Glossary of Publishing Terms and Definitions

By Cecilia Lewis

Recently, I’ve noticed that much of the discussion surrounding publishing, including here on my own blog, uses a variety of abbreviations and terms that may be confusing for writers who are just starting to learn the industry. In the interest of making my own blog posts more clear and helping writers make sense of terms that may be unfamiliar, I’ve decided to start this glossary of definitions. I’m sure there are many terms that I’ve missed, and I will try to update this post periodically. If you see anything that’s missing or a definition that needs clarification, let me know in the comments!

  • AAR = Association of Author’s Representatives. This is an organization of literary agencies who abide by specifically outlined standards of ethics. The organization also serves to keep agents informed about industry issues.
  • Advance = The money a publisher pays an author to publish a book. This is an advance against royalties, meaning the author will not receive additional royalties on books sold until/unless they “earn out” the advance, meaning the book earns an amount of money equal to the advance. (Note that the author does not have to pay the advance back regardless of whether or not they earn out.) Large advances are usually paid in installments, such as a portion on signing, a portion on delivery and acceptance, and a portion on publication.
  • Agent = A literary agent is an industry professional who guides the author through the publishing process. An agent will submit manuscripts to editors, negotiate advances and contracts, follow up throughout the process, ensure that payments are correct, and much much more. Agents are advocates for the authors they represent, serving as both creative and business advisors.
  • ARCs = Advance Reader Copies. These are copies printed in advance of the release date for review (and other promotional purposes). See also galleys.
  • Auction = When a manuscript has been submitted to editors and multiple houses are interested in a project, sometimes the author’s agent will arrange an “auction” for the interested houses to bid against each other. Auction formats can vary and will usually be determined by the author’s agent.
  • Backlist = Backlist titles are books that are not new releases but are still in print or whose rights the publisher still possesses.
  • Backmatter = The pages after the end of a book, which may include the author’s bio, excerpts from the author’s other books, social media links, or other info. (For more about what to include in your backmatter, see this post.)
  • BEA = Book Expo America, the largest annual publishing trade show/convention in the US. BEA is usually attended publishers, agents, authors, librarians, booksellers, and other industry professionals.
  • Beta reader = An early “test” reader who offers feedback on a manuscript before publication.
  • Big Five = This is a term sometimes used to refer to the five largest publishers: Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette, and Macmillan. These publishers were formerly referred to as the “Big Six” before Penguin and Random House merged.
  • Blurb = A quote or review from another published author praising a book. Blurbs are a fairly common marketing practice and may or may not be on the cover of the book.
  • Book plates = Stickers that authors can sign for readers to place in the front of their books. This is a popular way for authors to “sign” books, since they’re cost-effective and portable.
  • Commission = The money an agent receives for their services. Standard agent commissions are 15% for domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales. Agents only receive a commission on the books they sell, so they only make money when an author makes money.
  • Co-op = The prime placement in a bookstore is usually paid for by the publisher, which makes certain titles “available for co-op” or arranges for special promotions. From there, the booksellers determine which books are placed where.
  • Copyeditor = An editorial professional who edits the book for errors. Copyedits can include checks for everything from consistency to syntax errors to typos. (For more about what copyeditors do, check out this post. And if you’re looking for a copyeditor or other editorial services, take a look at what I offer here.)
  • Copyright = The legal right to ownership of a work. In the US, copyright lasts until 70 years after the author’s death. An author’s work is technically copyrighted from the minute they write it, although it’s important to have the copyright officially registered with the Library of Congress within three months of publication.
  • Cover Copy = The brief pitch or partial synopsis on the back cover or jacket flap of a book, intended to entice a reader to purchase it. Also referred to as jacket copy. (For tips on writing cover copy, see this post.)
  • CP = Critique partner, a fellow writer who critiques your early drafts (and whose drafts you critique in return).
  • CreateSpace = A popular POD and distribution service offered by Amazon and frequently used by self-publishing authors. (For a more in-depth examination, see this post.)
  • D&A = Delivery and Acceptance. This refers to the part of the traditional publishing process when the author delivers the revised manuscript and the publisher accepts the book for publication. This stage often triggers the payment of a portion of the advance.
  • Distribution = The process by which a book is delivered from the publisher to bookstores, libraries, etc. Large traditional publishers serve as their own distributor, while smaller houses may hire third parties.
  • DLP = Digital List Price. In reference to digital books, this is the price the publisher or rights holder places on a copy of the content. This may or may not affect the price that the retailer actually charges for the ebook.
  • Earn out = When a book has earned more money than the author was paid in the advance, it has “earned out.” From this point out, the author will be paid royalties on net sales and subrights income. See also advance and royalties.
  • Editor = A publishing professional who edits manuscripts before publication. In traditional publishing, an editor may read submitted manuscripts, acquire projects for publication, coordinates with different teams at the publisher, and more (as well as actually editing the book, of course). See also freelance editor.
  • Epub = The most common format for digital books. It is an XML format that is widely supported across platforms. Most ereaders support .epub files, with the major exception of Amazon’s Kindle. It is also open standard, meaning it is free and publicly available, although there are specific rules regarding its usage.
