A Glossary of Writing Terms

As with any industry, writing has its own lexicon of words and acronyms that can be quite confusing to a newcomer.  So, to help out a little, I’ve put together some common terms you might come across on blogs, writer’s loops or from contest judges.

Glossary of industry terms:



“The Call”

The phone call an author receives from an editor when she learns her first book has sold.


Grin (Used in emails)


Agent or editor.

Acquisition editor

The editor at the publishing house who has the authority to buy an author’s work. This editor will continue to work with the author to make the manuscript more marketable.


The amount of money the author is paid in advance of the sales of the book. It is a payment against the sales of her book.  The writer must “earn out” her advance before she will be paid additional royalties from her book. If her book doesn’t sell enough to cover her advance, she does not have to pay it back.


The person who agrees to give representation to an author.  He/she will negotiate contracts and send queries to publishing houses for a fee.  Typical fee is 15% of the writer’s royalties.


Advanced reading copy. A copy of a manuscript before it’s officially released to the stores.


The events that occurred before a story starts. It’s the history behind the story/character.


Quick dialogue that is usually humorous.

Bidding war

When two or more publishing houses are bidding for the same manuscript.

Big Black Moment

BBM- the point in the story where it appears as though all is lost. Usually the climax of the story.


The shortened teasers written on the back cover of a book to entice the reader to buy.


The bookstores themselves.


Books that are released by Harlequin Publishing. (Sometimes called series)


The problems a character encounters while trying to attain her/his goal.

Conflict resolution

The point in the story where the characters overcome the major conflicts they’ve fought throughout the story. In the romance genre, this usually refers to the conflicts between the hero and heroine.

Copy editor

The editor who fixes typos, comma mistakes etc.


Referring to the actual skills needed to construct a novel.

Dumping backstory

Putting too much backstory into the beginning of the story or in large chunks throughout the story.  Can slow pacing particularly if done using narrative.


Books released in a digital or electronic format.


A request by an agent or editor for an entire completed manuscript.

Genre fiction

Fiction that is not literary.  Ex: romance, suspense, thrillers, sci fi, mysteries, medical thrillers.  This is also referred to as Popular fiction.

GH or Golden Heart

Prestigious contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America for unpublished manuscripts


Goals, motivations, and conflicts for a story.  Coined by Deb Dixon.


What the character is trying to do or achieve.




Happily Ever After—refers to the standard ending for all romance novels.

Head Hopping

Changing points of view too often in a scene.  Can be distracting.


An idea that “hooks” the reader and makes her want to continue reading the book


The publishing house that will print and sell the book to booksellers.

Independent bookseller or Indy

Book stores that are not part of a chain like Barnes and Nobles or Borders. Sometimes referred to as “moms and pops”.

Line edit

The line by line editing of the book to correct typos, comma mistakes etc.

Log Line

The one (or two) sentence summary of a novel. Used to quickly explain premise and catch the attention of the person who asked, “What’s your story about?”


Why a character is doing what she/he is doing.


Short for manuscript (plural-mss)


Using too many words to say what you need to say. Can cause a slowing of the pace.


The speed at which the story progresses.  Also used in describing the interest level of the story.  A “slow pace” usually means the story is lagging and not particularly interesting.


First three chapters and synopsis of a manuscript.  Usually the first step in the request sequence from an editor or agent.

Passive voice

When the subject of a sentence is acted upon.  Example: Jim was hit by a car.  In active voice it would say, “A car hit Jim.” (Usually denoted by the use of the verb “to be”.)


A “sales pitch” for your novel presented in person to an agent or editor.  Usually done at conferences.

Popular fiction

Also called genre fiction or pop fiction: Fiction read by the general public.


Point of view—the person whose perspective is being used to set the scene.  For example, is the scene being written through the hero’s POV or the Heroine’s?


The basic idea for the novel.

Print on Demand

A type of publishing house that only prints up manuscripts as they are sold.  These books are generally not found in book stores and require the author to sell her books by her own methods.


Purple prose—the flowery, over written prose popular in the early years of romantic fiction.


A one page letter sent to an agent or editor describing the book. It’s extremely important and should be crafted very carefully.


The letter an author receives from the agent or editor stating they are not interested in pursuing the manuscript.


Changes made to a manuscript in order to make it stronger.


The money an author makes from the publishing house.  It is a percentage of overall sales.  The actual percentage is a negotiated item in the writer’s contract.


Romance Writers of America—the largest organization for authors in the world.

Sell through

The number of books that actually sold to readers.


A group of books that are released by an author in sequence around a common plot line.  Example: The Harry Potter series. (Can also be used to describe a category romance)

Showing vs telling

“Painting” an image in the reader’s mind instead of simply telling her what’s happening.  Ex: Tom was mad (telling). Tom clinched his fist at his side to keep from hitting Bob in the face (showing).

Single title

Full length novels intended to stand alone (Not in a series or category release)

Strong writing

Writing that is good, consistent, and desirable.


Used mostly in romance fiction to designate a type of romantic fiction. Ex: historical, paranormal, suspense, etc.


A shortened account of the story including the ending.  It is written in present tense and is much shorter than the entire manuscript.  The length and requirements vary depending on the desires of the editor or agent.


The line of narrative that designates the speaker.  Ex: “Stop!” Jane said. (The ‘Jane said’ is a tag.)Sometimes referred to as “attribution.”

Tom Swifties

A phrase used to describe a tag that repeats an obvious point or makes a pun. Ex:  “Hurry!” Tom said swiftly.


The “feeling” the novel/scene portrays.  Ex: suspenseful, sad, lighthearted etc.


The change from one scene to another or one POV to another.

Vanity or Self Publishing

A type of publisher that requires the author to pay for the printing of his/her books.  These books are not found in book stores and necessitate the author selling his/her books by her own methods.


The unique tone an author gives to her work--her personal style of writing.


Work in progress or process—the writer’s current project.

Writer intrusion

When the author writes something that is not in any characters point of view or appears to be coming from the author.  Ex: He walked away from the accident unaware that his every move was being watched by another.

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