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.

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.

NiFtY Author: Katie Pickard Fawcett

A few months ago I reviewed Katie Pickard Fawcett’s book To Come and Go Like Magic (click here for the review), and I was delighted when she agreed to an interview on my blog. So without further blather on my part…here’s a truly inspiring interview!

BH: I could be wrong, but To Come and Go Like Magic seems like one of those books that the author just had to write…like you couldn’t not write it. What inspired the story?

KF: My own childhood growing up in Appalachia was the inspiration for the setting, characters, and experiences.  Some years back I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and loved the way she told the story in vignettes.  I was excited to write a book about Appalachia in this style with glimpses into the lives of many different characters.

BH: Chili, the main character, longs to see the world. Then she befriends her teacher Miss Matlock, who has traveled extensively. Did you ever have a Miss Matlock in your life?

KF: No.  I didn’t have a teacher who had traveled the world and came back with stories to tell.  I did, however, have several wonderful teachers who read great books to us, encouraged me to write stories, and offered interesting classroom activities.  The trip to Mexico chapter in To Come and Go Like Magic was very similar to a geography activity we did in fifth grade.  Miss Matlock’s travels, her interest in the Monarch butterflies, in hiking in the Andes, and in the rainforests of Central America come from my own experiences.

BH: Another fantastic element of To Come and Go Like Magic is the setting. How much of the story’s setting is based on your imagination, and how much is based on your actual experiences in Appalachia?

KF:  I grew up in Eastern Kentucky so the setting is based entirely on the actual area and the environment, activities, problems, and concerns of the 1970s.  The characters, story, and most of the place names are fictitious.  I kept the name (Cumberland) of the real river.

BH: Your book is told in vignettes, and in some places these vignettes have such flowing language I think of them as prose poems. Was this your intent from the beginning, or did the format emerge as you told the story?

KF:  I love poetry and I enjoy writing “snapshot” pieces, so my writing tends toward the poetic.

BH: Can you tell us about your experience publishing To Come and Go Like Magic?

KF: I sent To Come and Go Like Magic to Random House and got a call and a contract within the month.  Sound too good to be true?  The complete story is a bit longer.  I worked for ten years in the publishing department of an international organization writing pieces for the house journal, summaries of development projects, and publicity pieces, and didn’t have much time to write fiction.  I was also a social worker in Kentucky, worked for a consulting firm in Washington, DC, and spent three years at various jobs at a university.  I majored in psychology, sociology, and education in college.  I also tutor and teach writing workshops and SAT prep on occasion.  I wrote a young adult book several years ago and sent it to Dutton.  They had me do two rewrites and then rejected it.  Ditto for Scholastic.  Then off to Random House.  After the second rewrite, my editor said she was willing to read it one more time.  I figured it wouldn’t fly.  So I asked if I could send her another manuscript I had lying around and she agreed.  That was To Come and Go Like Magic.  I spent about 6 years researching, writing, and revising the first book that got rejected by three big publishers over a period of 3 or 4 years.  I spent about 6 weeks writing To Come and Go. Just goes to show that “write what you know” makes sense.  Research was limited primarily to fact checking the dates for songs and foods and movies mentioned in the book.

BH: That is amazing, and heartening at the same time. I’m not surprised, though – I really get that “inspired” feeling from To Come and Go.

What does your workspace look like?

KF: My preference by far is to work outside and I love my laptop.  I enjoy the flowers and birds and furry critters that visit.  When it’s raining or too cold to be outside I work in my study.  I have a window that looks down to the front garden and three bird feeders – two for the squirrels and one that’s squirrel-proof.  A family of blue jays comes by almost every morning for peanuts.  They often respond to my whistle if they’re in the vicinity.  My study is filled with books and doo dads.  I have a hummingbird mobile above my desk, starfish on the window sill, green plants, and a CD player because I like music in the background while I’m working.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

