The Devil's (True-to-Life!) Publishing Dictionary

I ran across something hilarious the other day. Absolutely hilarious. You MUST read this.

Paperback Writer composed The Devil’s Publishing Dictionary (parts one and two), and then Teresa Nielsen Hayden shared her version.

A few gems, my personal favorites from Paperback Writer:

Advance – a sum paid to the author’s agent after contract signing, as soon as the editor puts in a payment request to accounting, which is misplaced for three weeks to three months, re-requested, routed to senior editor for approval, misplaced again or completely forgotten until agent’s fourth inquiry. The author may or may not see 30% of the agreed-upon advance, less that 15% owed to the agent, within a year of signing, upon publication of the contracted work, or when the author starves to death while living under a bridge, whichever comes first.

Agent – that person an author pays 15% of their writing income. The agent in return lives in New York, makes many phone calls, eats lunch with editors, goes to industry conferences and keeps the author away from the editor.

Copy Editor – 1) an undercover, superior writer who pretends to correct grammar and spelling in a manuscript while actually teaching idiot authors how to write books; 2) someone who chews gum, wears fake tattoos, has a first name that ends in -y and is obsessed with using ellipses.

E-book (electronic book) – a book published in electronic format that will be illegally copied a thousand times and, no matter how well-written, will not get any respect whatsoever from most of the publishing industry.

Ghost Writer – 1) a writer or co-writer who is paid very little to write a book but not to take credit for it, and says nothing when the celebrity who does take credit accepts praise from critics and natters on about how difficult the book was to write, etc.; 2) a talented chump who needs money.

Query – a ten-page single-spaced letter sent by a writer to an editor, in which the writer recounts their tragic life story, describes how much they’ve suffered for their craft, lists every award, pin and runner-up prize won from their writer organization, mentions the name of every famous author the writer has imagined meeting and hanging out with, and a odd rambling paragraph that might be a description of the writer’s latest protagonist, ex-spouse, or critique partner, all which the writer refers to as a proposal or a pitch.

Self-published – produced by the author, ignored by the industry.

Vanity Press – 1) a pay-to publisher that claims to be an author’s best friend and business partner; 2) where authors go after being rejected by the last resort (see small press); 3) writer-dream vultures.

Writer – 1) a masochist with an ink and paper fetish; 2) a damaged creative individual who when confronted with life’s unpleasantries retreats to put it all down in words rather than fight like a girl; 3) someone who never forgets anything and will eventually write it in book form; 4) a demented, thin, sad creature in hock up to their neck who truly believes publication will solve all their problems; 5) Peter Pan one step up on the evolutionary ladder.

And from Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

Copy Editor: If good, an angel who can second-guess an author about their own book and get it right. If bad, the literary equivalent of root canal performed without anesthesia on the healthy tooth next to the one that needed work.

Self-publishing: How authors who are slow learners find out about marketing and distribution.

Vanity Press: A way of getting published that anyone can see is folly, unless the book in question is their own.

Writer: It’s not an occupation; it’s a compulsion.

Those are just a few gems. The rest are here:

The Devil’s Publishing Dictionary Part I: A through M

The Devil’s Publishing Dictionary Part II: N through Z

Corrected definitions by Teresa Nielsen Hayden


I'm a wife and mommy first, as well as a social media consultant/manager, editor, and writer. I'm also editor of Musical Reviewer and Houston Theatre Blog.

8 comments on “The Devil's (True-to-Life!) Publishing Dictionary
  1. Leah J. Utas says:

    Oh, yeah. Writer definition four.
    Got a huge kick out of the post.

  2. misty says:

    this was one of the funniest things I have read in awhile! 🙂

  3. Yikes, I’m even one of those copyeditors whose name ends in “y”! I’m not obsessed with ellipses though–only m-dashes. ;o)

  4. alicia says:

    Eek, I’m obsessed with dashes, too, Kathy, haha.

  5. Laura says:

    I love this type of humor. This is so funny and obviously written by someone who “gets it.”

  6. isabel says:

    Haha, this is great. Brilliant!

  7. Julia says:

    I’m so glad you all enjoyed these definitions. I thought they were too great not to pass on!

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