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A Beginner's Guide to Writing Terminology
by Dawn Copeman

Return to Starting Your Writing Career · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

To succeed as a writer you must have a good grasp of the language. No, I'm not talking about English, although that will certainly be beneficial! I'm talking about the specialist language used by writers, editors and magazines to describe the world of writing. If you're going to succeed as a writer, you need to learn the writer's lingo. So here's a guide to writing terminology.

Article -- a piece of writing on a topic.

Bio -- a short biographical sketch of yourself to go at the bottom of an article. Write it in the 3rd Person.

E.g., Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer based in England. Prior to becoming a writer she was a teacher of modern languages, a skill which certainly helped her to learn the new vocabulary of her new career.

Byline -- Getting your name in the publication:

Example: Learning the Lingo, by Dawn Copeman

Clip -- a sample of published work.

Credits -- similar to a byline but usually appears at the bottom of the article.

Example: © Dawn Copeman 2005.

Deadline -- The date when your work must be with the editor. Miss one of these and your writing career with that publication is dead.

Deck -- a sentence or two underneath the headline of your piece which summarise the article. Example:

Learn the Lingo
Writing terminology explained.

Editorial Calendar -- lists future issues planned, topics that will be covered in those issues and deadlines for submissions for those issues.

Evergreen/Timeless Piece -- an article which can be used at any time of year and even across several years.

Feature article -- a large article, often including interviews, quotations and covering a key topic; often time-relevant or issue-relevant.

Filler - a short item: two or three paragraphs that can be used to fill up space. Many writers suggest breaking in with this type of item.

Guidelines -- The document, usually on a magazine's website (but sometimes available by e-mail or mail), wherein the editor clearly explains what they require in terms of articles, whether they want queries or submissions on spec, how they want to receive queries or articles, word lengths, payment terms and rights bought.

Hook -- the all important first paragraph of your query letter and article. The paragraph that hooks the reader's attention and makes them want to read more.

Kill Fee -- the amount you are paid, if after accepting your article and having issued you a contract, the editor decides not to publish your work. Not all magazines pay kill fees -- check your contract.

Lede -- a deliberate misspelling of lead -- this is the opening of the article -- which encompasses the hook. (Editor's note: This is an archaic use, however, to prevent confusion with the term "lead" which could also refer to line width. Now, most editors simply refer to the common spelling, "lead.")

Masthead - The list of who does what in a magazine. It lists the names of the editors, writers, designers, etc. It is essential to study the masthead so you know who to send your queries or submissions to.

MS/MSS -- manuscript, also used to mean article. As in no unsolicited MSS -- means a magazine will not look at manuscripts they have not requested to see.

Nut graf -- the paragraph immediately following the hook which explains what the article will cover.

On-spec -- editors might ask to see your work on-spec; this means on speculation -- they might use it, and they might not, no guarantees.

Op/Ed -- An opinion piece or editorial on a current event.

Pays on acceptance - The magazine pays as soon as they agree to publish the article. (Editor's note: Or, really, as soon as they get around to sending you a contract, and then cutting a check, which is often as much as two months after they officially "accept" a piece.)

Pays on publication. - The magazine only pays after the article has been published. Some magazines have a policy of only paying at certain times of year following publication of the piece, but most pay at the end of the month in which a piece is published.

Personal Essay -- an essay on almost any topic told from personal experience.

Piece -- A generic term for an article, story, poem or any other type of submission. (Also known as a "work.")

Query - This is not a question, but a sales letter through which you are selling your idea to the editor. It must showcase your writing style. It must, therefore be incredibly well written and tight. (See The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals by Moira Allen for a great guide on how to write a query). [Editor's note: You will also find several articles on how to write queries at https://www.writing-world.com/queries/index.shtml]

Reprints -- Articles that have previously been published -- check your contract for when (or whether) you can offer these articles to other magazines.

Rights -- These can be further divided into:

All rights -- the editor buys all rights to the article. This means you cannot re-sell this piece of work, ever, ever again. (Editor's note: In some cases, however, you can persuade a publication to license back certain rights to resell your material, even though the publication will still retain the right to use it themselves.)

Electronic Rights -- the editor buys the rights to publish the article online. These can be First Electronic Rights or All Electronic Rights.

First rights -- the editor buys first publication rights only. This means you can re-sell the work later on. Examples: FBSR -- First British Serial Rights -- first rights to publish your article in Britain. FNASR -- First North American Serial rights -- first rights to publish your article in North America.

Regional rights. -- Common in the USA, the editor buys rights for a particular region only.

Second Rights -- the right to publish an article that has already been published. Pay for second rights is lower than first rights and a decent period of time may have to pass between selling first rights and selling second rights -- check your contract. [Editor's Note: Find out more about rights at https://www.writing-world.com/rights/index.shtml]

Seasonal -- an article that relates to a particular time of year.

Service Piece -- an article that shows people how to do something, or offers advice on a topic. (Sometimes known as a "self-help piece".)

Sidebar -- additional information in the form of chart, information box or graph that is used to support the article.

Simultaneous Submission -- sending your work to more than one editor at a time. Some editors accept this, others strictly forbid it, check the Guidelines.

Multiple Submissions - sending in more than one article at a time to an editor. This is not a good thing to do -- they might like all your ideas but only have room for one in that issue; in which case you've just lost future sales; or it might, and this is most likely, mark you out as an over-keen beginner -- send in your ideas one at a time. (Editor's note: After you are known at a publication, sending multiple topic ideas in a query is a good idea, but not until the editor is already familiar with the quality of your work -- and thus doesn't have to be "sold" on your ability to write the proposed articles.)

Slant -- your take on the article, what makes it different from existing articles. For example for Timetravel-britain.com I write a cookery column. The slant on my cookery column is that each column is regional and looks at the history of the food as well as recipes from the region.

Submission -- your completed article.

Tight -- concise, accurate writing.

Find Out More...

Fundamentals of Fiction VI: Learning the Lingo - Marg Gilks

Copyright © 2006 Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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