Based on my experience being a journalist and editor, and working with them, here’s your “publication jargon demystifier.” It’s in two parts because it’s too long for one blog post. It lists and defines over 40 terms commonly used in the publishing industry. Sure, you can call it a “glossary” if you want, but that’s an ugly word that sounds like particularly unpleasant medication. “Demystifier” sounds more fun.
Editors’ language involves quite common words that seem to change their meaning in the space between the editor’s brain and yours. What the editor said may not be what you understood. The result can be confusion, blown deadlines, wasted time, tears and screaming.
So, here are some terms and definitions you may find useful in getting your ideas published – Part One.
Advertorial: A marriage of “advertisement” and “editorial” (but not a same-sex marriage; they’re not even the same species). It’s content prepared by an advertiser, that tries to look like a real article. Most publications will put advertorial content into a different typeface so that the reader knows it’s not something they’re standing behind. I don’t think they’re worth the money; a lot of readers (such as me) ignore them.
Back link: in a guest blog post, a link that brings the reader back to your own site. Back links are a good thing because they boost the search-engine credibility of your own site, and build traffic to it. You can make this a condition of providing your guest post: “I’d like to include two back links.”
Byline: the line at the top of an article that indicates who the article is “by” – the named author.
Caption, Cutline: the descriptive text underneath or close to an image, such as a photograph.
Case study: A story about a project or situation, intended to illustrate the cleverness and resourcefulness of the person doing the work, who’s usually the author. A case study is most credible if done in joint authorship with the client.
Circulation: The number of subscribers to the publication, who each receive a copy of the print version. These numbers are often “audited” – a third-party reviewer has confirmed that the magazine really does have that number of subscribers; this is important to advertisers. This is related to the number of “readers” – generally a number that is based on a survey asking how many people read each issue. That’s called “pass-along” readership. A publication a circulation of 10,000, with a pass-along number of four, will declare it has 40,000 readers.
Contributed article, expert-written article: An article that's written by someone who’s not a journalist by trade, but has other expertise, and wants to show it. Contributed or expert-written articles are generally provided to the publication free of charge, so you don’t get paid for writing – but then you don’t pay for advertising space, either.
Copy: in a publication, “copy” is a noun meaning anything written (yes, I know that’s weird): “Did you finish that copy about the conference yet?”
Copy editor: Someone who edits copy. More specifically, a copy editor checks content to be sure it flows well, and makes changes so that it does. On my personal Richter scale of editorial intervention, a copy editor is between a “proofreader” who makes small-but-important quality-control changes about spelling and grammar, and a “ghostwriter” who creates a whole article from a blank screen.
Editorial: Two meanings – (1) An opinion piece written by the editor of the publication, or (2) Anything that would be considered an “article” in the publication sense, ie. not an advertisement, advertorial or a graphic. From the reader’s perspective, it’s the payload of the publication – the reason they subscribe. Note that for the publisher, the “payload” is the advertising that pays for it all.
Editorial calendar: The publication’s schedule indicating the theme expected for each issue. In most trade publications, these are set out in October or so each year, and list the topics expected to be covered in each issue of the coming calendar year. Often, they’re the same themes year after year. Mostly, the editorial calendar is set out for use by advertisers, but writers can use it too. The editor will be looking for copy (that’s how the term “copy” is used) to match the theme of the issue, so you can pitch your story ideas to match the editorial calendar. The editorial calendar is part of the “media kit” (in Part Two of this Demystifier).
Feature: an article that’s long (generally, 1,000 words or more) and “soft” in that it’s not based on hard news. It’s usually more thoughtful and analytical than a news story.
Front of the book, back of the book: Magazine people call their publications “books,” which has always seemed to me partly wishful thinking, and partly stubborn pride. The “front of the book” means the mix of short, newsy items that are usually based on association media releases. If you have a news release to send in, if the editor thinks it worth including, it’ll likely go here. The “back” is generally a one-page opinion article with a name like “Industry voices” – if you can make your case for being an insider, the editor may welcome your 750 words of well-reasoned wisdom.
Ghostwriter: a professional writer who interviews the named author of the article and then writes a first draft of the article. The ghost’s name doesn’t appear on the article, because the ideas in the article are to be all those of the named author. The name of the ghostwriter might occur in the “Thanks to …” section in a book. I don’t see anything wrong about ghosting an article for someone, provided the ideas are all those of the author, but I feel a strong internal revulsion towards the idea of ghosting a professional or academic paper, so I don’t do that.
Google juice: Anything in what you write that can result in higher search engine rankings for your content. This can include key terms that are hot in the news – such as the name of a new law, regulation, or other news item. Beware the cautions in the “keyword spamming” entry in Part Two.
Graphic: Anything that involves an image rather than text – a photograph, a chart, a line drawing, diagram or something else. Most editors like graphics to go with an article, and it’s often one of the factors determining whether to publish an article or not. So you’re best to have images, but be sure you have rights to them. Most editors are justifiably paranoid about accepting anything that looks like a stock image, because they don’t know where it comes from or who owns rights to it, unless they’ve bought the stock image themselves. If you do supply a picture you’ve taken, make sure it’s the original file size, not slimmed down for electronic travel; should be at least one MB.
Grip-and-grin: A photograph featuring two people shaking hands (grip) and smiling for the camera (grin). These images are boring, but sometimes it’s all the publication can get.
H1, H2, H3: On a website, the largest headlines are H1s, followed by H2s and H3s.
Hed, sub-hed: It’s not that they can’t spell “headline” and “sub-headline,” but that’s what they mean.
How-to: an article or graphic that tells how to do something – to achieve a specific outcome. It generally discusses the steps to be followed in sequence, describing the sticky parts and how to deal with or avoid them.
In the next issue, post #100, you’ll learn about newsjacking, mugshots and manuscripts -- and other publication buzzwords, so you can sound even more like an insider.