Writing Terms You Need To Know

By Vivian Beck


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Query Letter:  The one-to-two page letter you send to an editor or agent.  It tells a brief summary of your plot, what type of book you're writing, and whether or not the book is finished.  It also tells a little about your writing background.  

Partial Manuscript:  The first three chapters of your book, plus a five-to-fifteen page synopsis of the complete story.  Many editors and agents, after seeing a query letter from you, will ask you to send a partial of the book.   

Synopsis/Outline:  The two terms are often used interchangeably.  They refer to a five-to-fifteen page summary of your book's plot.  The synopsis/outline can either take a narrative form -- such as a book report -- or can be structured in a chapter-by-chapter listing of the book's action.  The synopsis/outline should give the editor or agent (1) a brief description of the main characters (ages, occupations, personalities)  (2) a brief description of the setting and time frame, and (3) the complete plot of the book from start to finish.  A synopsis/outline should never tease the editor/agent with lines like, "If you want to know how the story ends, you'll have to read my book!"

Advance:  The payment an author receives when an editor accepts her/his book.  It's an "advance" payment of money the publisher expects to make on sales of the book.  After sales recover the advance for the publisher, the author usually receives

Royalties -- a small percentage of the continuing sales of the book.  Advances vary widely according to publisher and type of book.  A tactful word of warning:  asking an author how much she/he makes per book is equivalent to asking someone to tell you her/his salary.  We understand your curiosity, but please ask for general figures, not specifics.

Category Book:  Any book that is published under a series title, as part of a monthly package.  Harlequins and Silhouettes for example.  Category books adhere to certain concepts in length and style -- often erroneously called "formulas."

Category Formula:  Sorry, but no such thing exist.  There are tip sheets for specific romance lines, but they are meant to be a creative guideline.  When you watch a situation comedy on network TV, you expect a certain type of show.  When you read a category romance (or for that matter, a category mystery, or a category fantasy, or a category western, or a category male action/adventure) you expect a certain type of story.  Situation comedies vary widely in tone, characters, plot, and subject.  So do category romances.  Use the term "formula" and we shall smack you with a wet magnolia.

Short Contemporary Book:  Any category book under 65,000 words, with a contemporary setting.  For example:  Harlequin Temptation, Silhouette Romance, Silhouette Desire, etc.

Long Contemporary Book:  Any category book over 65,000 words, with a contemporary setting.  For example:  Harlequin SuperRomance, Silhouette Intimate Moments, Silhouette Special Edition, etc. 

Historical:  Any book with a historical setting, usually defined as pre-World War I.  Historicals are usually between 90,000 and 175,000 words in length.  The term encompasses everything from "category" historicals such as those published by Zebra and the Harlequin/Silhouette line, to long nearly ;mainstream book in the tradition of GONE WITH THE WIND.

Mainstream Romance/Women's Fiction:  Nebulous terms used to denote big, complex, contemporary books of interest primarily to women readers.  While romance is usually a key element many other elements are present.  Topics may cover a range not seen in category books, such as homosexuality, drugs, and terrorism.

Glitz and Glamour Books:  A subgenre of Mainstream Romance/Women's Fiction.  Big, usually contemporary books that focus on lifestyles of rich, jet-setting characters.  Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins are well-know authors in this genre.

Saga:  A book that covers several generations of a family, usually starting in historical times and ending in the present.

Regency Books:  Set approximately between 1800 and 1821, the time of Napoleonic Wars.  Though books in the genre vary widely in length, style, etc., they are often described as comedies of manner.  They usually contain little or no sex.  Georgette Heyer and the late Barbara Cartland are well-known authors in this genre.

Gothics:  These books also vary in length and style.  Dark old mansions, brooding, troubled heroes, naive, young heroines, mystery, and suspense are among the best-known elements.  While there is little or no sex in most Gothics, a sensual new subgenre has recently emerged under the designation, Sexy Gothic.  Georgia Romance Writer Andrea Parnell, who writes for Onyx, is a leading author of this subgenre. 

Young Adult Books:  Romances written especially for adolescents and/or teenagers.  Sweet Valley High is an example of a category YA series.

Sweet/Traditional Romances:  Any contemporary category series that contains little or not sex.  Harlequin Presents and Silhouette Romance are examples.

Sensual/Sexy Romances:  Although the term seems self-explanatory, it helps to bear in mind that a sensual romance does not necessarily contain much sex.  "Sensual" refers to the feeling of attraction and sexual tension between the two main characters.  All romances are sensual; it's just that some are more explicitly sensual than others.


Copyright (c) 2005-2007 Vivian Beck Agency. All rights reserved.