KF: I have three books that I enjoy opening and reading a chapter or two when the mood strikes.  Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose is entertaining and filled with great humor and wisdom and excerpts from some of the best writers past and present.  On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser has been around since the late 1970s and is still an excellent guide.  Many of these fundamental principles can be applied to fiction as well as nonfiction.   If I had to choose a favorite, however, it would be a little book published in 1996 titled Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge.  This is a marvelous little book filled with many inspiring exercises for getting the creative juices stirring.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

KF: I have been writing stories for almost as long as I can remember.  I passed stories around in elementary school and in high school study hall.  It seems that I have always needed to write and, although it can be physically tiring and mentally exhausting at times and rejection is always disappointing, it has never truly felt like work.  Publication is a big plus, but has never been a necessity for me.  The old saying that “it’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else” applies.  I love to write and it’s the passion, I believe, that keeps the hope alive.

BH: Thank you, Katie, for the great interview. I learned from this, and I appreciate your responses, insights, and inspiration.

Studio Audience! For more of Katie Fawcett, and where to order her book, check out the links below.

Links: (On my blog I write about Kentucky, DC, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Caribbean, books, food, flowers, squirrels, and anything else that strikes me.)

Order from Amazon –

Order from Random House —

To Come and Go Like Magic was a Parents’ Choice Award Winner in the fiction category for Spring 2010

Also nominated on October 9 for the Amelia Bloomer Project Award – an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers chosen by the Social Responsibilities Roundtable of the American Library Association

NiFtY Author: Sunny Frazier

For today’s NiFtY Author I give you…drum roll…Sunny Frazier! Sunny has published two mysteries, Fools Rush In, and Where Angels Fear, as well as contributed to numerous anthologies. She’s also active in her publishing house, and works to help other authors promote their work. Keep on reading to learn more about this nifty author!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the first Christy Bristol book, Fools Rush In?

SF: Astrologer Christy Bristol is egged on by a former boyfriend to do a horoscope for a drug dealer and finds herself the one with a precarious future.

BH: Can you tell us a little about your path to publication? Did you go the traditional “agent” route, or did you use some other scheme?

SF: I won a spot as one of the seven authors chosen for the Seven By Seven anthology. The publisher liked my flash fiction so much that he offered me a contract for my book.

BH: Ah, that’s the kind of success story we unpublished authors salivate over. What are some of the challenges you faced by not working with an agent? Were there benefits as well?

SF: I only experienced the benefits. I got not only a lot of say with how my own books were published, but both my past publisher and my current publisher have looked to me for input on picking manuscripts for the publishing house. They also picked my brain for marketing ideas.

BH: Your publisher, Oak Tree Press, is an independent publisher. What are some of the benefits of working with an independent publisher?

SF: Trust and immediate access. We communicate constantly, by e-mail and phone. I am now acquisitions editor for the Dark Oak mystery line. I also introduced two new lines: Wild Oaks Westerns and Mystic Oak for paranormal novels.

BH: Are there any disadvantages to working with an independent publisher?

SF: It’s never easy to get books into brick and mortar book stores. However, many are closing and the reading public is ordering on Amazon. Also, e-readers are finally finding acceptance with Kindle and the I-Pad. Aggressive Internet marketing is leveling the playing field for authors with smaller houses.

Sunny standing with publisher Billie Johnson at a pitch session in Las Vegas

BH: I tried to write a mystery—once. It quickly turned into a (not very good) thriller/suspense novel because I couldn’t figure out how to give just enough information without making the killer’s identity obvious. Do you have any tips on this for aspiring mystery writers?

SF: I think the definition of “mystery” has blurred considerably. The “puzzle” type mysteries such as Agatha Christie wrote are not common these days. Instead of being plot driven, we are seeing more character-driven story arcs. I don’t write whodunits, I write whydunits. In fact, I tell you who the victim is and who the killer is on the first page—the “Colombo” formula. The reader keeps reading to see how my character Christy uses astrology to her advantage.

You should have stuck with your suspense novel.

BH: Oh, I did. Unfortunately the premise wasn’t a wowzer, so I’ve moved on, and I read other peoples’ mysteries now.

