What is a ghostwriter? What does an editor do? Is developmental editing the same as structural editing? What does MS mean? What about MSS? How many words are in a page? These are all really common questions for new writers, so I’ve created a quick and dirty list of writing, editing, and publishing words and their definitions.
The list below is in alphabetical order. For a quick search, use Edit > Find in your browser, type your word, and hit return. If you’re looking for a word or phrase that isn’t here, email me and I’ll tell you what it means (and add it to this list). There are no stupid questions!
Okay… Are. You. Ready?
Writing, editing, and publishing definitions
In traditional publishing, an agent acts much as a realtor does when you buy a house. You first take your manuscript to them. If they like it, they’ll agree to approach pitch it to publishers on your behalf (most publishers only talk to agents, not authors directly). If a publisher wants to buy the book, the Agent will negotiate the deal.
How much do agents get paid? Usually 10 percent of your deal from the publisher. They only get paid when you do, and take their cut before passing on the rest to you.
Agents aren’t part of the self-publishing process, so if that’s your plan, don’t worry about them.
An author is the writer of a book! This seems obvious but gets a tad confusing when we talk ghostwriting. In ghostwriting, you, the person with the idea, knowledge, and message, is the author. The ghostwriter is considered the writer (see below); you are the author.
Author-assisted publishing is a stupid term. It’s generally used interchangeably with Hybrid Publishing (see below). But surely all publishing models are author assisted, no? Stupid.
Autobiography and biography
An autobiography is the story of your entire life. A biography is the story of someone else’s life.
These differ from memoirs (see below) in that they cover a broader scope. They cover a person’s whole life. Warrior’s Life by Paulo Coello is a (somewhat painful) example from my own bookshelves.
Back matter is the stuff at the back of the book, that isn’t part of the main book. Examples of back matter include:
Links to extra resources
Alist of other books by the same author
Requests for email signups
An author bio
Anything else of that nature.
You know you’re a book nerd when… you read all the back matter in all your books. #Booknerdforlife
When you do it right, beta readers are people who are experienced with the type of book you’re trying to write. They read your manuscript when it’s almost finished, and give you constructive feedback.
Beta readers might specialize in a certain area (for example, cultural readers only offer feedback on how you’ve treated cultural issues) or they may be more general.
Either way, they know what makes a good book, and provide suggestions for improvement in a way that doesn’t destroy your soul. They’re usually compensated in some way (money, free books, services swap, whatever you can wangle).
When done wrong, beta readers are poor friends and family members guilt-tripped into reading your manuscript, who then tell you it’s amazing as is (even though they really think it’s crap and only read the first 30 pages).
Big idea book
Big idea books are non-fiction books that don’t contain specific how-to instructions, but rather take a big picture look at a subject and discuss it in depth. They’re inspiring and thought-provoking. (Well, the good ones are.) Malcolm Gladwell might be the most popular big idea author today. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is another great example.
Big Idea books are another type of non-fiction that I love working on.
A book deal is an offer presented to you by a traditional publisher (see below). It details how much moolah they’re offering for what (for example, $X for one manuscript, or $XXX for three manuscripts), and all the other boring but essential details of the arrangement.
If you’re Self-Publishing, this isn’t a thing. It only applies to Traditional Publishing.
If you’re using a traditional publisher (see below) and you’re writing non-fiction, you’ll need a book proposal to get a book deal (see above). It’s a big ol’ document that includes details on:
You (your author bio, why you’re qualified to write on this subject),
The book (an outline and some sample chapters), and
Your marketing plan (your platform, marketing opportunities, competitor books).
The term content edit is generally used interchangeably with developmental edit (see below). As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition, check with your editor for details of what they include.
A copyeditor looks at your writing and gives suggestions to improve the writing flow, language choices, and paragraph and sentence structures. They make sure your writing is easy to follow and makes sense.
They do not offer suggestions to improve the structure or outline of your writing (see Developmental Editing) or fix typos and spelling errors (see Proofreading). They may fix some grammar errors.
As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition of copyediting, check with your copyeditor for details of what they include.
A developmental edit is a high-level look at your book and suggestions to improve it. Developmental edits most commonly occur after you’ve completed a first draft. You’ll get ideas about the structure and organization of the content, the style of writing, and the tone of voice.
A Developmental Edit does not usually address grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and typos (see Copy Edit and Proofread).
Most Developmental Editors will provide you with a letter discussing the major opportunities to improve the manuscript, and a marked-up copy of the manuscript which uses the track changes function to highlight and comment on specific lines of text.
As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition of developmental editing, check with your developmental editor for details of what they include.
An editor is a professional who edits your writing! Editors may do all types of editing (see descriptions throughout this guide) or may specialize in one or two types. Some editors will make edits for you (more common with copyediting and proofreading); others will just suggest edits for you to make yourself.
