Sunday, March 28, 2010

Phrases You Hear at a Writers Conference

When I first became a teacher, I had to learn to speak education. Education is full of acronyms like SST, ESL, SACS, IEP, IDEA, and ILT (teachers, you know exactly what these mean).

Last week, at the Mount Hermon Writers Conference, I realized that writers have another language, too. Rather than acronyms, it's chalk full of phrases you hear only amonng writers. I have been home for a week now, and I miss the following phrases:

1. What are you writing?
Since this phrase is music to every writers' ears, it is the first thing we say to one another. Upon meeting an author here, the first question is not, "What do you do?" or "Where do you live?" It's "What are you writing?" The answer to this question could last one minute or twenty... or it could lead to question number two.

2. Why are you crying?
The Mount Hermon Website states that the purpose of the conference is to help writers in every phase of their career. The unwritten goal is to make all conferees doubt their ability, purpose, and overall decision to write. It is a requirement to have at least one emotional breakdown each conference. Check!

3. Felt Needs
Nonfiction books always address "felt needs," so editors want to know what need your book will address. My answer is, "It addresses my need to be published." No one seems to laugh at that.

4. Dabbling in
To answer question number one, writers might say, "I write narrative nonfiction, but I'm dabbling in Sci-Fi." This means that the writer has commitment issues. Like a man who is unwilling to define a girl as his "girlfriend," this person just dabbles because they are keeping their options open.

5. What genre are you?
Every author must be placed into a category. That way you know who to sit by. If you sit by a fiction author, you will be forced to use additional terms like "plot points," "character development," or "story lines." If find yourself rubbing elbows with a fantasy writer, you'll undoubtedly hear about fairies, gremlins, or magical powers. And if you are fortunate enough to sit by nonfiction writers, your life will likely be improved, uplifted, and encouraged.

6. Memwa (Correct pronunciation of memoir)
If you meet someone trying to sell their memoir, you will probably need phrase #2 soon.

7. Y.A.
To use this phrase in a sentence, editors say, "We are not looking for Y.A. right now." Y.A. stands for young adult books.


  1. Very funny, but oh so true.

    Add the term "Intellectual Property." After the main speaker referred to this a number of times in his evening address, a number of people were hear whispering "What is intellectual property?"

    It doesn't mean you are really smart. It only refers to the ideas and writing you create. That "property" can become commercially viable if sold to a publisher...hopefully by a less-than-snarky literary agent.

    The Steve Laube Agency

  2. Emily, I loved what you wrote. I was laughing over the terms and your take on the conference! Laughing definately is a good way to bring out common bonds.

  3. Ok, I am cracking up! If you meet someone "trying to sell their memwa, you will probably need phrase #2 soon." And darn if Steve Laube wouldn't comment my blog! But that would require me to be a little funnier. Love ya!

  4. Steve and Christine,

    Let's not forget the newest writers conference phrase... "Love nest." I was laughing all week about the couple who made the distinction between a love nest and an empty nest.