Colonel Shifty’s Handy Dandy Dictionary of Publishing Terms for the Lucky People Who Care for Writers

Hi, Colonel Shifty here. It recently came to my attention that while writers have a lot of support on the webternetz, the lucky souls who love and support writers are often left in the dark. What exactly does it mean to have an agent? What does the query process look like? Isn’t it easy to be a published writer, once you finally write the damn book? [Editor: Col. Shifty, let’s keep it clean. My mom reads this blog.]

Thanks to this handy dandy dictionary, when the special writer in your life is angsting over Goodreads reviews, or a revise and resubmit request, you won’t have to waste time asking what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks she’s talking about. Instead, you can get thee to the grocery store to retrieve chocolate, which is what your writer really needs.

So let’s jump right in, shall we?

Advance: Money a publisher offers an author up-front for her book. Advances vary, and I won’t even speculate on numbers here. It bears saying, though, that the writer you care for is, in her free time, daydreaming about her gigantic advance that will allow her to buy a lifetime’s supply of chocolate. And possibly hire a house keeper, and definitely a cook.

gopher money big

The Advance

Agent: An individual who agrees to submit a writer’s book to publishers. Agents typically take fifteen percent of what the publisher pays to the author. Some agents are editorial agents, which means they work with authors to polish manuscripts before submission. Some agents specialize in particular genres. If the special writer in your life is “querying” (see below), it usually means he is trying to find an agent.

Angst: A nearly constant state of being for any writer you may know and love or even encounter on the street. Even a writer deeply in love with her book and/or writing process will be filled with Angst because it is part of the definition of writer (see below).

Beta reader: A person – not necessarily a writer – who reads your writer’s work in its entirety. This can happen at any stage of the WIP (see below) but often happens toward the final revisions.

Critique group: A group of writers who share work and provide feedback to one another. If your writer has found a strong critique group which encourages him yet is not afraid to tell the truth when his writing needs work, count yourself lucky. You won’t be listening to your writer kvetch. Instead, your writer will probably be hitting you up for free babysitting while he goes to a critique group meeting. Better than listening to complaining, though, right? Critique groups can also work together over the webternetz. For a post related to writerly angst and critique, see Beth’s post here.

Editor: 1. An individual who works with your author on editing her book. 2. A freelance editor is someone your author might pay for help on her book, and 3. an editor at a publishing house will work with your author on her book as part of the publishing process.

Indie: Independent. Can refer to 1. small presses (publishers with smaller print runs) or 2. authors who have gone “indie,” that is, are self-publishing their books via CreateSpace, Smashwords, or through other methods.

Goodreads: a website chock full of reader reviews. The authors of reviewed books cannot seem to refrain from reading their reviews, often leading to Angst (see above). I, Colonel Shifty, have perused reviews and found some gems…and some that made me wince because of their harshness. If your writer is about to read reviews of his book on Goodreads, employ diversionary tactics forthwith. Cut the power lines if you must, or disable your wireless service. (DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SABOTAGE YOUR WRITER’S COMPUTER.)

MG: Middle grade. Fiction geared toward the age group comprised of eight- to twelve-year-olds.

On Submission: When your writer’s book is “on submission,” it is being considered by editors at publishing houses.  To writers who have already published a book, the first time their book was “on submission” is remembered with fondness. To writers who have not yet published a book, being “on submission” is likened to sitting in the waiting room at the gynecologist’s office – everyone in there’s a little stir-crazy, hoping the time spent in that waiting room will be short, yet a little terrified about moving on. This is just what I hear. Remember, I am Colonel Shifty, and I don’t write books. (For an author’s take on being on submission, see the first post in an ongoing series by Natalia Sylvester, whose first book will be published in Spring 2014.)

PB: Picture book(s). Stories with pictures. Geared toward everyone, really, but primarily young children.

Pitch: The part of your writer’s query (see below) that tries to make his book sound as tantalizing as possible. There is also the “elevator pitch” or “log line,” which is the pitch in reduced form, generally about a sentence or two long.

Query: A one-page letter addressed to an agent or editor, presenting your author’s pitch and her writing credentials in the hopes of suckering encouraging said agent or editor to read her manuscript.

roller coaster

Query (verb)

Rejection: As in this handy dandy dictionary, a rejection is what usually follows a query letter. Rejection is part of writing for publication, and if you truly love your writer, you will buy him presents of chocolate, fizzy alcoholic beverages, and Thai food to soothe his Angst-filled soul.