An editor will not write for you as a ghostwriter does.
The definition of fiction is any made up story. It’s not real. This includes the likes of The Great Gatsby, Harry Potter, Gone Girl, any movie that’s not a documentary, and that lie you told your mom when you were 16 and she found that empty bottle of Mikes Hard Lemonade hidden in your bedsheets.
Novels are always fiction.
The stuff at the front of the book, that isn’t part of the main book. Examples of front matter include the copyright page, a dedication, acknowledgments, praise and testimonials for the book, the contents, and anything else of that nature. Basically, front matter is all that crap you skip over before getting to chapter one.
A ghostwriter is a professional who writes on your behalf, to sound like you. They take your ideas, message, and rough notes, interview you, then write up what you said into a manuscript. They use their expertise to ensure your ideas are presented in a powerful way that will make for a compelling page-turner of a book.
Reputable ghostwriters only use your ideas and words, and do not “make stuff up” for you.
A ghostwriter will use any existing notes you have, but will not edit your writing. They’ll use that, along with a bajillion notes from interviewing you, to write your manuscript from scratch. As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition of ghostwriting, check with your ghostwriter for details of their process and what they include.
As this is my area of expertise…
Here’s what I include in a ghostwriting package:
We start with a “Get Ready, Get Clear” questionnaire to really clarify who your book is for. You’ll consider your business as a whole and how this specific book fits into your broader business strategy. Answering these questions, you’ll discover how to meet your reader where they’re at, which is the first step to a clear writing path.
We’ll have several hours of interviews where you'll tell me all the things you want to say but have been struggling to get down. You don't need to worry about how they sound or what order they come out in. You just let your brain reel as fast as the thoughts come, and I capture your ideas for you.
I develop a paragraph-level outline from all your ideas, knowledge, and expertise. It lays out exactly what to include in your book and where, so we can write quickly and confidently, with clear direction. It ensures we include the must-have elements of every successful non-fiction book, so we can take your reader by the hand and guide them through your thoughts.
We do a “sound check” to ensure I’ve captured your voice exactly. We tweak and edit as needed until you’re completely comfortable the writing sounds exactly like you.
Following our outline, I write one chapter at a time, while you get on with the million other things you have to do. I send you each chapter and we go through it, highlighting the parts you love and noting anything that doesn’t quite sit right yet. I edit so you absolutely love each chapter and feel it includes everything you were trying to say but couldn’t quite get out.
We continue chapter by chapter, until complete. Then, with your manuscript in hand, you’re ready to go! You can self-publish your manuscript, or take it to an agent or traditional publisher, and finally get it out into the world, working for your business.
For more details on a ghostwriting process that will work for you, get in contact.
How to books are books that teach people how to do something. Just what it says on the can. They include some stuff on why it’s awesome to garden / write a non-fiction book / eat Keto / play the banjo / run a business / whatever, but the bulk of the book contains actionable instructions on how to do said awesome thing.
I write a lot of how to books and I love them. I also read them furiously!
Hybrid publisher is a squishy term that, more than any other in this list, doesn’t have a standard definition. Don’t ya just love that? Hybrid Publishers are generally companies that offer a half-way point between traditional publishing and self-publishing (see below for definitions of each). You pay for their help publishing and marketing your book. Writer’s Digest talks about this in more detail.
Indie publishing is an abbreviation for Independent Publishing, and this term is generally used interchangeably with Self Publishing (see below).
Occasionally (most often in traditional publishing circles) Indie Publishing refers to small publishers who work just as traditional publishers do, but are outside of the main five publishing companies that dominate the industry. Indie Publishing is also sometimes used to describe Hybrid Publishing (see above). Confusing, right?
As this term can be used in different ways, you need to clarify the meaning when speaking with or about an Indie Publisher.
The term line edit is used interchangeably with copyedit (see above). As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition, check with your line editor for details of what they include.
A manuscript is what we call a book before it gets turned into an actual book with a cover and stuff. It’s all the words of the book in a document, like MS Word, Pages, Google Docs, PDF, Scrivener, you get the idea.
A memoir is the true story of part of your life.
It differs from an Autobiography (above) because it only talks about one aspect of your world. That may be a specific time period (like Hillary Clinton, when she discusses her 2016 election campaign in What Happened), or a specific theme or subject that spans across your whole life (like I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, which tells the story of her whole life, but through the lens of living with the Taliban and wanting an education).
I love working on memoirs with entrepreneurs who want to share their experiences to inspire others. It’s one of my areas of expertise.
MS is an abbreviation for manuscript (see above).
MSS is an abbreviation for manuscripts (plural, see above).
Non-fiction is anything that’s not made up. Non-fiction books include:
Autobiography and Biography
Big idea discussions*
Academic, reference, and textbooks
Those weird “fun fact” books you find in people’s downstairs bathrooms next to the Poo Pourri (which is a real thing with an excellent commercial).
