An Indie Writers Glossary: M-Z

Learning the vocabulary of book publishing will go a long way toward asking helpful questions.

The indie author world has a unique vocabulary. Words are drawn from traditional publishing, These are commonly used terms in the online world used by indie authors. Many of them have to do with advertising and marketing, but some of these will show up in blog posts, in forums, and social media posts. Also included are commonly used abbreviations such as NL for newsletter.

For this glossary, a book is defined as a single product that an author sells, whether it be a short story, a novella, a novel, or a piece of nonfiction.

career indie author logoThis is the second half of the indie writers glossary. The first half covering A-Z can be found here.

Mailing List: As in traditional marketing, it is a list of names and addresses (in the indie world, email addresses) to which you send promotional material in the form of newsletters. Several services, such as MailChimp and MailerLite, help automate this process by keeping track of your list and making it easy to create and email a newsletter. These services are free up to a certain point (in MailChimp’s case, until you get 2,000 names), and then it costs a monthly fee (and new features and services are added).

Mysteries and Thrillers: A popular genre usually grouped together because they share many of the same fans.

New Adult (NA): A genre in which the protagonist is out of college and starting his or her life. Books focus on the problems and challenges at that time of life and can include sex scenes. An older version of young adult novels.

Newsletter (NL): A publication sent regularly or when you feel like it to people on your mailing list. Its contents can be anything, including promos for your books, messages to your fans, and announcements of public appearances. They can be sent at any frequency.

Newsletter Swap: When two or more authors get together and agree to promote each others books on their newsletters.

Novelette: A story of between 7,500 and 17,5000 words, according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. An archaic word little used today.

Novel: A long story of at least 40,000 words, according to SFFWA.

Novella: A story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words, according to SFFWA

Omnibus: Similar to a boxed set, although the implication is that an omnibus combines several books in one author’s series rather than collects works from many authors.

Pay Per Click (PPC): The author is charged for an online ad only when a customer clicks on it. That price is set by the author, who bids for the right to have the ad appear when a certain key word is used. Each time an ad appears, it is counted as an impression. The author is charged only when it is clicked on.

Pen name: An alternative name picked by the author to disguise their identity. Some do it to protect their professional reputation (Fordham professor Mary Ely wrote romances under Eloisa James), their identity (political writer Joe Klein used “Anonymous” to write Primary Colors), to write romances under one name and futuristic mysteries in another (Nora Roberts / J.D. Robb), or to disguise their gender (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith). Indie writers contemplating a pen name need to consider how much they want to disguise the connection. A complete break between the names requires that you never mention the pen name near your own online, even in closed Facebook groups, and that those books are never linked to books you write in your own name.

Permafree: The practice of placing the first book in a series on sale for free, as an inducement for readers to buy the rest of the books.

Platform: A measure of your popularity, both online and in meatspace (a.k.a. reality). Are you recognized as an expert? Does your name appear in the media? Do you have people visiting your website regularly and leaving comments? How many followers do you have on social media. These determine the size of your platform. Important only if you’re trying to sell a book to traditional publishing, or in deciding if you should pursue crowdfunding.

Post-Apocalyptic (PA): A genre set in the near future after civilization has collapsed, throwing humanity into a pre-industrial era. PA stories may or may not include supernatural elements such as zombies or revived magic.

Preorder: Some book retailers allow customers to preorder a book. The author sets up the page, but sets a date in the future as the publication date. A draft version of the book is uploaded to reassure the retailer that the final version is coming. Allowing preorders allows the author to build buzz for the book, which can improve its rank upon publication. Failure to meet the deadline (usually 72 hours before publication, although you don’t want to cut it that close) to upload the finished version could be unpleasant. On Amazon, canceling the preorder bans the author from attempting another preorder for a year. Letting it go through means customers get a defective book which hurts the author’s reputation.

Product Description: The part of the book page on a retailer’s website containing promotional material similar to back cover copy. This ad copy should be carefully written; it’s one of the major things customers look at before buying.

Promo Sites: Websites devoted to promoting books offered at a reduced for free price.

Return on Investment (ROI): A term borrowed from investing that refers to judging the effectiveness of a pay per click advertising campaign. The idea is to determine the profit from your campaign and divide it by the cost. This results in a percentage. What is a good ROI? There is no set figure, but you may consider amount of time spent on the campaign. A lot of work for a minimal return might not have been a good thing.

Review Team: A group of people organized like a street team only their sole function is to write reviews of your book for sites like Amazon and GoodReads. Its effectiveness is debatable. Amazon, as of this writing, favors verified purchases over unverified, and the company has a tendency to remove reviews that look like they were fakes. Authors are not allowed to reimburse their review team or their fans for buying books. A high number of reviews stills looks good.