Revise & Resubmit: Sometimes an agent or editor will request that your writer fix up her manuscript and send it back again. This is usually a good sign, indicating that the agent/editor wishes to work with your writer. Be prepared to witness alternating bouts of hysteria and paranoia and euphoria in your special writer. Feel free to leave the house/city/country for a few days. Your writer will be just fine on her own.

Royalties: The author’s percentage of the profits earned from books sold.

Synopsis: A document that strikes fear into the hearts of many a writer. It is highly unusual for writers to enjoy simplifying their plots to such a degree as to fit an entire novel into the space of two to three pages. Some writers do enjoy this process, but they are often secretive, not wishing to attract the ire of fellow writers. When synopses are spoken of in writerly settings, they are often given prefixes such as “sucky,” “crap,” and “dread,” as in, “my dread synopsis.”

WIP: Work-in-progress. A novel either in the drafting or revision stages.

le manuscript


Writer: An Angst-filled person who forms words into prose and/or verse. Personally, I distinguish “writer” from “author” in that a writer is someone who writes, whether or not that writer has published any work. An author is a person who has published a book. I make no distinctions between self-published and traditionally-published authors.

YA: Young adult. This is literature aimed at teenagers. It also is popular amongst that fascinating species, Stay-at-homus Mommaie.

I hope my Handy Dandy Dictionary of Publishing Terms for the Lucky People who Care for Writers has been handy, and dandy. If you have any questions or comments, ask ’em below.

How I Got My Agent, Part Dos

The first part of the story is here.

Writer friend PB Rippey assured me last Friday’s post was not too detailed on the finding-an-agent topic. So I shall soldier on.

The next day Brandi and I spoke on the phone, and she was just as enthusiastic as she’d been in her email. She shared her ideas for revision, which I liked, and asked about my plans for the sequel. Whoops. Other than some scrawled brainstorming in my diary, I had no plans. But she took that in stride, and listened to my incoherent babbling about the brainstorming.

Actually, my diary looks way worse.

I asked for a week to let the other open queries know about her offer so they could make their decisions. I was thinking the agent who’d given me the revise & resubmit request might offer. Alas, it was during BEA, and that agent was too busy to read my revisions. She also didn’t ask for more time, which makes me think she might have been less enthusiastic about my book, and enthusiasm is a big piece of the Agent Pie – I want someone who loves my book so much they just can’t wait.

Brandi gave me two references, and both of them raved about her. (You can meet one of them, Oksana Marafioti, in her interview here.)

By the middle of the week, I was convinced Brandi was the one, and I got a little cranky waiting to hear back from the last two agents because I just wanted to email Brandi right away to say yes. But I’m kind of a rule-follower, and if I tell someone they have a week, I feel like I ought to give them the whole week.

Finally, it was time! I took a deep breath, drafted an email to Brandi, proofread it maybe a dozen times (I proofread nearly everything, but missives to agents get multiple proofreads, and sometimes need to be vetted by author friends before being sent. I am nothing if not paranoid careful).

So now we’re working together! Brandi promised a list of edits by the beginning of July, and by golly, she sent them. And they’re great – really making my book stronger. While I think about her questions I’m getting tons of ideas for the next book (yeah, more scribbling in my diary), so this is working.

I’m working. Even with the little tiny baby and the preschooler with me all day. The minutes I steal during not-so-quiet playtime are precious, and then when it’s time to get back to momming, I get back to it, refreshed and ready to read “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and Babybug magazine all over again.

Revision notes – mine, not Brandi’s.

Yes, getting an agent is only part of the road to publication. There’re more challenges to come. But finding an agent – and not just any agent, but one I chose two years ago – is a dream made real.


Not enough success story? You can head over to Miss Snark’s First Victim and see yet one more iteration there. Because the fun never ends! (Actually, I think that’s all. Until Brandi sells my book.)

How I Got My Agent, Part 1

Okay, so details (by popular demand. Okay, two friends asked me to do this. And they’re very popular).

Everything you ever wanted to know about my finding-an-agent story, and probably a few things you care nothing about. (I’m stretching it out because I love reading long “How I Got My Agent” posts. I could just live in ’em.)

