We were talking the other day, and it came up that it might be time to collect a glossary of sorts, to define and discuss terms. With the changes in the industry, new ideas coming in almost faster than we can keep up, and with them, new words and phrases for things that didn’t exist ten, or even five years ago… Time to do some jargon-busting.

Please, in the comments, feel free to suggest additions, and I will amend this as needed. Hoping to make it into a resource that might last a bit. Not long, with the way things are changing, but…

  • Publishing
  • Editing
  • Writer-Related Words
  • Story
  • Covers


Traditional Publishing: refers to the big five, these days, the last of the NYC-based publishers. may also refer to the larger of the small presses, but it has the connotation of being the dinosaurs in the industry: big, nasty, and full of teeth. Also known as Legacy Publishing.

Small Press: publishing houses that operate in much the same way as traditional publishers, but are usually a bit more forward-thinking and author-friendly.

Micro-Press: publishers that may only handle one or two authors.

Independent Publishers: the new breed, authors that handle their own businesses, hiring outsiders for some of the work, but overseeing the whole process like a publisher.

Self-Publishing: Ironically, this is usually not the same as Indie Publishing, although they are often lumped together. Self-Publishing tends to be an author who hands over their work to a self-publishing company that promises to provide “author services” and the results tend to be less than professional. Of the self-publishing companies I have looked into, most are scams, preying on the eager and naive. Also known as Vanity Presses. Good resources for researching before you commit to working with a publishing services company are Preditors and Editors, and Writer Beware. Keep in mind that many self-publishing companies pop up like mushrooms, and are gone just as fast, so keep in mind the cardinal rule: money flows to the author.


There are many sorts of editing, and your story may need one, more, or all of them. But it’s important to know what the editing is, before you hire someone, and to make sure they know what it is they are doing, something not all freelance editors understand.

Copy-Editing: Editing for typographical errors, common spelling mistakes, and general grammar. May also be called proof-reading. This is the most superficial and cheapest type of editing.

Continuity Editor: this person is checking to make sure your story holds together, might be helping to align it with previous books in the series, and in general making sure you know what loose ends are there.

Structural Editor: the editor who can have the most influence on your story, and the hardest to find a good one. This person should be very familiar with the genre conventions, you as a writer, and work well with you. Hard to find, and worth their weight in gold.

Writer-Related Terms

Pantser: one who writes by the seat of their pants, rarely outlining in any detail, this writer sits and churns out the story after the characters deign to start telling it to them. The sub-species of this is the Extreme Pantser, who can’t get their characters to tell them anything in advance, and have to just write, to find out what’s going on in the story.

Outliner: this writer gets it easier, they can plan where the trip (story) is takign them, and build a road map before they start writing.

Plotter: this writer has to build a story from the inside out, creating a plot like bones to hang muscles, flesh, and finally skin, har, and features on, bring it to life in stages.

Cat-Rotator: this is the poor writer who, nto knowing what is coming next, attempts to rotate the cats and otherwise distract themselves from the uncanny silence in their heads. Usually this lasts until the Cat-Rotator is doing something important and unrelated to writing, whereupon the characters all start to talk loudly, and at once.


By which I mean length, mostly, although I’ll add whatever you suggest to this section. With the advent of ebooks, length conventions are changing… again. It used to be that a book of 40-60K words in length was a novel. Then, the goat-gagger came into being, and suddenly 250K-300K was acceptable, where once that would have been at least a trilogy. However, with an ebook you don’t have that wrist-bending heft of the mass to assess a book by, and once again, a novel has become about the story. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? Then it is long enough.

Short Story: In general, anything from 1K-10K words. Can be longer. Shorter is called Flash Fiction.

Novella: Somewhere between 17K and 40K words. I think, unless they have moved the goal posts on me again. Which is the problem with defining story lengths, everyone defines it differently. If you are submitting somewhere, check to see what they call it, and what length they want. In the new era of ebooks, novellas are doing quite well, as long as they have a true end, not a cliffhanger and the message “buy another book to follow along!” If you plan to serialize a novel, make that clear, or you will tick off readers (why, yes, I was bitten by this, why do you ask? LOL)

Novellette: I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who uses this term. Moving right along…

Novel: the granddaddy of them all. Conventional publishing has the novel beginning at 80K words and up. However, again, this is shifting due to e-publishing. Also, a Young Adult or New Adult novel is expected to be shorter, from perhaps just over novella length on up (40K words plus). When I put The Eternity Symbiote in print, I was surprised to discover that it weighs in at a hefty 250 pages long, even though it is only 50K words printed. It feels like a traditional novel in the hand, but it falls within novella length, so I labeled it as that. I think we will see novel come back to 50K plus words, as more people transition to the majority of their reading in e-formats. As long as it satisfies, feels like a complete story, and has a good ending, they aren’t going to notice the word count.


