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The 100 Most Common Publishing Terms and Definitions to Know

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Book publishing has its own jargon-filled language with terms and definitions you need to know.

For instance, what is “hybrid publishing”? (A publishing house run by labradoodles?) What is a “galley”? (A place for writers who miss their deadlines?) Finally, what exactly is a “ghostwriter”? (What happens post galleys?)

We will answer these questions and more in our glossary of the 100 most common publishing terms.


Acknowledgements: A section usually at the end of the book where the author thanks any individuals who helped inspire, create, or support the project to final publication.

Advance: Payment to the author before the publication of a book usually in exchange for acquisition of the manuscript by a publishing house. It is paid against future royalties—meaning book sales must make up for the advance before additional royalties can be earned.

Alpha Reader: A type of test reader. They read the roughest draft of a book to give feedback before beta readers. These readers are often the most trusted of an author’s inner circle.

ARC (Advance Reader Copy): A version of the published book that is sent to established book reviewers before the book’s general release. ARC reviewers are part of marketing strategies to boost attention and build hype for a new release.

Appendix: A section placed at the end of the book that contains supplementary material, such as additional facts, background, data, definitions, and so on.


Backlist: Older books the author has previously published, as opposed to newly published books. You may hear the advice “build up your backlist” to make a sustainable income as an author.

Back Matter: Additional sections in the back of the book that often include the acknowledgements, appendix, index, reference list, or additional notes.

Beta Reader: A test reader who gives feedback from the perspective of the average reader. They often evaluate a revised but unpolished manuscript before the editing process begins and/or are brought in toward the end of the editing process.

Bibliography: A section of the back matter with a list of source material for the work.

Big Five: The nickname of the five publishing houses currently dominating the traditional publishing industry in the United States: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan.

Bleed: A printing term for when any content on the page extends past the trim (the boundaries of the printed page for binding/print).

Blurb: A short description of the book meant to entice readers that is printed on the book's back cover and on sales pages.


Chapbook: A short book usually of poetry or short fiction that is no more than 40 pages and is typically a softcover booklet.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS): A style guide for the publishing industry that provides standards for editing in terms of grammar, usage, and style.

Copy Editing: A type of editing that focuses on sentence mechanics and improves the readability and effectiveness of an author’s writing.

Copyright: A legal right to an intellectual property that protects the artistic and business operations of the copyright owner.

Comp Titles: A marketing term meaning comparable or competitive titles in the author’s genre. Comp titles consist of successful books published in the last five years that a book would be competing with. It takes the form largely as “If you like X meets Y” or “It’s X but with Y” or “If you like X, you'll like Y." For instance, if you’re writing in YA, you might say, “It’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson meets The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes in a tale of romance and betrayal.”

Conscious Language: Conscious language is the practice of using words intentionally, being conscious of harmful stereotypes and histories, and aiming for accuracy in representation.

CV (Curriculum Vitae): A brief overview of qualifications and career accomplishments. For writers, it will consist of relevant published work or your background in the field.


Developmental Editing: The first step in the traditional editing process. This type of editing evaluates a book's big-picture elements, such as content and structure or plot, character, and setting, and often leads to significant reorganization and revision.

Distributor: Companies or individuals who sell books to retailers instead of directly to the consumer.

DRM (Digital Rights Management): Protects the digital copyright material for an eBook file.


eBook: An electronic book is a non-editable file in a digital format that can be read on various devices.

Elevator Pitch: A short pitch for your book containing the biggest draws of your premise in a few lines—the length of time it takes to ride an elevator. The pitch focuses on the elements that make your story unique and compelling. For instance, the popular sci-fi book, The Martian, might use this elevator pitch: “A lone astronaut is stranded on Mars and must figure out to survive and find his way back home.”

Endnotes: Notes at the end of the book that provide citations and further commentary from the author (as opposed to "footnotes").

Epilogue: A concluding section of a book that wraps up the ending or simply gives a “where are they now” summary.

eProof: The copy of an eBook before it is approved for publication. An eProof may be reviewed for layout issues in a digital format.

ePub: A term short for "electronic publication" and a type of ebook file format using the ".epub" file extension.

eReader: Any digital device you can read an eBook on. The most popular eReaders are Kindle, Nook, iPad, and Kobo.


Fair Use: A part of copyright law that says some passages of copyrighted material may be used without infringing on the owner's rights. Fair use has the purpose of commentary, parody, criticism, education, research, and news reporting.

