Need help submitting your writing to literary journals or book publishers/literary agents? Click here! →
The slang terms, lingo, and jargon of the publishing industry can be confusing, especially to a new writer! But don’t worry—the team here at Writer’s Relief is ready to clear up any confusion. We’ve been helping writers make submissions and get published since 1994, so we’ve heard it all! Here are some basic—but important—book publishing vocabulary and literary journal terms you need to know:
Commonly Used (And Confused) Terms In The Publishing Business
Advance (advance against royalties). A payment a publisher gives a writer for a book or novel; any royalties that come in belong to the publisher alone until the amount of money made on royalties surpasses the amount of money given to the author as an advance.
Advance copies. Copies shipped by a publisher in advance of the publication date.
AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives). Trade organization for literary agents.
ARCs (advance reader copies). Copies shipped for review and publicity.
All rights. A vague grant of “all rights” essentially locks writers into an obligation that could tie up a work with a given publisher indefinitely. This is generally not acceptable language in publishing contracts.
Back of the room sales. Sales made by the author in person, when he or she is a guest or featured speaker.
Backlist. Books released prior to the latest publication.
Back orders. Book sales made prior to the publication date (pre-sales).
Book piracy. Illegal sharing (uploading and downloading) of digital books.
Book trailer. A short video promo to publicize a book.
Co-Edition (Co-Publishing). When two different publishers release two different editions of a book at the same time (often pertains to translations, but sometimes can refer to physical and digital editions).
Commission. Percentage of sales claimed by literary agents.
Co-Op Space. Negotiated (paid) book placement within bookstores in high-traffic areas (like the front of the store or on endcaps).
Copyright. The right to reproduce a given work (copyright can be licensed to a publisher as the right to print or copy).
Cover letters and query letters. A query letter is an introduction to a literary or book agent, and a cover letter is used when sending poetry and/or short stories to literary journals. (Writer’s Relief can help you write both!)
Delivery and Acceptance (D&A). When a manuscript is received and deemed publishable by a publisher, often after a contract has been signed and edits have been made.
Developmental editor. An editor who oversees or assists with the creation, packaging, and production of a book from start to finish.
Digital first publisher. A publisher that releases a book in digital form before deciding whether or not to create a physical edition.
Distributor. A company that distributes physical books to retailers.
DRM (digital rights management). Software that allows a book to appear in digital form and is meant to hinder online book pirating.
Earn out. An author who earns out makes enough money on royalties to cover his/her advance.
E-book. Electronic or digital book, usually read on a computer, phone, or e-reader.
Electronic rights. The right to publish in digital form (which is negotiated separately from the right to publish in print).
Endorsement quote (blurb). Quote, often given from one author to another, for promotional use.
Exclusive read. If you grant an exclusive read (or right of first refusal) to a literary agent, you are granting him or her the right to read your book before any other agents see it. For more detailed information, see our article When A Literary Agent Requests An Exclusive: Solutions For Sticky Situations.
First Serial. The right to publish first.
FNASR (First North American Serial Rights). The right to publish first (in print or online) in North American territories.
Front list. The most recently published titles in a publisher’s catalog.
Galleys. A galley is an unformatted version of a manuscript. Galleys are sent out to reviewers and blurb writers a few weeks before the book is put in stores in its final version.
Ghostwriter. A writer who works on a project but is not publically credited for that work.
Hardcover. Hardbound book.
Imprint. A subsidiary within a publishing house that focuses on a specific type of title.
Indemnity. Author’s agreement not to hold the publisher (financially) responsible for repercussions due to mistakes in the published book, such as plagiarism or failure to secure permissions to quote.
ISBN (International Standard Book Number). The “social security number” of a book.
Legacy publisher. Sometimes considered pejorative, this book term refers to the traditional (trade) publishing model.
Literary agent. Professionals who can target your writing to publishers and make sure you get the best possible book deal.
Literary journal. A magazine that features creative writing selected by editors. Can be affiliated with a university or can be independent. Can appear in print or online or both.
Literary scout (book scout). Often employed by film agents to discover books that could be great movies.