*These are the ones I specialize in writing and believe will change the world.
An outline is the contents of your book or book idea, usually laid out in bullet point form and divided into chapters and subheadings. There is no standard for how an outline should look or how much detail it should contain, so confirm expectations with whoever you’re working with.
My outlines detail chapters, subheadings, and then paragraph-level, point-by-point bullets. For a 60,000 word book, my outlines run about 50 double-spaced pages. I’m not sure that’s normal! But I find creating a highly-detailed outline is the most essential step in writing a fascinating and persuasive book. It also ensures the actual writing process is smooth and (dare I say) enjoyable.
If you want help with your outline, check this out.
How many words are in a page? The industry standard is an average of 250 words per page.
Naturally, the actual number varies depending on layout and the specific words used (antidisestablishmentarianism takes up more space than a). But 250 is most commonly used for calculations in the writing and publishing industry.
For example, if a book is 60,000 words, divide that by 250 to get the page count.
60,000 words / 250 words per page = 240 pages.
Conversely, if your favorite book is 211 pages long, multiply that by 250 to get an approximate word count.
211 pages x 250 words per page = 52,750 words.
A typed page is usually presented double-spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman, Helvetica, or similar font, flushed left (ragged right), with one-inch margins. This is the format most traditional publishers and self-publishing book formatters prefer.
In my ghostwriting contracts, I include details confirming I’ll deliver the final manuscript in this format. This is the most common format, but please confirm with whoever you’re working with.
Proofreading is a type of editing that checks for punctuation, grammar, style consistency, and typos. An editor who does a proofread will check you haven’t misplaced any punctuation marks, duplicated words, or used three different ways of writing that weird, hyphenated town name.
As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition, check with your editor for details of what they include.
A publisher is a company (or person) that publishes your book! That means they take it from a manuscript (see above), turn it into a format that can be purchased by readers, and distribute it to sellers online, like Amazon, and/or offline, Like Barnes and Noble. Technically, distributing is its own thing, but most publishers incorporate distributing into their business model.
You can have a traditional publisher (see below), a hybrid publisher (see above), or you can self-publish (see below)—in which case you are the publisher.
A query letter is a cover letter an author writes to an agent or publisher describing why they’d be a great fit to work together.
A good query letter is a science and an art, and a pain in the ass to write. It should get the agent or publisher super-excited to read your book proposal or manuscript (see above), so they don’t just send it straight to their trash folder.
Self-help books help people help themselves. I know… that was super insightful. Sorry, but there’s not a whole lot to say here. They do what they say on the can. Many self-help books can also be considered How To books (see above).
Self-help used to have a bit of a weird stigma, I think mostly due to being advertised on creepy, overzealous infomercials (check out this goldie from Tony Robbins).
These days, though, self-help is all the rage. Everyone wants to improve themselves, and it’s a noble endeavor.
I write a lot of self-help books and love them. What’s better than helping people help themselves?! I also read them non-stop, as I want to be a better person (for which I need a LOT of help).
Instead of going through a traditional publisher (see below), in self-publishing, you publish your book yourself and retain ownership of it.
You can do this literally on your own, or you can pay people to help with various aspects (cover design, formatting, etc.). Either way, you’re managing the process yourself. Self-publishing is really popular with entrepreneurs who don’t want to wait years to publish traditionally. See here for more details.
The term story edit is generally used interchangeably with developmental edit (see above). As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition, check with your editor for details of what they include.
The term structural edit is generally used interchangeably with developmental edit (see above). As there’s no standard, industry-wide definition, check with your editor for details of what they include.
Traditional publishers pay for the rights to your book. They become the owner, usually in exchange for a chunk of moolah up front, and the promise of more if it sells well. They take your manuscript, turn it into a physical and/or ebook, and distribute it online and to physical bookstores.
See here for a discussion of self-publishing versus traditional publishing.
Vanity publishing is kinda like traditional publishing (see above), but instead of someone paying for your book because they think it’s good and will sell, you pay the publisher to print and distribute your book. Vanity publishers don’t usually have the same distribution networks as traditional publishers, so can’t get your book into the same stores.
It has a crummy reputation as only being for books that “weren’t good enough” to attract the interest of a traditional publisher. It’s also become less prominent as self-publishing has become easier and shockingly affordable.
The term word count is describes the number of words in the manuscript or book. This generally does not include front or back matter (see above), but does include chapter headings and subheadings.
A writer is the person who writes a book! As with author, this seems obvious until we get into the weeds with ghostwriting. In this world, the ghostwriter is considered the writer. You, the person hiring the ghostwriter who has all the knowledge and ideas, are the author.
Was this useful?
I hope you found this list of writing, editing, and publishing definitions useful. If you’re looking for a word or phrase that isn’t here, email me and I’ll tell you what it means (and add it to this list).