The A-Zs of Publishing

A Short Primer

Publishing pros seem to throw around weird words and hard-to-decipher acronyms all the time. Publishing, like many other fields, has its own set of field-specific lingo. Here is a short primer of some common words we like to use. See something that’s not on here that should be? Let me know!


Acquisition: When a manuscript is selected for publication by an editor. This usually goes through an acquisition committee made up of key stakeholders for the imprint such as the publisher, editor, marketing, publicity, and creative team members.

Advance: The money paid to an author before their book goes on sale. It is called an advance because it is an advance against royalties, meaning that authors have to “earn out” their advance before they can start earning royalties.

Agent: An author’s representative who works sells the author’s work to the right publisher. Agents also work as editors for their clients, negotiate contracts, handle royalty payments, and act as the “bad guy” for their clients when problems arise.

ALA: American Library Association.

ARC: Advance Reader Copy. This is an early (not final) proof of the book for readers and reviewers. Sometimes this is called an ARE, or Advanced Reader Edition.

Audience: The people for whom you are writing. In the children’s space, this is a specific age range (e.g., 13 and up).


Back cover/ad copy: The synopsis on the back of the book that tells you what the book is about…without revealing any spoilers. Called a flap copy if the book has a jacket and the synopsis is printed on the inside front flap of the jacket.

Back matter: Supplementary material in the back of the book like an author note or glossary.

Backlist: A publisher’s catalog of older books that are still in print.

BEA: Book Expo America, the largest book convention in the U.S.

BISAC: Book Industry Standards and Communications. This is an alphanumeric code that identifies the subject of a book so that retailers can shelve it properly.

Boilerplate: Standard language in a contract.


Chains: Companies that own many different stores, like Barnes & Noble.

CMS: Chicago Manual of Style. Probably contains the answers to all your editing questions.

Copyedit: An edit focusing on sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and consistency throughout the story.

Copyright: The legal right to the content of a book.


Distributor: A third party who sells books to retailers on behalf of a publisher.

Dummy: A mock-up of a book.


Earn out: When an author *earns out *their advance, their book has sold enough copies to make back the money spent on their advance. After an author has earned out their advance, royalties can start rolling in.

Edit letter: The letter an author’s editor sends after they complete their macro, or developmental, edit. This letter details the big picture suggestions for revisions.

Endpapers/endsheets: The pages at the very beginning and very end of a hardcover book. These often printed on slightly sturdier paper than the body of the book and often are designed.

Exclusive/exclusive submission: A manuscript sent only to one publisher.


Flat fee: A one-time payment made to a writer or illustrator for services. This is the opposite of an advance against royalties.

F&G: Folded and Gathered. This is a review copy of a picture book or gift book in which pages are folded and gathered but not bound with a spine.

Foreword: Usually in nonfiction works, a note from a specialist, celebrity, or author at the beginning of a book.

Four-color: Books that are printed in full-color, like picture books and gift books.

Freelancer: An independent contract worker, often employed by a publisher, who is not a fulltime employee of the publisher.

Front matter: Supplementary material in the front of a book, such as copyright page and table of contents.

Frontlist: Unpublished or recently released books in a publisher’s catalog.


Galley: Another term for an ARC or advance copy of a book.

Gutter: The center of a book where pages are gathered together and bound along the spine.


Half title page: A title page that only includes the title of the book, usually placed before the title page.

Header/running head: The book title, author name, and/or chapter name that runs along the top of a page above the body of the text.

House style: Specific grammatical or spelling preferences of a publishing house.


Imprint: A division of a publishing company that publishes a specific type of book.

Independents/indies: Bookstores not owned by larger companies.

Institutional: A market for children’s books. Usually schools and libraries.

ISBN: International Standard Book Number. Each book and edition of a book has a unique number assigned to it.


Jacket/dust jacket: The wrapping on hardcover books that contains a cover image and copy related to the book.


Kerning: The spacing between letters and characters.


Line edit: An edit focusing on diction, sentence structure, style, and more, line-by-line through a manuscript.

List: Books published by a specific imprint or publisher, including frontlist and backlist.


Macro edit: Also called a developmental edit. This is a big picture edit focusing on characterization, plot, pacing, and themes.

Manuscript (ms): The written work from an author before it becomes a printed book.

Mark-up: Editing notes in a manuscript.

Mass market: A small, paperback book that sells for a lower price. Found in mass market stores (e.g., Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, your local grocery stores, etc.)

Metadata: The back-end information about a book that feeds out to online retailers like Amazon.

Middle grade (MG): Books written for readers 8-12.


Net price: When selling into retailers, the amount the publisher receives for the book after retailer’s discount.


On spec: On speculation. This is work done without a contract in the hopes that one is forthcoming.

Option: A clause in a contract that grants the publisher the right to consider an author’s next work.


P&L: Profit and Loss. P&L statements are used by publishers to determine the viability of a book in the marketplace. P&Ls weigh advances, royalties, and PPB against the anticipated sales to determine if a book would be profitable to publish.

PMS: Pantone Matching System. This is a color model made up of lots of different of colors.

PPB/ PP&B: Paper, Print, and Binding. This is the cost it takes to make a book.

Preorder: Ordering a book from a retailer or publisher before it goes on sale.

POD: Print On Demand. Instead of a print run, this process allows fewer copies of books to be printed at a time.

Print run: The number of books being printed at one time.

Proofread: An edit that looks at grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Proofs: The typeset pages of a book before it is printed.


Query: A letter an author sends to agents to see if they are interested in taking them on as a client.


R&R: Revise and Resubmit. When an agent or an editor requests an R&R, they saw value in your story but it wasn’t quite there for them yet, so they want to see revisions before potentially moving forward.

Reading fees: Fees charged to read a manuscript before taking a client on for representation. These are not legit.

Recto: When a book is open, the right page is called the recto.

Reprint: When a book has sold the copies from its original print run and more books need to be printed. Reprints can also happen to correct an error in a book.

Returns: Books sent back to the publisher by a retailer or distributor when they cannot be sold to customers, usually for a full refund.

Royalty: A percentage paid to an author based on the sales of their book. Royalties can be net-based (based the amount the publisher receives from a sale to a retailer) or retail/list-based (the list price for the book).


Self-publishing: A type of publishing in which an author publishes their own work at their own expense.

Sell-in: When a book is purchased by a retailer or distributor.

Sell-through: When a book is purchased by a customer from a retailer or distributor.

Signature: Groups of pages that a printing machine can print at a time on a sheet of paper. After it is cut and folded, this usually results in 16 pages, and this forms a signature.

SKU: Stock Keeping Unit. Retailers assign SKUs to books to track inventory.

Slush pile: Unsolicited manuscripts sent to an agent or publisher.

Submission: A proposal and manuscript sent from an agent to an editor for potential publication.


Title page: The page at the front of the book that lists the title, author, and publisher.

Traditional publishing: A type of publishing in which a publisher offers the author a contract and prints, publishes, and sells your books. The author gets paid royalties from the sales.

Trim size: The dimensions of a book (height and width).


Vanity press: A type of publishing company that requires the author to pay them to create the book. In a traditional publishing model, the publisher pays the author.

Verso: When a book is open, the left page is called the verso.


Work-for-hire: A freelancer paid by a publisher who completes work to their specifications. The copyright is usually held by the publisher.


Young adult (YA): Books written for readers 13-18.