Mass market. Smaller-sized paperback books.
Masthead. The masthead refers to the “behind the scenes” information about a publication, such as the editors, publishing information, etc.
Media rate. Media rate can be applied to mailing packages containing books, scripts, sound recordings, videotapes, and computer-readable media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes). Media rate is slower and less expensive than first-class mail.
Midlist. Authors who are not best sellers but who have a solid fan base.
Multiple submissions. When you make a multiple submission, you send many submissions in one letter or e-mail to one editor or agent. (Also see How To Interpret Submission Guidelines.)
Net amount. Amount made on the sale of a book after taxes or other expenses.
Net sales (sell through). The actual number of sales after deducting for returns.
Nonexclusivity. When a publisher acquires a nonexclusive right to publish.
North American Rights. The right to publish in English-speaking North American countries, usually the United States and Canada.
One-time rights or reprint rights. If a work has already appeared in public (in print or online), you can offer one-time rights or reprint rights. This simply indicates to publishers that the work has appeared elsewhere already.
Open market. The world market, apart from North America and The British Commonwealth.
Option. A kind of right-of-first-refusal that a publisher holds for the author’s next book.
Out of print. This term means different things to different publishers. Be careful! Termination clauses and reversion of rights often hinge on what’s considered “out of print.”
POD (print on demand). A publishing method that allows books to be printed one at a time.
Page proofs. Pages of a book as they will appear in the final production, often corrected by both an author and a proofreader.
Permissions. Allowances (often secured by the author) to quote other material.
Previously published writing. A sticky term with no single, agreed-upon definition. Most literary journals will not publish “previously published” writing, whether said writing appeared online (on a blog or social network) or in print. Many literary agents and book publishers are more open to reprinting previously published (or self-published) works. Learn more about previously published writing.
Publicist (press agent). A professional who works to generate buzz and publicity about a book: can work at a publishing house or work independently as a (paid) assistant to an author.
Query letters and cover letters. A query letter is an introduction to a literary or book agent, and a cover letter is used when sending poetry and/or short stories to literary journals. (Writer’s Relief can help you write both!)
Remainders. Physical copies of a book that do not sell are “remaindered”—sent back to the publisher for sale elsewhere, usually at a discount.
Reserves against returns. Since publishers often print more books than they expect to sell, they will often hold a portion of sales monies back from the author until returns have come in.
Reversion of rights. When all rights to publish revert back to the author, often due to a book becoming out of print.
Royalty. A percentage of sale price paid to the author. Sometimes, royalties are paid up front as an advance, which an author must “earn out” before receiving any additional monies. Other times, royalties are given to the author without an advance, as sales come in.
Running head. Info at the top of a page in a book, like author’s name, title, and page number.
Second serial rights. The publication of an excerpt in a magazine after the publication of a book.
Self-publishing. Any form of book production in which the author assumes the financial risk.
Slush pile. A stack of unsolicited submissions sent to book agents, literary journals, or publishing houses.
Style sheet. A document prepared during copyediting that standardizes spellings (like character names) and other elements of text.
Subsidiary rights. Rights that are often negotiated separately from the primary right to publish in a certain territory. Translation rights, film rights, audio rights, and merchandising rights are often considered subsidiary rights.
Termination clause. Agreement regarding terms of termination or nullification of a contract.
Trade paper. A paperback of a larger size than a mass market book.
Trade (mainstream, traditional) publishing. Traditional publishing model in which the author must find a literary agent and (often an advance-paying) publishing house editor.
Vanity press. A publisher that requires author to assume all financial risk (sometimes regarded as a pejorative term). “Self-publishing company” is preferred.
Virtual book tour. A series of promotional visits by the author to online venues, like blogs or online retailers. Also includes online advertising, contests, and other promotional efforts.
Warranty. An author’s promise against illegal actions taken during the writing of a book (like plagiarism and defamation). See also indemnity.
Wholesaler. Buys books in bulk at a deep discount, then sells those books to retailers at a less steep discount.
Writer’s backlist. A writer’s backlist is a list of his or her older publications.