Glossary: Writing Lingo

Like law, writing has a language all its own. Here, in no particular order, are some terms you’ll need to be familiar with as you make the transition to writing:

TK: Editorial abbreviation meaning “to come” – used by writers and editors as a placeholder when there’s a bit of information someone needs to look up later on: “Amelia was born in 19TK.” “His favorite books have always been Pride & Prejudice, anything by Shakespeare, and TK.” Note the refreshing lack of grammatical correctness here; “come” does not start with a “k.”

Graf: Short for “paragraph.”

Advance: Money paid to a writer upon the signing of a book contract. Generally an “advance” is an “advance against royalties,” meaning that if the book doesn’t do as well as expected, the author is on the hook to repay that money.

Clips: Published writing samples, formerly “clipped” from magazines. Nowadays these will usually be in scanned PDF form. Also, back when sending clips meant actually dropping pages in the mail, you heard the term “tear sheet” a lot more – this would be the article ripped from the magazine binding.

Manuscript or ms: Means what you think it does – a written draft. Generally refers to a book or something lengthier than a garden-variety magazine article.

Slush pile: A place you don’t want to be; it’s where the unsolicited manuscripts wind up. Occasionally an underling will be assigned to halfheartedly sift through the pile, but it’s very rare to be discovered this way (you’d have better odds hanging out at Schwab’s with Lana Turner).

“Over the transom”: When a completed article or manuscript arrives, unsolicited, at a publisher in the hopes it will catch someone’s fancy. Generally not very successful. Harkens back to the days when office doors had transom windows over them – writers would literally chuck things in during off hours.

Galleys: Near-final layout of a book or an article. As an author, you might be sent galleys to review for minor corrections, typos, etc. Also called “galley proofs.” Has nothing to do with nautical kitchens.

Stet: Means “leave it alone.” Usually comes up when a proofreader or editor makes a change and later thinks better of it.

Query letter: Discussed here before; it’s the letter you mail or email to an editor in which you ask (query) whether he or she would be interested in having you write a certain story.

Proposal: Kind of like a long query letter, but for a nonfiction book rather than an article. These generally run a few dozen pages and include an outline, at least one sample chapter, biographical information about the author, and information about the potential market and existing competition for the book.

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