Footnotes: Small notes at the bottom of a page providing citations and additional information (as opposed to "endnotes").

Foreign Rights: Companies or individuals who own the rights to publish a title in a country outside of its origin, either translated or in the original language.

Foreword: An introduction at the beginning of a book that gives context or background. Forewords are commonly written by a different author.

Formatting: The term for designing the layout of a manuscript for the final publication.

Front Matter: Any sections before the main body of text, such as the title page, table of contents, and foreword.


Galleys: "Galley proof" is often used interchangeably with the word “proof” and is an early version of a manuscript printed for the purpose of editing and review.

Genres: Categories of books based on content, writing style, target audience, and other factors. Examples include literary fiction, mystery, romance, and young adult. Genre Fiction: Any fiction genres outside of literary fiction. Examples include science fiction, Westerns, suspense, and horror.

Ghostwriter: A writer paid to craft a book with someone or on their behalf. They typically do not receive public recognition for their work.

Glossary: A brief set of definitions or an alphabetical list of terms related to the main subject matter.

Gutter: The area where the right and left pages come together in the center and are attached to the binding.


Hardcover: A book with a solid, unbendable cover. They are generally priced higher than softcovers and are more expensive to print.

Header: Text at the very top of a book page that usually includes the book title and author name or chapter title.

Hybrid Publishing: A type of publishing where the author and the publisher share the costs, rights, and revenue associated with publishing a book. This method is between self-publishing and traditional publishing.


Index: Subjects, terms, or people listed at the back of the book with corresponding page numbers where they appear.

Indie (Independent) Publisher: Individuals or small companies that exist outside of the major publishing companies. They often use “on-demand printing” and cater to niche markets.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number): A unique 13-digit number that works as identification for a specific book globally. The ISBN will be different for new versions and different editions the book.

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number): An 8-digit international identification code for serial publications. It differs from the ISBN by being used for journals, magazines, and newspapers.


KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing): A service from Amazon for authors to publish their eBooks directly to the Amazon Kindle store and print on demand.

Keyword: A marketing term for phrases or words readers might type into search engines to find your book. Examples: "enemies to lovers," "college romance books."


LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number): A unique number assigned to a book in order to be acquired and catalogued by the United States Library of Congress and be circulated in libraries.

Line Editing: A type of editing that addresses mechanics and readability at a sentence and paragraph level and analyzes larger elements, such as structure and story logic. It is more in depth than a copy edit and traditionally happens between a developmental edit and a copy edit.

List Price: The cover price the consumer pays for the book.

Literary Agent: A managerial position in publishing. An agent represents an author and negotiates contracts. They are paid by commission on the author’s royalties at generally a 10–20% rate.

Literary Fiction: Fiction outside of any genre conventions or predictable plots. This type of writing is often character focused, examines the human condition, and uses experimental styles.

Log Line: A one-sentence summary of your book that states the plot's central conflict and has an emotional hook for readers. An example for the Wizard of Oz is: "After a twister takes a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home."


Mass Market Paperback: An inexpensive and often physically small version of a popular book meant to appeal to a broad audience. Books you might see in airports and grocery stores.

Manuscript (MS): An author’s text that has not yet been published.

Manuscript Evaluation: A type of high-level manuscript assessment that addresses the content of the book over the mechanics. It often occurs at the beginning of the editing process and looks at the big picture aspects but is less detailed than a developmental edit.

Middle Grade (MG): A genre of books written for “middle grade” readers, such as 5th to 8th graders or ages 9 to 13.

Mobi: A file type known as .mobi and used on eReaders, such as Amazon Kindle, using Mobipocket software.


New Adult: One of the newest genres, it features characters who are out of high school and ranging from ages 18 to 25. New Adult is different from Young Adult in that it deals with the next stage of life in college or careers and is allowed to have more explicit content.

Niche: A specific market for readers that goes beyond genre and into unique tropes and particular interests, such as NASCAR enthusiasts, enemies-to-lovers romance readers, or specific demographics like Jewish fathers. A niche is limited in scope but has dedicated audiences.

Nonexclusive Contract: A type of contract in which the author has the right to upload their books to any region, in any format, or onto any platform without exclusivity given to any one retailer.

Novel: A book longer than 50,000 words containing a fictional narrative.