  • First pass pages = After a book is copyedited, the pages are typeset and the interior design is completed. It is then sent back to the editor and author for a last-minute check for errors that may have occurred during typesetting, and these pages are called “first pass.” Some houses also do a “second pass” if significant errors are found.
  • Freelance editor = An editor who is hired directly by the author, rather than (or in addition to) working for a publisher. Freelance editors can be hired at any time during the writing/publication process, and are frequently used by both traditional and indie authors. (For more about when you might want to hire one, see this post. If you’re looking for a freelance editor, check out my services.)
  • Front list = The publisher’s newly released books.
  • Galleys = Advance copies of a book. Some houses use the term “galley” to refer to the pre-published manuscript. Some also use the term “bound galley” to mean an advance copy printed for promotional purposes. See also ARCs.
  • IngramSpark = A popular POD and distribution service offered by Lightning Source and frequently used by self-published authors. (For a more in-depth examination, see this post.)
  • Jacket Copy = See cover copy.
  • Midlist = Not to be confused with frontlist or backlist, these are the titles that are in the middle of the range of advances or sales on the publisher’s list.
  • Mobi = The Mobipocket ebook format, which is a common format for digital books. It is owned by Amazon and is widely supported across platforms. It is also open standard, meaning it is free and publicly available, although there are specific rules regarding its usage. Ebooks in this format can have the .prc or .mobi extension.
  • MS = Manuscript. The pre-published, unbound book.
  • MS Word = Microsoft Word, the word processing program used by most of the publishing industry.
  • NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, an annual event during the month of November where writers attempt 50,000 words of a manuscript in thirty days. (For more info, check out their website.)
  • Net sales = The number of actual book sales after deducting returns.
  • Option = A provision in a contract that gives a publisher a limited amount of time to consider and offer on the author’s next work. (Not to be confused with a film option, wherein a film studio acquires/licenses the film adaptation rights.)
  • P&L = Profit and Loss. In publishing, a profit and loss statement is an assessment of how much a given book will cost to make and how many copies it can be expected to sell in order to calculate the anticipated profit. When an editor wants to acquire a book, they must bring a P&L to an acquisition board to demonstrate the book’s chance of success and get it approved.
  • Partial = A partial manuscript, usually about 50 pages, that an agent might request.
  • Pitch letter = An agent’s letter to an editor telling them why they should acquire a particular project.
  • POD = Print on Demand. The copies of a book ordered to print. POD is most frequently used by self-publishing authors, but is also occasionally used by traditional publishers for ordering backlist titles.
  • Pre-empt = During the submission process, if an editor really likes a project, they may make a strong offer in order to pre-empt an auction. The agent and author then decide whether to accept the offer or continue to auction.
  • Print run = The number of copies printed of a book.
  • Query letter = A pitch letter describing your book, intended to make it sound enticing to agents or editors.
  • R&R = Revise and resubmit, or revise and resend. This is a letter that agents or editors might send in response to a submission when they see potential in a manuscript but feel that it needs significant revision. They will offer revision suggestions and invite the writer to resubmit the manuscript after revising it.
  • Remainder = The publisher’s remaining stock of a book, which may be sold off at a low price if the book isn’t selling well. Usually a sign the book is going out of print.
  • Returns = The unsold copies of a book that the bookstore returns to the publisher for a refund.
  • Royalties = The amount of money an author receives on every net copy sold of their book (see also net sales). Royalty rates can vary widely and often escalate at certain sales thresholds. An author does not receive royalty payments until they earn out their advance.
  • RWA = Romance Writers of America, a popular professional writers’ organization for romance  authors.
  • SCBWI = Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a popular professional writers’ organization for children’s authors.
  • Scrivener = Software designed for writers, used by many professional authors.
  • Self-publishing = When an author arranges for their own publication and distribution rather than having their work acquired by a publisher (which is known as traditional publishing). Often referred to as indie publishing.
  • SFWA = Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a popular professional writers’ organization for science fiction and fantasy authors.
  • Submission = The process of submitting a work to editors for consideration.
  • Subrights = Subsidiary rights. These are all of the rights pertaining to the work that aren’t the original print publication rights. Some of these rights are retained by the publisher, while others are retained by the author.
  • Swag = Promotional items that authors use to market their books. Popular swag ideas are bookmarks, pens, T-shirts, tote bags, buttons, etc.
  • Synopsis = A summary of the work that includes all of the main plot points and characters. (For tips on writing one, see this post.)
  • Traditional publishing = The “traditional” process of publishing a book, as opposed to self-publishing, in which the book is sold to a publisher (usually with the assistance of a literary agent).
  • Vanity publishing = The publishing model in which the author pays the publisher for various publishing services (usually printing, editing, and distributing the book), as opposed to traditional publishing (in which the publisher pays the author) or self-publishing (in which the author acts as their own publisher). Vanity publishing is usually inadvisable for the author, as the publisher has no investment in the book’s sales.
  • WIP = Work in Progress. This is a term usually used by authors to refer to their current project.
  • Word = See MS Word.
  • Word count = The number of words in a manuscript, which is used to estimate its length (and therefore how much it will cost to print it).

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it to the list!


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