fbook icon 60 A Guide to Book Jargon

 for Aspiring Authors

 writing equipment cropped

Every profession has its jargon, and publishing is no exception. If you’re a writer trying to get published or a first-time author working your way through the publishing process, here’s my select, subjective glossary of buzz words.


Otherwise known as ‘Acknowledgments’, these are the author's version of an Academy Awards acceptance speech.  The best speeches tend to be short and sweet. Having said that, first-timers have a lot of people to thank.

Regarding the spelling of the word itself, there’s a dilemma - whether to use an ‘e’ between the third and fourth syllables. You may find that the final decision is a function of your publishing house and their style/spelling guide.

Note: The ‘acks’ are entirely different from the book’s dedication which has a page to itself at the front.

Author pic:

Agents/publishers will ask for an author photo. Yes, I know writers are notoriously shy about such things, but author pics are a reality you can’t avoid. So give it your best shot (pardon the pun) and please don’t use that ‘selfie’ you took last week.

You don’t need to look gorgeous in a Tara Moss or Kate Morton kind of way, although if you are, then use it to your advantage. For the rest of us, here are my thoughts. Mysterious is good - see M.L. Stedman's author pic on the Random House Australia website.

Craggy is also interesting (no examples here for fear of offending anyone). A nice, friendly smile works well but so does a thoughtful gaze. Go to a bookstore and look at some author pics, particularly in your genre. Then decide on your approach.

Author platform:

As a tyro, I actually thought that ‘building an author platform’ referred to the construction of the stage on which authors speak at book festivals. Thank goodness, I’ve never said that out loud (well, not until now!) In reality, it refers to the author’s interface with the world, the way they market themselves – via book talks, library visits, social media, etc. By the way, it’s a good idea to have some social media (such as a writer’s blog) in place before you approach an agent or publisher with your book.

End matter:

Never fear - this has nothing to do with biological functions. It simply describes the stuff at the back of the book, such as the author bio (unless you’re very famous, in which case this might appear at the front), acknowledgments, bibliography (nowadays even novels can have bibliographies), promo material from your publisher and so on.


No, not the East or West Indies. In the publishing world, this is the abbreviation for independent book shops.

DDS, by the way, refers to discount and department stores.


Refers to the full manuscript. If you’ve sent an agent (or a publisher) an excerpt from your book, having taken care to follow the exact specifications on their website, and they contact you requesting the ‘full’, this is a very good sign indeed. Not exactly a fait accompli but extremely promising.

Market position:

In the simplest terms, this means your book’s genre and its target market (ie. the readers at whom it’s aimed, for example, women over 40, upper primary school children and so on). Even though you might have written your entire manuscript without having given a conscious thought to such dastardly commercial considerations as market position, it's something you'll need to reflect upon if you’re going to submit your work to an agent/publisher. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where would my book sit on the shelves of a bookstore? In the Crime section? Romance?Historical fiction?  Young adult? Or does my book straddle genres and sub-genres? In which case, you might say, for example, it’s a thriller with romantic elements.
  • Who would want to read my book and why?
  • What are the comparables? In other words, the books in a similar vein?
  • And then ask yourself this: What makes my book stand out from the rest? What makes it unique?


Short for manuscript.


The use of the word ‘pitch’ in the sense of a sales pitch originated in the late 19th century when the advertising industry was in its nascence. Nowadays everyone is pitching something to someone else. If you’re an aspiring writer, your ‘product’ will be your manuscript.

A formal proposal or submission may include your covering letter, bio, synopsis, sample chapter/s and possibly a market position statement - in fact, whatever the agent/publisher requires. The most comprehensive and practical book that I’ve read on this subject is ‘A Decent Proposal: How to Sell Your Book to an Australian Literary Agent or Publisher’ by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth (Keesing Press). 


It’s sometimes said that writing a synopsis is as hard as writing a novel, and I most definitely agree. To tell you the truth, I’m wont to spend weeks, even months on mine.

Don’t leave the synopsis until the last minute. While you’re writing the manuscript, start thinking about how you’ll approach it when the time comes. A good synopsis will distil the essence of your story in a beguiling way. It’s the hook to lure an the agent or publisher to read your first three chapters or whatever you’ve been required to send. Conversely, if your synopsis is dull, ponderous or badly written, they may not read beyond the first paragraph.

By the way, agents/publishers will specify a word count for a reason. I know it’s hard to distil 90,000 words into, say, 300 words or a single page, but if that’s what they want, it has to be done.

Tweaking – the process of refining and polishing your work until it shines. One of the most common mistakes that a first-time writer will make is to send off their work too early. Make sure you’ve proofed it thoroughly for typos, spelling and grammar mistakes. Reading your MS aloud is always helpful, not just for spotting typos but for checking the flow of the text and identifying clunky language. I also suggest seeking objective advice about your manuscript before going to an agent or publisher. If you’re in a writers’ group, be brave and ask for feedback from your peers.

Good luck!

Deborah O’Brien

June 15, 2014