Hacks for Hacks: Sense of humor requiredThe complexities of the publishing industry can confuse new and aspiring writers. Inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, I present this handy lexicon to
show you all the terms you need to know as you start your literary career.

#amwriting (slang): Twitter hashtag that signals the arrival of a context-free non-sequitur. Designed to make the activity of sitting in front of a computer sound interesting.

Advance (n.): a sum of money offered to a writer prior to publication; invariably smaller than the advance given to that one author you hate.

Amazon (n.): the Great Beast slouching toward New York City via free Prime shipping. Hey, the UPS truck is here!

Comic Sans (n.): a whimsical typeface derived from Latin sans for “without” and comic for “dignity.”

Aspiring writer (n.): what authors refer to themselves as when they’re blogging instead of working on their manuscript.

Barnes & Noble (n.): america’s leading retailer of notebooks, pens, and coffee mugs.

Beta reader (n.): a reader who sees an almost-ready draft of your novel before you show it to your VHS readers.

Blogging (v.): authors sharing writing advice with their audience, who presumably consist only of other writers.

Borders (n.):

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “A vast and empty anchor store
Stands in the mall. Near it, across from Radio Shack,
Half junk, its shattered signage lies, taken down
Its boundless shelves, and kiosk of Starbucks coffee,
Tell that its manager knew what readers read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The buyers that mocked them and the cash that fed:
And on the endcap these words appear:
‘Welcome to Borders, bookstore of bookstores:
Look on our selection, ye Mighty, and save!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The empty parking lot stretched far away.”

Brand (n.): originally a marketing term to describe the signature features of a company or individual. In the social-media-marketing age, it now means pretty much whatever the hell you want it to.

Coffee (n.): the elixir of life itself. The coffee-cup rings on notebook paper is the shibboleth of the writer class. The caffeine amplifies writers’ anxiety and neuroses crucial to their work.

Comic Sans (n.): a whimsical typeface derived from Latin sans for “without” and comic for “dignity.”

Courier New (n.): the preferred typeface of ninety-nine percent of the publishing industry for some inexplicable reason.

Critique (v.): a polite way to tell someone you hate their book.

Editors (n.): brilliant, attractive people you hope will give you lots of money.

Facebook (n.): social media platform used by relatives to post infuriating political opinions. A place to stroke one’s ego by having “friends” “Like” their updates about publishing.

Kindle (n.): a bookstore that fits in your pocket and, by the way, takes credit cards for your convenience. Electronic device designed to enable readers to read erotica without judgment from peers.

Multiple submission (v.): the act of submitting more than one story to the same market at the same time, to much the same effect as the multi-ball setting in pinball.

Self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) (n.): antiquated method of delivering bad news.

Poet (n.): a class of writers to whom fiction writers look to feel better about their stalled careers.

Platform (n.): a really good author photo.

Query (n.): a one-page summary of your book, which saves the editor the time of having to read the whole thing before throwing it away.

Self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) (n.): antiquated method of delivering bad news.

Self-publishing (n.): the greatest revolution in publishing since Gutenberg, overexposure to which can lead to derision from gatekeepers, intolerable smugness, and interminable arguments using talking points laden with dinosaur metaphors.

Serial (n.): a long story released in short, regular installments until the author thinks up a serviceable ending or the sales dry up, whichever occurs later.

“Show, don’t tell” (exp.): the writerly equivalent of “Have a good one.” An easy thing to say in your writers group when you haven’t read the story, it has been repeated so often and in so many contexts that no one remembers its original meaning.

Simultaneous submission (v.): the act of submitting a story to more than one market in order to accumulate rejections more quickly.

Slush pile (n.): the foreboding hills of paper into which manuscripts are tossed, only to come back rent, misshapen, or not at all. The inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

Small press (n.): a press of not large size, like a hundred pounds or so.

Social media strategy (n.): imaginary concept created by marketing firms in search of a new revenue stream.

Submission guidelines (n.): judging by slushpiles, unknown.

Writers group (n.): group of fellow writers with whom you drink beer; bestowers of jealousy toward fellow members who receive acceptance letters.

Did we miss anything? Add your definitions in the comments section!

About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.