Romance: The most popular genre in literature. Love stories that range from sweet (little or no kissing, absolutely no sex) to erotic, including BDSM, and everything possibility in between. The indie world, aided by the privacy afforded by ebook readers, permits women to indulge in fantasies that would make the Marquis de Sade blush, including bestiality (in the form of werewolf and Bigfoot romances).

RSS feed: Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a technical term for an option available to websites using blog software such as WordPress or Blogspot, as well as sites such as Tumblr.

Science-Fiction/Fantasy (SFF): Two popular genres that are grouped together because they tend to share the same fan base. The online world breaks down these categories into subcategories such as space opera, steampunk, high fantasy, and swords & sorcery.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Search engines such as Google and Yahoo! scan billions of pages every day and use secret algorithms to determine how to use them in their search engines. This has spawned an industry devoted solely to a) learning how they categorize content, and b) selling this information to website owners. SEO refers to any practices that is believed to make a page rank high in search engines. Ideally, anything you put on your website should appear on the search engine’s first page for certain keywords. For example, a webpage describing your book, Angels at Rest, should appear near the top of a search for its title. To do that, an SEO expert would suggest using the book’s title in the title of that page, displaying the cover of the book with the title in the file name (”angels-at-rest.jpg”) and the HTML ALT tag (”ALT=Angels at Rest book cover”), and several times in the text. Because bad people will abuse SEO rules for their nefarious purposes, search engines are continually refining and changing how they categorize pages.

Short Story: A story of less than 7,500 words, according to SFFWA. A shorter story of less than a thousand words is called flash fiction.

Series: A collection of books that share the same characters and are branded to be read in a certain order. Writing a series has shown to be an effective way to create a decent to obscenely high income from writing by attracting whale readers.

Stickiness: A description of how long visitors stay at your website to read your content.

Stock Photo: A photo used to promote a book, or used in creating its cover. A stock photo can be licensed by anyone, so it should be heavily modified to reflect the book’s qualities and to keep it from looking like someone else’s product.

Street Team: A term borrowed from marketers in cities, where people are recruited to put up posters and promote an event or product. The online version involves posting reviews on Amazon and other social media sites, and in general talking up the book.

Swag: Items offered to customers or potential customers by a creator. Picked up from major award shows such as the Oscars, which provide “swag bags” to attendees featuring high-end and luxury products. To indie creators, swag includes stickers, buttons, plushies (think Beanie Babies), patches, badges, limited-run prints — anything that the creator can come up with.

Synopsis: A breakdown of the storyline covering major plot points and characters. A synopsis can be any length, depending on the situation. An agent, for example, may want a 1,000-word synopsis of a proposed book to review before offering representation. A retailer’s product page may offer space of a synopsis of up to 4,000 characters. To most writers, creating blurbs, back cover matter, and synopses can be stress-inducing.

Takeover: A form of promotion in which one author takes over another’s social media site (such as their Facebook page) and spend several hours chatting with visitors, putting up posts, and hosting giveaways. Its value depends on the popularity of the host’s page and the personality of the author.

Traditional Publishing: The indie author world has a variety of phrases to describe the traditional method by which authors saw their books published. In traditional publishing, an author wrote a book and enlisted an agent’s help to sell it to a publisher. In the 1920s, this process would take about a year. Now, just getting an agent to represent you takes between six months and several years. Once a book was sold, it could take from eight months to more than a year before it appeared in bookstores. Once in the bookstore, it had 30 days to make a splash. After that, it would be taken off the shelves, its covers stripped and returned to the distributor for credit, and the rest dumped. Economics is a harsh mistress. Also called “Big 5 Publishing” — a reference to the number of publishers left in New York City, or “Pig 5” if you’re feeling snarkish.

Urban Fantasy (UF): A genre which is a mashup of magic and monsters from fantasy set in a modern city or environment. Despite its name, it is generally accepted that any story set between today and the Victorian era can be UF.

Whale Readers: If you believe the 80/20 rule, then 80 percent of all books are read by 20 percent of readers. This block of 20 percenters are called whale readers. Many of them (no one knows exactly) can be found on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Authors have discovered that writing a series that attracts them can be very profitable. The author is paid through purchases and KU payments from these readers. If the campaign is timed right, the book also receives a boost in rank that vaults it into the best-seller list, increasing its exposure to readers who rely on those lists to vet their purchases.

Workflow: The order in which an intended result is achieved. If you’re sending a newsletter the workflow might be to write and edit a draft in Word, gather and resize art to go with it, log into your newsletter provider, create the newsletter and send it out.

Young Adult (YA): A genre in which the protagonist is between 15 and 20 years old, mature for their age, and involved in a dramatic situation.