Primer, part two (glossary)

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words, the links, and the lurkers yesterday. I had no idea that people would actually be interested in this, which just shows what I know, since I think I had more hits yesterday than I’ve ever had before.

Hi, guys! Jump right in, the water’s fine!

I really hope that this information is useful to people, and if you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments and if I don’t have the answers, I’m sure someone else who reads this blog (i.e., Julie the Genius) will. Yesterday, we even discussed a scam agency that Writer Beware has been blogging about, so good has already come of this. Love it when that happens. And of course, if there’s something I left out or that you think I got wrong, there are free wet noodles in the comment section.

The first part of the primer is here.

Moving forward with the glossary:

outline: (n.)

  • In most cases, indistinguishable from a synopsis. Many editors and agents use this interchangeably.
  • In some cases, distinguishable from a synopsis in that, instead of being in paragraph form, an outline will be in list/outline form, with each scene/chapter being a different entry/number/bullet point on the list.
  • If asked for this, you’re probably safe sending a synopsis.

partial: (n.)

  • The first three chapters of your manuscript, up to ~60 pages. If your book has a prologue, include the prologue. Start with page one of your manuscript, and go from there.
  • Often, agents and editors will ask for “three chapters” or “fifty pages” or similar. This is what they mean. They mean the FIRST three chapters, or the FIRST fifty pages. Resist the temptation to send fifty random (or “best”) pages. That’s not what they want.
  • This is not exact science, people. If your book has super short, James-Patterson-style chapters, do not just send three. Send about 50-60 pages worth.
  • If page 60 ends in the middle of a sentence, don’t stop there. Go to the next scene or chapter break, or only send the first 55 pages if that’s where you have a scene or chapter break. It’s better to end in a good place than to get the exact page count.
  • See more information in “manuscript format.”

proposal: (n.)

  • Disclaimer: I only know about fiction proposals. Non-fiction proposals are a whole other animal and I have absolutely no information about them. Sorry. I’m sure there’s good info somewhere.
  • A proposal is a partial manuscript (see above) plus a detailed synopsis of the entire book (see yesterday’s post). Some proposals can get fancy, such as including a one-page overview of the book series, or a family tree for the characters, or a list of rules for the fantasy world, or a bio and relevant sales history for the author (when an agent is sellign an author into a new market), or etc. But that’s the basics.
  • In most cases, you aren’t going to be dealing with proposals until you are published and/or you have an agent. the vast, vast vast vast majority of first time writers get agents and sell their manuscript on the basis of a full manuscript.
  • “Selling on proposal” means that the writer got a book contract on the basis of the proposal for the book, rather than the complete manuscript. This is how most multi-published authors renew book contracts with their publishers, or move to different publishers, or etc.
  • In the interest of full disclosure, I now admit that this is how I sold my first book. My agent sent my editor 79 pages (five chapters), a seven page synopsis, and a one page series overview. THIS IS NOT COMMON. I can’t tell you how to do it. Not a month has gone by, however, since selling my first manuscript, that I don’t get an email or two from a writer asking me how to get an agent and sell a novel without finishing it first. And the answer is, I don’t know. I didn’t plan it. I don’t recommend it. Finish your book, then send it out. You have a much better shot that way. We’ll be talking about this more in detail later.
  • Seriously, forget about this whole proposal thing right now. Concentrate on this next entry, because it’s how 99.9% of first time authors sell.

full manuscript: (n.)

  • Still with me? Drag your eyes away from the proposal thing. I know, it looks tempting. You know why? Because it looks like less work. But looks are deceiving, because you are going to have to have a full manuscript eventually, so let’s get on with it.
  • This is pretty self explanatory. A full manuscript starts with page one, and goes until “The End.” (Some people say not to put “The End” on manuscripts, that it looks amateurish. I put “The End” on every single book I write. It’s a gift to myself. Even if they delete it later. Screw the haters. 🙂 It’s not going to make anyone upset.)
  • A full manuscript does not include dedications and acknowledgments, nor fancy photoshopped covers. The cover page should include the title, your name, your address, your phone number, your email address, and the word count. (You do not need copyright marks.)
  • Do not bind your manuscript. No folders, no spiral binds, no art projects at kinkos. Stack of paper only. Use rubber bands to hold it together.
  • The only thing that tends to trip people up with fulls is formatting, so let’s move on to that…

manuscript format: (n.)

