Writing Glossary

This page is a living document for definitions of writing terms and acronyms. Check back regularly for updates!

Agent (literary agent): an agent is someone who represents an author and their work. Agents use their industry knowledge and contacts to “sell” an agent’s work to a publisher, and helps them navigate the publishing process, including negotiating contracts. In most cases, agents get paid a commission from any work they are able to sell (NOTE: you never need to pay an agent upfront/out-of-pocket to represent your work. If an agent is claiming to need money just to represent you, walk away.)

Beta reader: someone who reads your work for the purpose of providing feedback on the overall reading experience of a piece of writing. Unlike critique partners, who focus on elements such as characterization, pacing, sentences, etc. beta readers provide their impressions of a story or selection.

Constructive feedback/critique: notes given on a piece of writing with the intention of helping the author improve. Constructive feedback/critique can be either positive or negative, but should never tear the author down. In cases of negative feedback/critique, suggestions for how the author can improve should be given (which is what makes it “constructive”).

Critique partner (aka CPs): someone who reads your work for the purpose of providing constructive feedback/critiques. Usually this person is also a writer and both partners will provide notes for each other (quid pro quo). Unlike beta readers, who focus on the overall experience of reading a story or selection, CPs focus on elements of style such as characterization, pacing, sentences, dialogue, etc.

Editor: professionals who help refine a piece of writing to make it as strong as it can be. There are different types of editors, such as copy editors (who correct spelling, grammar, and style issues) and developmental editors (who look identify problems with content, pacing, and plot). Editors work for publishing houses, publications like magazines/websites, and independently.

Manuscript Wish List (MWL): a list of themes, tropes, and ideas an agent wants to see in the manuscripts they represent. As an author, it’s in your best interest to find agents who rep (or want to rep) they kind of story you’re pitching!

Query letter: sometimes called a pitch, a query is the formal letter/e-mail writers send to agents/publication editors “pitching” their work. Authors send query letters when they’re looking for representation for a finished and polished manuscript. Journalists send query letters to publication outlets with articles/article ideas they’re hoping to sell.