Writer Lingo & Slang
The "102-level" words and phrases you'll hear around the publishing world
We’re backkkk! Hope everyone had a great New Year!
I thought I’d start off with something I saw people wondering about elsewhere — namely, some 102 writer slang. Because I realized that a lot of times people just… don’t tell us this stuff. Not only do people not tell us this stuff, they don’t tell us how to do it, and it’s not like we’re working in an office where we can ask co-workers!
What is 102 Writer Slang? What I mean is stuff beyond words like “query” and “agent” and “standard manuscript format.” I’m talking the stuff you won’t necessarily think to look up, but people will use around you as if you know it. In other words, stuff I’ve seen professional writers confused by, but it can be hard to Google what the actual colloquial usage is.
Here we go!
Acronyms, Acronyms, Acronyms — WTH are people talking about?
Here are some acronyms you’ll see regularly from writing and publishing professionals without explanation:
D&A — Stands for delivery & acceptance, which means a writer has turned in the edited manuscript and it’s been accepted by the publisher. Mostly talked about by writers in the context of money, because D&A is often linked to the next portion of the advance. So more colloquially, D&A = next check!
tk — Stands for “to come” (I know, I know, but hardly anything in English has “tk” as a letter combination, so it’s said that it’s nice and find-able). Used in actual typeset manuscripts as a placeholder (as in, “Acknowledgments tk”), but — but! — the more confusing part for a new writer is that this is also slang in common communication. For example, it’s common for editors to reply to an email with “Details tk” and expect writers to know what it means.
P&L — Stands for “profit and loss.” This is a general financial term, not publishing-specific, but you’ll see it in a lot of discussions about the money side of publishing and hypotheticals about how well a publisher might expect a book to do.
PM — Publishers Marketplace, the subscription community for publishing insiders. Authors will usually talk about this as the place their book deals are announced (as in, “linking to the PM announcement”).
PW — Publishers Weekly, which has articles that aren’t reviews as well, but most authors will talk about it in the context of a PW review. This is because, along with Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, it’s one of the four big editorial review sites. Professionals in the distribution chain pay attention to reviews from these four sites, so they can help your book’s distribution to bookstores and libraries and help your publicity team push your book.
CE — Copyediting and/or copyeditor. See also “PR” for proofreading and/or proofreaders.
Wait, Are We Just Expected To Know What to Do?
Here are some 102 processes that come up throughout editing, but that nobody really… explains:
stet — “Stet” is an editing term that means to leave something as is. A lot of writers literally write “stet” on a change to show that they want to reject the editor’s change and leave things the way it was. (This is one of those things most writers somehow absorb, but nobody actually tells us — I’ve seen authors get very far into publishing before someone told them about the word stet.)
first pass pages — Authors who’ve been around the block a bit know about the different levels of editing — developmental, copyediting, proofreading. (If you don’t, ask me and I’ll do a column!) But what are first pass pages? They’re the page proofs, once the book is typeset into book-shape. Proofreading happens at this stage — the proofreaders are going through it at the same time the author gets a chance to do a pass and make any last minor changes and catch any formatting errors that were introduced in typesetting. You cannot make large changes at this stage, because it’s not as easy as just copy/pasting words into a file — once the book is typeset, every change is a lot more work than that and costs time and money to do. (Hat tip to an editor friend of mine for explaining to me about that last bit!)
I know authors who ask for these to be printed — you can ask your publisher for this — but I prefer doing them digitally, because I force an app to read the entire book aloud to me while I read along in the proof. It’s a trick I learned in my self-publishing days, and it causes me to catch typos my brain skimmed over a million times.
Track Changes — Microsoft Word is the standard program in publishing, and editors and authors use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function to pass edits back and forth. Authors probably know what this is already — but a while ago I got intrigued by how people use it and I asked around to find everyone uses it a little differently! Most common difference was whether people “reject” a change within Track Changes or write “stet” in a comment (and whether editors prefer one or the other). Sometimes publishers give guidelines — but these differ, as I found out when I followed one publisher’s guidelines when working with another (oops). Most common-sense ways of using it are going to be okay, but if in doubt you can also totally ask your editor if they have a preference, or ask if your publisher has TC guidelines.
These Things Are Good News, Right? Why Do People Talk About Them Confusingly?
Finally, some terms that are usually very good news, but that I’ve seen a few Twitter threads about where people treated them as not-as-good news in very confusing ways:
movie options — A movie option means a studio has “optioned” a piece of intellectual property, i.e., they’re paying some amount of money to have the right to make the movie, with an expiration date. A movie option is great news! They take a whack of luck to get. However, an option is not at all synonymous with having a movie made, which is another huge leap of luck, and that’s where people caution writers against getting too excited or thinking an option means the silver screen is imminent.
Lots of options expire without the property ever being produced. Some production houses are even known for optioning a lot more than they ever intend to make and “sitting” on the rights to things. But an option can still mean nice money, and it’s a very cool accomplishment, so celebrate it for what it is!
earning out — When an author “earns out,” it means their portion of the sales has equaled the advance they got, so any more sales on top of that, the author is going to start getting royalties. This is generally a good thing, because it means that the book has done well and made lots of money for the publisher, and the author looks good for a next deal. However — earning out too fast can also be a less-good thing, if it means your agent didn’t negotiate well for you and your advance was artificially low. And not earning out is also not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re decently up there, because the publisher makes money well before the author earns out. In fact, there’s a school of thought that the best-sized advance is one that just barely won’t earn out.
Basically, earning out depends on the size of the advance, and though it’s usually good news for an author, there’s a lot of twistiness to why a contract does or doesn’t earn out and whether that’s actually good or bad or neutral.
starred review — A starred review from one of the four big review sites mentioned above (PW, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus) means the reviewer considered your book was one of the top of the year. A fairly small percentage of books get a star on each site — for instance, for Kirkus it’s 10%. It’s a good thing! It doesn’t necessarily mean your book will take off, but it’s a nice feather in your cap. Not having a star also doesn’t mean your book is destined to failure, either, though; not by a long shot. If you get one or more stars, I’d say to consider it a nice thing that will help your publicity department boost you.
acquisitions — If you have friends on sub, you probably hear people talking about a book “going to acquisitions” (YAY) or, unfortunately often, “dying at acquisitions” (BOO). An acquisitions meeting happens once your editor is already totally sold on your book but has to sell the publisher on your book, particularly the money people at the publisher. Getting to acquisitions is a necessary step to getting a book deal, and it means you are almost at the step of having an offer… but books also die in the acquisitions phase unfortunately often, which is why I know so many authors who are cautious about getting excited about it.
Can you think of any other terms you’d like to know about? Let me know!