  • Disclaimer: I’m talking about print publications, here. I know nothing about submissions to electronic publishers, which is different from electronic submissions to print publishers (confused yet? See info on electronic submissions, below).
  • Manuscript format is the leading cause of wasted time and pointless debate on writer boards. Seriously. If I had a dollar for every time I had the old Courier vs. Times New Roman debate, I wouldn’t need to write books for a living. Honestly, it’s not as hard as it looks. Make your manuscript look like some rough approximation of this and you’ll be fine.
  • The main idea behind standard manuscript formats is to make it easy on overworked editor eyes (remember, they are reading hundreds of pages per week), and to get some sort of at-a-glance method of word count. Today, with the prevalence of electronic submissions, the word count reasoning isn’t as important. The key is to make it easy to read.
  • Remember the following maxim: Typed, not typeset. It’s not supposed to look like a book.
  • Here are the absolute musts:
  1. Print on one side only.
  2. Double spaced. (Note: this does not mean leaving an extra carriage return between paragraphs, as one would on a blog or an email. Format your paragraphs as you see them in a book, or in the above link, with indents at the start of each paragraph.) Do not double space by pressing return at the end of each line. Your word processing program has a “line spacing” notation. Set it at double.
  3. One inch margins all around.
  4. 12 point font.
  5. No fancy font. Courier or Times New Roman is fine. Use a serif font/typeface. (They are the kind that have the little “caps” on the ends of the letters.) This is a serif font. This is a sans serif font. Here’s a funny article about famous writers and the fonts they use. (Note: If you are writing in Courier, you may want to underline the things that you want to “appear” in italics, because it’s hard to see italics in Courier.) If you are one of those people who insists that they think these fonts are ugly, then write in whatever font you want, and then, before you print out your manuscript, change it. That way, you never have to look at the book in that font. Then, get over yourself, because when you sell the book, you’re going to have to start getting used to looking at the book in Times New Roman or Courier during edits, copy edits, etc. Welcome to the business.
  6. Put your name, the book’s title, and the page number on the top of EVERY SINGLE PAGE. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the left or the right or the center or all three, but it needs to be there. This is why: it’s a stack of paper, and sometimes people drop stacks of paper. If your info is on every page, it will be less likely to get lost or mixed up with someone else’s book. There is a really easy way to do this in most word processing programs. It’s called a “header.” You probably have an “insert header” function on your word processor right now.
  7. Start each chapter on a new page. Leave some extra space at the top (half a page, a third of a page, etc.) because it helps signal to the reader that it’s a new chapter. Number or title the chapters as you wish.
  • Everything else people insist upon re: manuscript format is pretty much bullshit. Do your best to avoid getting into petty squabbles with folks about italic vs. underline, double-spaced vs. “25 lpp”, two spaces or one after a period, or the relative merits of putting the page number at the top right, the bottom center, or etc. IT DOESN’T MATTER. As long as it’s clear, consistent, in readable font with decent margins, double spaced, and on one side of the page, people will read it. If you want more info than this, see this article, because that dude goes into depth. I don’t do a lot of that stuff, though, so really, I say don’t worry about it too much. Concentrate on the actual WRITING.

word count: (n.)

  • Most full length print novels for adults are in the 80,000-110,000 word range. Go beyond this by 10,000 words or so in either direction, and you may be limiting your market. There are, however, many exceptions. There are also shorter books that are published for adults, like category romance novels or novellas. Children’s books have a vast range, from slim, 40,000 word books to doorstoppers like Harry Potter. Longer books are more likely to be fantasy novels in children’s books.
  • Why this matters: Especially long books are difficult to publish because really heavy books require stronger and more expensive glue to keep the pages bound. People don’t buy books if they are too expensive. That’s why a lot of long books are split up into volumes (cf. The Lord of the Rings). Really short books are also difficult to publish because readers wonder why they should pay 14 dollars for a slim volume when they can get a big fat book for the same cost. Sometimes publishers hide the fact that a book is really short or really long by printing it in huge font with big margins or miniscule font with tiny margins. Both of these things piss readers off.)
  • How to figure out your word count is the second biggest waste of time debate on writer’s loops. It’s a waste of time, because really, industry people are only looking for a ballpark figure.
  • How to figure word count:
  1. First method: Look at your word processor’s “word count” feature. Round it to the nearest 5,000.
  2. Second method: If your manuscript is in Courier, look at the number of pages and multiply that number by 250. Round to the nearest 5,000. If your manuscript is in Times New Roman, look at the number of pages and multiply that number by 300. Round to the nearest 5,000.
  • (These two methods will probably result in the same word count. I am really anal, and I keep a running excel spreadsheet of my word count using both of these methods and they are always the same. So there’s no point in debating it.)
  • Example: If your book is 83,692 words, write down that the word count is 85,000. It’s totally close enough.

