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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Writer's Jargon

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

“Be a quick change artist”

-- Mark Anderson, mentor, IT professional

My mutant power is problem solving and learning other people’s business. For me, getting back into writing took a little bit of reading and absorbing what professionals were saying and talking about the process. Jargon is a natural byproduct of people working in any trade. It is a shorthand for concepts and problems. It also creates barriers for outsiders who are trying to follow along. Today, I’ll try to collect and explain as many terms as I can find.

A Word about Format

I’ll be listing a lot of words, and I’m not in the dictionary making business. Words with acronyms will follow the standard of the word followed by the acronym in parenthesis. Terms with synonyms will be listed on the same line, so it’s clear we’re talking the same concept.

Jargon Take Me Away

I love writing titles to my article sections. Without further ado, here’s a bunch of jargon:

Pen name, Author Name, Nom de plume

This is the name the author goes by on their published works. In most cases, when the term is used, it is not their author’s real name. If meeting a fellow author, you might say, “Hi, I’m John Doe, but my pen name is JD Wright.”

Work In Progress (WIP)

This is the current story, book or article you are working on. Either still writing it or editing it. See also manuscript.

Manuscript (MS)

This is any story, book, article, poem, etc. The term doesn’t imply if it is done or not, and thus may be used interchangeably with Work In Progress.

Damsel In Distress (DID)

The classic trope of putting a female character in harms way for the protagonist (often male) to rescue.

Women In Fridges (WIR)

Recognition of this concept arose in the 90’s, that for shock value, the hero would discover a woman (or their girlfriend) murdered and stuffed in a fridge. Here’s a web-site to learn more about it:


This is a story element that is seen in many stories, sometimes well, sometimes poorly or over-used, like a cliche. The website is a wellspring of information on the subject.


This is the writer’s equivalent to version tracking as they make changes and prepare to show it to somebody. The first draft is when the writer gets to the end the first time. Wise sages advise that draft is only for the writer, and they should set it aside, then come back to it. Then read and edit it, and call that the second draft. Then share that with somebody trusted for feedback. Each cycle of making changes and handing out a copy for review is effectively a new draft.

Beta Reader(s), Beta(s)

Beta readers are how a writer gets feedback from somebody who isn’t their agent or editor, before the work is published. They might read a first draft or later. The feedback might turn up mechanical issues, but more commonly the goal is to get feedback as a customer, a reader would see it.

Point of View (POV)

This word has a few meanings, and can get more complicated as we add more perspectives than First Person or Third Person. In stories written in one of those two perspectives, a scene should be written from the point of view of one character. Dr. Watson is the POV in Sherlock Holmes because he’s the one saying I and what he saw happen next. Harry Potter is the POV in most instances in his novels. I don’t recall if we ever see Hermione go off to do something.

Submission, Sub

Magazines and their online equivalents take short story and article submissions to be considered for publishing. This consists of an email with attached Word document of your manuscript. Or they have an online form with uploaded file instead. Once sent off, you wait to hear if it has been accepted or rejected.

Query Letter, Query

The book industry uses different terms than the short story industry. The process is mostly the same for a book publisher as it is for a book agent, though major publishing houses only accept from agents. You visit the agent’s website, read their guidelines and write a query letter. Then you email the query letter (as the body of the email in most cases) and the attached manuscript and hope for the best.

Page Count

I include this definition as a precaution. Your word processor will tell you how many pages your document is. However, that number can vary based on the margins, font and font size you have selected. Therefore, avoid talking about the size of your WIP in page count terms. Be wary of anybody talking pricing based on page count, because a professional knows page count isn’t precise. That said, you will see it used in credible circumstances and for practical purposes, assume 250 words per page as the standard.

Word Count

While words vary in length, they average out and for the writing trade, word count is the ruling metric. When an Agent says they don’t want works from new writers larger than 100K, they mean it, and you now know what they mean. Your word processor can tell you the current word count.


In most cases, this is a professional paid by the writer or publisher to read the manuscript and mark up mistakes and suggest or request changes. Some writers know an editor or college professor who might work for free. A side bit of advice is to do all the editing you can yourself or with friends before sending to a paid editor. This enables them to focus on the mistakes you can’t find, saving time and money.


A literary agent represents you to pitch your book to publishers and negotiate contracts. They typically receive 15% of the deal, and the publisher pays their cut directly. A good agent can get you a book deal and avoid pitfalls in the contract language that trap your manuscript at a failing publisher. They also allow you to be the “good cop” while working with your publisher’s editor when there’s a dispute that your “bad cop” agent is arguing with the publisher.

Vanity Press, Vanity Publishing

These are the con-men and shills of the book world. There are writers, so desperate to have a book on their shelf with their name on it to impress others, that they’ll pay to do so. That’s the origin of the term. Those same publishers, then find uninformed authors struggling to find a publisher and offer them a book deal, making the writer feel like they did it. Then they get told they need to pay for the actual publishing costs. Unfortunately many authors fall into this trap.

Author Services

This can sound like Vanity Press, but the distinction is that they do not speak to you as if you’ve got a book deal with a publisher. They merely offer the services a traditional publisher performs that a self-publishing author needs like editing, book cover design, layout, printing. Because these are offered as individual services, it is not a scam.

Self Publishing, Self-Pub

The costs of publishing a book have gone down, especially with e-books. An author can do everything herself or contract out parts of the work to Author Service firms for cover design, editing, layout and physical printing if need be. Self-Pub books tend to be looked down upon because the market is flooded with writers who cut all the corners and made their own badly designed book covers and released poorly edited content. There are excellent self-pub books out there, but the buyer must beware. A properly created book costs money to prepare and a self-published author has to front that money like a traditional publisher does.

Traditional Publishing, Trad-Pub

If you bought a New York Times best seller, it was traditionally published, probably by one of the top five publishing houses. The typical path is an author was accepted by an agent. The agent shopped the manuscript around and a publisher signed a deal. The publisher then assigns an editor to work with the author and a few revisions later, it is sent off to the presses. Eventually money flows into the writer and agents bank account. In this model, the writer does not pay money for this process.

Lead Magnet

A free story on a blog or newsletter meant to draw audience in who might be interested in your books of a similar genre.


A little bit of research shows some people covered the topic before and left a few gaps for me to fill.

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