The tall iced decaf caramel macchiato I was sipping while I checked my email on that fateful day.

First, this is not my first completed novel, nor my second. It is my third. And I half-heartedly queried the first two manuscripts. No, that’s not true. I zealously queried the first and suffered roughly ten rejections, all of which, if they said anything helpful at all, said, “This premise is overdone.” So I scrapped that book. The second manuscript garnered a couple of partial requests, and I started dreaming of how I’d want to look in my author cameo in the movie version of the book. (Especially in light of the fact that the advance from selling the book would be enough to hire ten personal trainers and I’d not only be twenty pounds lighter but also super-toned.)

Alas, no.

So it was with excitement, yes, but a heavy dose of cynicism that I started querying in December. At the urging of my (fabulous – she made me say that but it’s totally deserved) friend Kristen, I entered the Baker’s Dozen contest on Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog. My excerpt received a full request, and a few other agents were interested, so that jump-started the query process (and smothered some of my cynicism). Two friends referred me to their agents as well. None of that panned out, and I was very sad, but I kept querying. I got a few more full & partial requests, but no takers.

I considered the very short nuggets of feedback a couple of agents gave me, especially in two areas: plot & pacing. I revised the first half of the second act of my book (eternal thanks to Katherine Longshore for the marathon brainstorming session), took out a subplot and a supporting character, then queried more. One agent gave me a reader’s report with revision suggestions, and I did those, too.

Brandi Bowles, with Foundry Literary + Media, was a cold query – I didn’t know much about her, other than an interview I read on Krista Van Dolzer’s blog two years ago. After reading that interview, I immediately added Brandi to my Giant Table o’ Agents. What I liked about her: she likes urban fantasy and literary fiction. In my head I’d been pitching my book as Earth Abides by George R. Stewart meets The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood meets witches. I love lyrical prose with a commercial appeal, and Brandi’s tastes reflected that. (And yes I know I’m flattering myself way more than is deserved with the Margaret Atwood connection, but she is my writer-idol, after all.)

Sample of my Giant Table o’ Agents – I’d highlight requests in bright blue, rejections in red. It took me awhile to decide on a color for the offer. Can’t go wrong with hot pink, though.

A month after querying Brandi, she requested the full. I went slightly nuts, but maybe not as crazy as I could’ve been, because I’d had a baby five days before. What was really cool: Maverick distracted me from worrying. I sort of forgot about querying and submissions in the haze of new-baby-ness.

So it was with great surprise that a month later, I received the email every writer dreams of, from a super-awesome agent who told me how much she loved my book, and offered me representation.

There was gasping. I couldn’t scream, because my one-month-old was sleeping in the next room, and nothing puts a damper on celebratory jigs like a cranky newborn. I am so glad I got Brandi’s email on Memorial Day, because Homes was home and I could share the news immediately.

The sunglass smiley is the cool icon you get when you record an “offer” on

This post is already too long. So, next week…The Call.

Happy Times!

How many nights did I lie awake, imagining an agent emailing or calling to tell me she loved my book and wants to sell it for me?

Countless nights, that is the answer. Depending on how tired I was, I could adjust the daydream’s level of detail. If I wasn’t tired at all, I might see the words of the email outlining every feature the agent loved about my book, then segue into how I’d tell my friends and relatives, and then get to the part where I actually speak to the agent on the phone. If I was pretty tired, I might only get as far as opening an email that said, “Yes, I want YOU!”

But these were all just that – daydreams.

So when it actually happened, it was eerie, I tell you. Sure, at first there was gasping, and phone calls, and dancing.

And then…there was calm. And silence. And waiting to wrap up the handful of outstanding queries I had.

I’ve been sitting on this exciting news for a week, and am thrilled to finally announce:

Brandi Bowles, with Foundry Literary + Media, is now my literary agent!

(It kind of feels like announcing an engagement, or, if that analogy sounds too big, maybe a date to the (VERY IMPORTANT, VERY COOL) prom. One I couldn’t have gone to without her.)

“How I Got My Agent” blog posts seem to be very popular, but I don’t have time for that today. Maybe some other time. No promises, though. It’s the last week of Z’s school, Maverick’s seven weeks old, and I’ve got some revisions to do over the summer. Busy times! But happy.

ETA: My detailed post can be found here.