Electronic submission: (n.)

  • Also, “submit electronically”. This is when you send an agent or editor your submission over email instead of through the post office.
  • Pros: free, instantaneous, no need for SASE or standing in post office lines.
  • Cons: not everyone accepts this method, danger of file corruption or funky formatting on the recipient’s end, danger of responses going into SPAM boxes, compatible file issues.
  • When you are submitting electronically, you are probably pasting your query or cover letter into the body of an email. and attaching your chapters, synopsis, or full manuscript. When you paste things into the body of an email, make sure that there is no formatting like “smart” or “curly quotes” (the apostrophes or quotation marks that are angled to one side or another) or italics, etc. These might make a big mess on the recipient’s screen, and that’s not the best first impression. It’s best to type it out in an ascii text program like Notepad.
  • Get a professional email address to submit electronically. Something like, or or even Do not use something cutesy or unprofessional like “” You can get email addressees for free from Yahoo or Gmail if you need to. This is a business. Think of your first impression.

Okay. That’s all for today. Stay tuned tomorrow for pitches, simultaneous submissions, and exclusives (and anything else I can think of).

Posted in primer, writing advice

10 Responses to Primer, part two (glossary)

  1. B.E. Sanderson says:

    Another way I heard to count words is take the total number of characters plus spaces and divide it by 6. It’s much easier to use the word processor’s word count, trust me.

    Thanks for the info, Diana. I usually round to the nearest thousand and hope for the best, but if rounding to the 5K mark is fine, I may try that next time.

  2. Vicki says:

    Thanks Diana for another great post in this series. I’m loving it. Even though I’ve learned quite a bit of it through our local chapter I’m still finding things that I didn’t know or just didn’t sink in the first time around.

    I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post on pitches. Going to Nationals and knowing the possiblity of needing this makes me…ummm…just a bit panicky. I can speak in front of 100’s and it doesn’t bother me one bit but the thought of this little tiny thing called a pitch is making me crazy. 🙂

  3. Celeste says:

    This is great advice, Diana! I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve heard about that two spaces after a period thing. Drives me nuts. Loved the essay you linked to on formatting.

    I always use Courier New for my ms. Multiplying pages by 250 is always so close, I just stick with that. But I have many friends who love Times New Roman.

    One funky thing I do is keep each chapter a separate file until I reach my “final” draft (I know it isn’t really final, but just for submitting purposes). It makes it so easy to FIND and FOCUS on the chapter I need to work on. Also makes it easier to send individual chapters to my CP.

  4. Jessica Burkhart says:

    Another fabulous post with excellent advice. I’m shooting people over here if they e-mail me for advice! 🙂

  5. eatrawfish says:

    Thank you so much for doing this Diana. I’m something past a newbie but nowhere near an expert, and though I am familiar with most of these terms the way you’ve gone in depth with them is really useful.

  6. Jen / domestika says:

    Still batting 1000 on this series, Diana, great stuff with a powerful does of reality attached!

  7. Dona Sarkar-Mishra says:

    Thanks for another great post Diana! I loved yesterday’s info on the publishing houses and royalties and advances…i wish someone had told me this stuff earlier.

    Great stuff 🙂

  8. Maureen McGowan says:

    This was such a good idea, Diana! Good on ya!

  9. Hendrik Boom says:

    In my browser (iceweasel version, aka firefox), “This is a serif font.” was displayed in a serif font. So was “This is a sans serif font.” But “Here’s a funny article” showed up in a sans-serif font. It looks as if you may have to use a picture to make sure your examples look right.

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