessed by a publishing professional and you will live happily ever after. Until you have to write the next one.
  • Active Voicenoun– Style of writing that uses the present tense, in a world that usually speaks in past-tense.
  • Advancenoun– a lump sum of money an author receives from the publisher. This is compensation for the fact that they’re going to make a lot more off of the book than the author will.
  • Agentnoun– Figurative “gate keeper” or “watch dog,” whose job it is to deliver your query to Charon’s ferry (see Query). They ensure no one is permitted in the publishing industry who doesn’t already know someone, thus ensuring the age-old traditions of nepotism and cronyism remain unfettered.
  • Articlenoun– short non-fiction piece you try to sell to publications who reject your ideas.
  • Audiencenoun– Readership is a fickle bird that is wholly unpredictable, and typically unfair. Most audiences have never read the classics, but pour over such literary masterpieces as the Twilight series or 50 Shades of Gray. We. Are. Doomed.
  • Backlistnoun– A graveyard for books.
  • Book Clubnoun– a group of readers who get together to discuss what they watched on Netflix the night before.
  • Book Signingnoun– an event, usually held in a bookstore or library, where authors watch readers buy other books.
  • Brandingnoun– Double-talk that encourages unknown authors to waste time pretending to be major authors, instead of writing new material.
  • Contractnoun– a novel given to you, by a publishing professional, for you to sign over the rights to your work.
  • Editornoun– overworked writing coach who has to clean up your mess, while bearing the brunt of writers’ ill-will, and publishers’ shitty policies.
  • Galley Copiesnoun– Advanced copies of your book featuring the material you should’ve written, but binging on Netflix was just too important, and the editor had to fix your mistakes. This is a courtesy given by publisher, because that’s the last free copy of your own book you’ll get.
  • Light Readingverb/adjective– Pseudo-reading.
  • Outlinenoun– A lengthy literary process to help you keep track of characters and plot events, that you will ignore once you actually start writing.
  • Phantom Readersnoun– Readers who will emerge from their usual genres only long enough to give your book  a bad review.
  • Querynoun– a letter of introduction between an author and prospective agent or publisher, to introduce the author’s book. Queries are shredded, burned, and sent to the “slush pile,” which is mystical mailbox across the river Styx. The author then receives a “form rejection letter,” from Charon, just to let them know their query is no longer among the living.
  • Review Groupnoun– group of struggling authors created to criticize other struggling authors.
  • Sample Chaptersnoun– Novel chapters you’ve dissected and analyzed to perfection, as to hide the mistakes you’ve ignored later in the book.
  • Self Marketing/Self Promotionnoun– Double-talk used to indicate the publisher is just too cheap and lazy to invest anymore in your worthless ass.
  • Submission Guidelinesnoun– an arbitrary set of criteria designed to haze the author. Each publishing professional has their own criterion for how your submission should be formatted and submitted. Remember to double-space, align the page numbers right, print only on fine parchment, with sustainable ink, submit only on Fridays, never on Mondays, and don’t forget the hair of the Yeti and blood of a virgin.
  • Synopsisnoun– A seemingly impossible creation that forces an author to convert 100,000 words into 500.
  • Tonenoun– Most often used for the mood in your piece, which borders manic depressive.
  • Vanity Pressnoun– Publisher who uses your vanity to get to your wallet.



Indie/Self-publishing Terms


  • Book Covernoun– an image or graphic used to represent your book or novel, that everyone else complains about.