Every unpublished author thinks all her problems will be solved as soon as she gets her name in print…even though published writers tell us this isn’t true. Did you have any unfortunate wake-up calls?

SF: What I try to instill in writers is to start promoting as soon as you decide you want to write a book. Name recognition is very important. Getting people accustomed to your “voice” through blogging, learning about the industry by monitoring group sites, getting comfortable with promotion. People want to make it a chore and it’s more of a mindset. I work on promotion on Sundays. I have 35 sites I belong to, all are professional sites for writers, readers and publishers. They each give you your own page, so it’s like having 35 websites. I developed what I call “the posse” to teach people how to effectively promote. All I need is an e-mail and attentiveness to my nudges. It takes years off people’s careers, unless they want to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel.

BH: When you first wrote Fools Rush In, were you already planning a sequel?

SF:  I had six books in mind: titles, plots, characters.

BH: What was the most enjoyable part of writing the sequel, Where Angels Fear?

SF:  I didn’t realize that Fools Rush In was one of the hardest types of mysteries to write. My protagonist was stuck in a room for most of the book. In the sequel, Christy and her sidekick Lennie get to traipse all over the Central County uncovering clues to a sex club. There’s more humor as well. I had a hard time keeping a straight face while writing.

BH: Is a third book in the works?

SF:  Slowly but surely, A Snitch In Time is making its way on paper. I’m so busy speaking at conferences and conventions as well as reading query letters for Oak Tree Press that my own work suffers.

BH: Can you compare your series character, Christy Bristol, to anyone you know in real life?

SF: Uh—me. I worked as an office assistant with an undercover narc team for 17 years in the sheriff’s department and I’ve done astrology for nearly 40 years. Christy is much like I was in my earlier years.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

SF:  My computer is on for 12 hours a day. I write in small clumps, fitting in the novel when I get tired of reading manuscripts and conducting business via e-mail. My eyes get so tired staring at the screen, sometimes I just hit the couch and close them. My brain keeps going over the story until I’m ready to tackle the keyboard.

Oh, and I don’t have kids, a husband or a job to interrupt me. Just a bunch of cats who give me space when I’m at the desk. If not, they have to go out in the yard and play.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

SF: It’s usually a mess with notes scattered all over. I have a rolodex, a Victorian calendar, and a pen carousel with a fake raven stuck in the center. For some reason I work well in chaos.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

SF: Self-Editing For Fiction Writers—How To Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I checked it out at the library and loved it so much I ordered a copy from Amazon.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

SF:  Early on I heard authors say “Enjoy the journey, not the destination.” That’s the truth. If writers fret too much about publication they will miss the whole point of writing. It’s all about the people you meet, the sharing of minds, the art of creating, giving your ideas to the world. Money is usually lousy, hours are bad, solitude wears on you and there are no health benefits. But still, it’s a wild ride.

BH: Any words on advice to unpublished writers for keeping the hope alive?

SF:  Small presses are worth taking a chance on. I always tell writers “You can’t promote what doesn’t exist.” Get that first book out there and get the machine rolling. Don’t think the first book you’ve written is the only one you have in you. Start another right away.

Sunny, thank you so much for the interview, and for sharing your books and insights. To our studio audience: don’t forget to check out the links below to learn more about Sunny, her books, and her publisher! Simply click on a description to reach the site.

Sunny’s website. This is where you can find The Murder Circle.

Oak Tree Authors are assigned blog dates. Meet us!

Order Oak Tree Titles, learn about our contests, get the latest info on what we’re doing in the publishing world.

Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls by Beth

This is my 100th blog post, so let’s celebrate with an extra-special book review. This book is currently out of print, so I spoke with the publisher and she told me she didn’t mind my posting the book in its entirety on my website.

As I am the author of the book, I agreed to be interviewed by an anonymous, sympathetic interviewer who we will all agree to pretend is not me. Suspension of disbelief, people!

ASI (Anonymous, Sympathetic Interviewer): Beth, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us about your book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth).”