Novelette: A complete story ranging from 8,000 words to 17,000 words.

Novella: A complete story ranging from 17,000 to 50,000 words.


One-Time Rights: A manuscript that is allowed to be published only once by one publisher. A writer may sell their work again to another platform or publisher usually after a preset amount of time has passed.

Out of Print: Books that are no longer being printed or sold, though copies of them may still be circulating.


Paperback: A type of book with a thin, flexible cover that is often physically smaller than a hardcover. Also called a "softcover."

Para: Publishing shorthand for "paragraph."

PP: Publishing shorthand for "pages." (Also abbreviated "p." and "pg.")

Platform: A marketing term for where and how you can reach your audience, such as through social media, speaking engagements, or connections.

Point of View (POV): The perspective through which the story is told. Point of View is either first person (“I”), second person (you”), or third person (“he/she/they”).

Print on Demand (POD): Books printed one order at a time after a reader purchases a copy online.

Prologue: Introductory or preface text that is separate from the main narrative but leads into the central content.

Proof: A pre-publication copy of the book intended for review by the author, editors, and proofreaders.

Proofreading: The last step in the editing process that checks for any remaining errors in the text and formatting. Proofreading is done off of a typeset PDF.

Proposal: Overview of a potential book submitted to a publisher, particularly used for nonfiction manuscripts. Proposals commonly include a cover letter, a one-page overview of the book, marketing information, competitive books, author information, a chapter-by-chapter outline, and sample chapters.


Query: A formal inquiry to a writing agent, editor, or organization pitching the book for acquisition.


Retail Price: The price of a book sold in stores.

Right of First Refusal: A publishing contract's clause that says the publisher gets to see your next work first and make an offer before other publishers can.

Royalty: The percentage of earnings from book sales a publisher gives to the author.


Self-Publishing: A type of publishing where the author publishes their own work and retains copyright and the right to distribute their book. They bear all of the costs of production and risks of publication.

Sensitivity Reading: A type of manuscript evaluation that checks whether characters are portrayed with authenticity and respect and helps authors avoid harmful stereotypes and problematic language. Sometimes also called "authenticity reading" and "diversity reading."

Serial Rights: The right for a publication to publish sections of a manuscript, typically given to newspapers and magazines.

Short Story: A complete story that is between 1,500 words and 7,000 words.

Slush Pile: The collection of unsolicited manuscripts and pitches submitted to a publisher or agent for consideration.

Small Press: A publishing house outside of the large corporations known as the "Big Five Publishers." They often specialize in a genre or type of writing, such as poetry.

Softcover: A type of book with a thin, flexible cover that is often physically smaller than a hardcover. Also called a "paperback."

Stet: A proofreading term for when a suggested change in a manuscript should be disregarded and the original should remain. Derived from Latin, meaning “let it stand.”

Style Sheet: A document that outlines a manuscript's specific preferences, such as with spelling, style, and formatting.

Synopsis: A brief overview of the entire story that includes the main plot, subplots, and ending, a short description of the main characters, and the themes.


Table of Contents (TOC): A part of the front matter at the beginning of a book that lists the chapters or sections and the page numbers on which each chapter or section is found.

Target Audience: A group of readers an author wants to advertise and sell their book to. A target audience may appear as readers of a certain genre, an age group, a subculture, or any other type of marker.

Traditional Publishing: A process where the writer submits their work to an agent, who then agrees to represent them and sell their book to a publishing company that will distribute it.

Trade Paperback: A type of softcover book that is sometimes referred to as a “quality paperback,” since the materials are usually superior to mass market paperbacks and they are priced higher.

Typesetting: The process of preparing text for printing that includes formatting and layout. It is one of the last steps before a book is ready for print.


University Press: Publisher belonging to an academic institution. They mainly publish academic nonfiction.

Universal Product Code (UPC): A product’s price code that is made up of numbers and lines and is scanned for sale. U


Vanity Press: A type of publisher an author pays to publish their book for them. The publishers are almost universally nonselective on which titles they produce. This is an outdated, derogatory term for what is now called a "self-publishing company."


Wholesaler: A company that buys large quantities of books from a publisher at a discounted rate and then sells them to retailers, such as major bookstores, and to libraries.

WIP (Work In Progress): A manuscript that is still being written or edited.


Young Adult: A fiction category with a primary audience ranging from ages 13 to 18. Commonly shortened to "YA."

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