My own milieu recently, I’ve found that many people don’t know what they want when it comes to having a book cover done. So here’s a couple of terms.

Cover Art: original, bespoke art to suit your book, and exclusive to it. This comes in many stages of quality, and price, but in general, it is much more expensive.

Cover Design: the fine art of making your cover look good, with type elements and art elements in the right places, and the proper signals being given off to let the reader know, at least subconciously, that they will like this book and it is a professional production.

Cover Layout: Arranging the text elements on a book cover, very similar to cover design, although usually the designer is also choosing art, which isn’t part of layout.

Full-Wrap Cover: the front, back, and spine of a book, suitable for printing. An ebook cover is generally just the front cover, NOT the spine as well.

And this got much longer than I thought it would when I started! Well, for those of you who read to the bottom and I didn’t put to sleep, please, let me know what should be added. Thanks!

37 thoughts on “Technicalities

  1. I’ve heard the term “Short Novel” as well, fill the gap between novella and novel. I suspect it’s about to be lost as the “acceptable to the reading public” length of novels changes.

    And then there are series. I’ve heard writers attempt to differentiate between series=books with same characters, new problem in every book (very common in mysteries) and hypernovels=a single story that can’t be fit into a single cover (very common in fantasies.) But I’ve only heard of it from the one author. Anyone else heard it?

    And under series, you might mention the traditional four or five book trilogies. 😉

    1. Wasn’t that Adam’s schtick, the five-book trilogy? Yes, someone called Vulcan’s Kittens a short novel, which I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be insulting, or what!

      I hadn’t heard hypernovels before, Interesting concept.

    2. I’ve held forth on the differences on series myself. They range from what is really a single book chopped into volumes (Lord of the Rings) to a setting where the books need nothing more in common (Discworld, Witch World (both of which, note, have sub-series with more connections))

  2. I’d be inclined to add style editor to your list. It’s someone between a copy editor and continuity editor. At best, they look for ticks (like repeated words, as in “you used ‘utterly’ three times in three paragraphs. Is this intentional?” or favorite phrases), catch potentially confusing or florid phrasing that might not match your overall style or intent, and raise minor flags (changing hair color, a paragraph that should have been moved but wasn’t, terms that are standard in one form of English but not in others). A good style editor helps polish the story or book without erasing your voice. It’s a service I’d recommend to beginning indie-authors, just so you can get an idea of what quirks to look for/ look out for, but YMMV.

      1. In my mind “style” is all the grammar things that are fudgeable. So someone decides in which direction grammar gets fudged and that everyone working for a publication does the fudging in a coherent and uniform way. (And you end up with the Chicago Manual of Style.) In fiction, the person setting the fudgeability rules is the author, mostly. The author chooses how formal the language is, how warm or familiar, if certain words will be spelled in non-standard ways, if new words will be made up, if sentence fragments will be embraced, etc., The senior editor at a publishing house might have style rules, too, such as no, sentence fragments will not be embraced.

        Someone reviewing a manuscript for style ought to mostly be noticing grammar which might seem like the copy editor’s job… it’s just that the copy editor only should correct things that don’t reasonably come under the heading of “style”… like subject verb agreements and other relatively clear errors… and the style editing should address things that *of course* the author can do if she wishes but might want to reconsider, or inconsistencies or changes over the course of the manuscript (style continuity). A style editor for fiction might catch various Americanisms (or the whateverisms of your home planet) if the book is intended for foreign distribution.

        I *think* I’ve managed to say pretty much exactly what TXRed said.

        1. Oh, style encompasses more than grammar. Sentences that would pass any English teacher’s pen for their grammar and contain the same info can still be in very different styles.

      2. When I was taking my editing class I got assigned as “style editor” for our group project. I think the concept is common to journalism and non-fiction publications.

        My job was making a style sheet that recorded all of our group’s decisions about unclear grammar issues and typography, punctuation, and that sort of stuff.

    1. I am SO tired from doing taxes that I started looking for the bloodsucking insect ticks. Could you possibly mean ‘tics’ – odd little personal twitches?