Beth: It’s the product of an afternoon spent at my grandparents’ house. As a young girl, I was inspired by beautiful, strong women wearing sagging tube dresses. Cats and flowers figured largely into my fantasies as well, as you can see from the first page of the book. (shown below)

ASI: Could you tell us a little bit about the “NO” and arrow pointing to the cover image’s…skirt?

Beth: Well, as I was illustrating the cover, I realized my readers would most likely appreciate a non-example of what my book was about (i.e. an ugly girl). However, the title clearly says “…Pretty Girls” so I needed to succinctly indicate that the cover girl is indeed not pretty. [Truth: I was trying to draw a pretty girl, failed, but had already written out the title. As I was creating this masterpiece in ink, there was nothing to do but make sure the audience knew that I knew that the ugly girl on the cover was a mistake.]

ASI: I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but I notice there is a large number of typographical errors in this story.

Beth: Yes, my editors worked only part-time, and only when requested. For example, I recall asking for the spelling of “girls” for the cover page. At the time of writing, I couldn’t be bothered to ask for the spelling on subsequent pages, nor did I think to refer to the cover. Perhaps the cover had already gone into production and was unavailable; the details are fuzzy on this.

ASI: How old were you when this book was published?

Beth: I think I was five. Possibly six, although I’m pretty sure I knew how to spell “girl” by the time I reached first grade.

ASI: Have people likened your child genius-ness to other young authors such as Christopher Paolini and Hannah Moskowitz?

Beth: Not yet, but I think with the recent publicity of this book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth),” they will soon.

ASI: Even though you’re, um…no longer young?

Beth: I thought you were supposed to be a sympathetic interviewer?

ASI: Right. Tell us about page 2 of your book.

Beth: I didn’t want to limit my audience by focusing only on flower princesses. By adding the castle princess to the story, I feel I really moved out of a niche market and into a wider audience.

ASI: Any comments on those Edward Scissorhands-ian fingers?

Beth: Hands are difficult to draw. I was on a deadline. And long, pointy fingernails were all the rage in 1986.

ASI: Do you think the waistline of this figure sets up unreasonable body shape expectations for young girls?

Beth: I suppose you could ask the same question of Barbie and every single Disney princess. I think everyone should instead focus on her poofy sleeves.

ASI: The paper medium you utilized for this project is very unique.

Beth: Yes, printing costs were up, so I made do with scratch paper from a library’s card catalog. (Click here for a Wikipedia entry on what a card catalog is, you young whipper-snappers who’ve never heard of such a thing.) My maternal grandmother worked in a library for some years and kept us in good supply of scratch paper.

ASI: With the third page of your book, you really branched out.

Beth: Not wanting to limit my audience to princess-admirers, I included a rock-n-roll girl…complete with side ponytail and sticky-up bangs.

ASI: That’s amazing artwork. She’s wearing a sort of Disney Peter Pan dress.

Beth: That’s her cool mid-80s grunge rock dress.

ASI: Wasn’t grunge a 90s thing?

Beth: What’s the point of this interview exactly? I thought it was me, and my book.

ASI: Moving on to the last page of your book, we can see how you really experimented with textual and rhythmic forms.

Beth: I’m especially proud of my use of repetition as a literary device.

ASI: Let’s type out the text here to make sure all of our readers can catch it:

Pritty (girls) are very very Pritty.

Handsome boy’s are very very Handsome.

do you need a doll or do you Need a Boll.

two frot’s are moore fun then one [note: “frot’s” should be “fruits”]

Beth: I should confess that the last line was borrowed. From a commercial slogan, if I remember correctly.

ASI: Well, almost as amazing as the intelligence, insight, and industriousness of this book is the fact that you have remained the owner of the sole copy in existence for all these years.

Beth: I expect to start getting bids for the original any day now.

ASI: Well, folks, this is the only place you’ll find Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth). Thanks for stopping by, Beth, and indulging my questions.

Beth: (gracefully, modestly, and looking ten pounds lighter) Any time. I’m happy to be here.