Lets Learn Literary Lingo

So, as it turns out, publishing world literary lingo is very much a thing and, dare I say, even more confusing than political lingo. This, keep in mind, is coming from a college student majoring in Political Science. I would like to start by saying my experience as also being an English major did not prepare me for this confusion, as never in any english class that I have ever taken has anyone so much as even mentioned actually publishing your own work, we mostly read other peoples work and write short creative things from time to time that I would probably prefer didn’t see the light of day. For today’s post I listened to a podcast from ShippingAndHandling (Episode 33: Back to Basics), hosted by Bridget Smith (of Dunham Literary Inc.) and Jennifer Udden (of Barry Goldblatt Literary), both literary agents well-practiced in literary lingo. Literary literary literary. Let’s see how many times I say literary in today’s post, probably more than you’d like. Since these ladies are very familiar with the vocabulary they use throughout the podcast, they don’t always feel the need to explain what they are talking about. So below you will find the meanings of certain literary lingo found in my own research, and these ladies insights into the topics as a whole. Topics and terms we will be tackling include: Critique partners (and Beta Readers), Agents, Boilerplate, the Big 5, Queries, and Comp titles.

Critique partners

Google – These are fellow writers who you exchange your work with. They will (hopefully) give you feedback and find weaknesses relating to things such as plot holes, character development/goals, and anything else that a writer may be concerned with verses a reader. In exchange, you will often do the same for them. BETA READERS, on the other hand, rather than being a writer, are readers who will preview your work. They will give you more big picture feedback, like if they enjoyed your book or not, if the middle dragged out too much, etc. 

Ladies at ShippingAndHandling – Your critique partner should be someone who is NOT invested in your personal happiness. So, not your family and friends; save them to be your Beta reader down the line. Your critique partner has to be able to be honest with you, which at times can mean they’re hurting your feelings, not out of malice but still something a family or friend my be less willing to do. An ideal critique partner will have similar book tastes to you and be well versed in reading books from the same genre as yours, so that their opinion is one that you respect and listen to. Once you have something resembling a full manuscript, whether complete or not, feel free to find a beta reader. A beta reader will help you to know if your on track, if any major changes are necessary. Try to aim for a reader who would be interested in your book or hits your target demographic, for example if yo are writing a YA (Young Adult) novel, try to find a teenager who may be interested in a free book.  


Google – Basically, once you’ve written your manuscript, you seek an agent (see Queries below) who will help you do everything else from there. Different agents will do different things for you, but (in my opinion) a good agent will not only help you to navigate the publishing process but be your buddy and editor too, a more experienced and knowledgeable critique partner. All agents are different, some more hands on than others, and a prospective novelist should choose one that will meet their own needs (that is, if your willing to wait for the right one to come around). An agent manages the business affairs of an author, and although the topic of this blog is publishing books, there are definitely agents that specialize in selling movie scripts, theater scripts, etc. 

Actual literary agents (ShippingAndHandling) – When choosing an agent, you have to be careful that your eagerness to get published doesn’t lead you into the hands of someone with little to no experience or, even worse, into a scam. Red flags include an agent who was previously an intern or has no real previous experience, unless they are working for an established company and you are willing to take a leap of faith (check their website). It is harder to break in to the publishing world as an agent than as an author, so you want an agent with experience and established connections. A major red flag in an inquiring agent is if they ask for money, an agent NEVER asks for money up-front, if they do you are being scammed. An agents income is directly related to the money you make off of your book. When picking an agent you should also check the covers of books that they have sold, do you like them? This is what your cover will look like as well. Does the agent only sell to the same three small presses? This is where they will sell your book too. Agents should have experience in your genre, and be interested in your work. You should trust tour agents opinion, even above those of your critique partner. Something they stress is that it’s better to not be published than to be badly published, and to not have an agent than have a bad one (you don’t want a self-interested agent). Authors do have track records, and debut novels are important. When offering their services to you, an agent should have a game plan, not just tell you that they LOVE your work (although this is also very important). They should have an idea of where they might sell your work, and you should feel comfortable communicating with them (supposedly, no question is a dumb question, so make sure you trust your agent to give you the answer straight and not laugh at you). 

Boiler Plates and The Big 5

Google – Ok, I’m not going to fully tackle the idea of ‘boilerplates’ because if/when I do, it will require its own post. So here are the basics: A boilerplate contract usually (but not always) means an author has an obligation to a publisher lasting beyond the publishing of one book, and involves signing off some of their rights as an author. This can range from anything relating to cover (authors usually have no control over this), future movie adaptations, or future novels (sequel or otherwise). Unrelated in this context, but the Big 5 are the main, established trade book publishers, seen above: Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House (previously separate companies, Random House and Penguin, until 2013 when they merged and the Big 6 became the Big 5, is this making anyone else want to watch Big Hero 6?).  

Ladies at ShippingAndHandling – The literary agents in this podcast urge caution when using boilerplates, especially in connection to the Big 5, but personally speaking if one of the big five wanted to publish my book I don’t think I’d be able to say no. They also urge caution when choosing an agent who is either working for a company who has a boilerplate with one of the big five or who personally does, because this may result in restrictions relating to your book even though you personally didn’t sign anything with the big five. 

Queries and Comp Titles

Google – A Query is a letter you send to literary agents to get them interested in your book, and eventually get them to ask for a manuscript and enter some sort of deal related to publishing your work. Basically, you have one page to get them interested enough in your book to contact you back. Comp titles, as they used the word, can be lengthened out to Comparison titles, and are books you ‘compare’ your work too. Ex: people often compare Divergent to The Hunger Games. 

Ladies at ShippingAndHandling – Something I found interesting: apparently if an agent isn’t interested in your work but they know someone else who might be, they’ll pass it along, in which case you might get a sort of return query from an agent you never even reached out to. Additionally, they strongly advised against using Comp titles in your query, comparing your book to something famous (like Harry Potter) will not do you any favors, and could mean anything from ‘I am not original’ to ‘I am not going to live up to your expectations’. 

Podcast can be found at: http://www.shippingandhandlingpodcast.com/post/153487374007/episode-33-back-to-basics
Hosts Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary Inc. & Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary ; Episode 33: Back to Basics

Photo Creds: http://drspikecook.com/2013/05/18/we-can-do-better/ ; www.projectmanager.com/blog/teamwork-quotes-25-best-inspirational-quotes-working-together ; https://vgiordano-publishing.umasscreate.net/publishing/the-big-5-and-the-job-search/


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