      I can see how they would also be ticks – little bloodsucking insects that you didn’t know you put in there to suck the life out of your story and cause you pain during editing.

      Forgive me – things are NOT gelling in the taxes department without great effort, and they are such little things.

      1. Yes, I meant tic. I was trying to listen to the review recording for my concert and typing in the few minutes before the dress-rehearsal started. You should be grateful it wasn’t in German! 🙂 (Brahms “Liebeslieder Walzes.” Reminds me why I don’t sing lieder.)

    2. Actually, I’d disagree about needing to add that as a separate entity. A good editor is your style editor. A good copy editor will pick up the repeated phrases and tics in word choice. I guess my concern is that there are already too many writers out there paying for editorial services and not getting what they are promised because the “editor” isn’t editing but proofreading or, at best, copy editing. But, as you said, YMMV.

  3. I HATE the term pantser. It’s demeaning and insulting and I refuse to use it. If you want a descriptive term for a writer who plots as he or she writes instead of plotting as a separate action, how about “explorer”?

    I consider Roger Zelanzy’s Amber series a hypernovel. (Well, okay, two hypernovels, actually, the first one about Corwin and the second about Merlin. So it would be a hypernovel series, then?)

    1. Hm – for me, I associate the term with bush pilots, and the like. “Flying by the seat of your pants” literally is a praise of skill, not everyone can do it. Being able to feel the plane around you, and the air beyond it, and tweak to keep yourself aloft and safe… it’s a pretty impressive feat.

          1. Fly by the seat of your pants was how I always interpreted ‘pantser’ and much like the phrase it replaces it can either be the highest form of compliment or an insult, depending on how well the person using the technique uses it.

      1. I like pantser, I find it quite amusing as a word and that suits me. It’s also a word which could be either demeaning or the opposite, depending on who uses it, in what context or maybe what tone of voice is used when speaking, but I have no problems with that.

        I guess I’m somewhere between a pantser and an outliner myself (I manage that latter sometimes, but not always, and it tends to mutate when I start to write) with a little bit cat-rotator thrown in

          1. There were whole bunches of people not wearing pants on the subway a few weeks ago…

            Wait, is that one of Sarah’s carp in your hands? ‹ducks›

  4. Don’t forget the classic definition of ‘Editor’ by Ambrose Bierce in “The Devil’s Dictionary”:

    EDITOR, n. A person who combines the judicial functions of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, but is placable with an obolus; a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself; who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering his mind at the tail of a dog; then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star. Master of mysteries and lord of law, high-pinnacled upon the throne of thought, his face suffused with the dim splendors of the Transfiguration, his legs intertwisted and his tongue a-cheek, the editor spills his will along the paper and cuts it off in lengths to suit. And at intervals from behind the veil of the temple is heard the voice of the foreman demanding three inches of wit and six lines of religious meditation, or bidding him turn off the wisdom and whack up some pathos.

    O, the Lord of Law on the Throne of Thought,
    A gilded impostor is he.
    Of shreds and patches his robes are wrought,
    His crown is brass,
    Himself an ass,
    And his power is fiddle-dee-dee.
    Prankily, crankily prating of naught,
    Silly old quilly old Monarch of Thought.
    Public opinion’s camp-follower he,
    Thundering, blundering, plundering free.
    Respected contemporaree!

    —J.H. Bumbleshook

  5. “Novellette: I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who uses this term. Moving right along…”

    Per the Hugos, novelette is between short story and novella: 7,500 – 17,500 words.


  6. Word count probably needs some updating, since it used to be the number of 6-letter words (plus a space) to take up the same space as the story, which would not necessarily agree with the number you get when you pull down “Word Count” in your word processor, although the latter is apparently coming into vogue for eBooks.

    1. It’s easier to just use the word processor “word count” and it ought to mostly even out, unless you use lots of really short words or if you are inherently compelled to elaborate multisyllibic locutions.

      The other old way to count was to assume 250 words per page of 10 point proportional font. That way a page full of white space due to back-and-forth dialog would still get counted as a whole page and not mess up the page count for the typesetters.

  7. This really should be in a wiki/glossary format for easy updating and reference. An appendix to the Mad Genius Club Handbook for All Occasions?

      1. This week is pretty busy, but… remind me towards the start of next month, and I’ll see what I can do? Or maybe one of the other minions hanging around would like to set it up?

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