Publishing Terms A – Z

For those of you wondering about all the acronyms and lingo used in the publishing world, here are more than 60 popular publishing terms and definitions. I trust you already know your hardcovers from your paperbacks, so be prepared to learn some real publishing jargon. Have a word you want defined? Ask away in the comments section!


Acquisition: When a book is selected for publication by an editor.

Advance: The money paid to an author before the book goes on sale. It is called an advance because it is an advance against royalties…authors have to earn out the value of their advance before they can start earning royalties.

Agent: A representative of an author who wears many hats: editor, life coach, contract manager, deal broker, and more.

ALA: American Library Association

ARC: Advance Reader Copy, or an early proof of the book for readers and reviewers.


Back cover/ad copy: The synopsis on the back of the book that tells you what the story is about. If the book has a jacket, the synopsis is often printed on the inside front flap of the jacket, and is called flap copy.

Backlist: Already released books in a publisher’s catalog, or books that have been around for at least 6-8 months. Brand-new books are called frontlist.

Backmatter: The material at the end of a book, such as the acknowledgments or about the author sections.

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

BISAC: An alphanumeric code used for identifying the subject of a book so that retailers can shelve it properly. (Check the space above the barcode to find the BISAC’s traditional home.)

Board Book: A book for youngest readers (babies and toddlers) that is printed on a thicker board stock.

BookScan: A publishing industry site that tracks sales data across many channels and publishers.


CMS: Chicago Manual of Style…aka the be-all end-all for your editing questions.

CMYK: A color model made up of cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).

Co-edition: When a book is published simultaneously in several countries. Multiple publishers will come together to create the book in the appropriate language at the same time.

Copyedit: An editing process that looks at sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and consistency throughout the story, among other things.

Copyright: The legal right to the content of a book. Copyright notices are printed in every book, and will tell you who the publisher is, who wrote the book, and other important data.


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

DRM: Digital Rights Management…many ebooks are DRM protected, which can help authors and publishers battle ebook piracy.

Dummy: A mock-up of a book, usually a picture book or a gift book that requires design or artwork.


Earn out: When an author “earns out” their advance, their book has sold enough copies to make back the money spent on an advance. They can now begin to earn royalties.

Endsheets: The blank or printed pages at the very beginning and very end of a hardcover book. These are often printed on slightly different paper than the body of the book.


F&G: Folded and Gathered…this refers to a type of advance copy of a book (often picture books) in which pages are folded and gathered but not bound with a spine.

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

Four-color: Books that are printed using a four-color process rather than being black text on the page. Picture books and gift books are often four-color products.

Frontlist: Unpublished or recently released books on a publisher’s list.


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, not the author’s name or the publisher’s information. This can be found in certain books before a title page.

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

House style: Any grammatical or spelling preferences for a publishing house. For instance, some publishers have specific rules about when to use blonde vs. blond or how to space an ellipsis.


Imprint: A division of a publishing company that publishes a specific type of book. For example, HarperTeen is an imprint of HarperCollins that publishes books for young adults.

In print: A book that is actively being printed and purchased.

ISBN: International Standard Book Number…a unique number assigned to each book and edition of a book.


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


Kerning: The spacing between characters (letters, not people!) Tight kerning brings the letters closer together, and  l o o s e  kerning spaces them farther apart.


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


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

Mark-up: Another term for edit. A marked-up copy of a manuscript would be a manuscript with editing notes included.

Mass market: A small, paperback book that sells for a lower price and can often be found in mass market stores, e.g. Walmart, Target, grocery stores, etc.

Metadata: The back-end information about a book that feeds out to online retailers and is used internally by a publishing team to describe key elements of a book, from synopsis to price to the date the book is on sale.


Orphan: An orphan occurs when a single, often small (under six characters) word is alone on a line at the end of a paragraph. Publishers try to avoid this.


P&L: Profit and Loss statements are used by publishers to determine the viability of a book in the marketplace. They take into account advances, royalties, and the production of the book and weigh out the costs with the anticipated sales.

PMS: Not what you think! Pantone Matching System is a color model made up of hundreds and hundreds of colors.

PPB: Price Per Book determines the cost of creating a book at a printer, and takes into account the cost of paper, ink, the use of the printing presses, and other factors.

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

Print run: The number of books being printed at one time. The larger the print run, the better!

Proofread: A form of editing that looks at grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Pub date: A book’s birthday!


Recto: If you have a book lying 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 are a very good thing!

Returns: Books that are returned to an author or publisher by a retailed or distributor. Books are returned when they cannot be sold to customers.

Royalty: A percentage paid to an author based on the sales of their book.


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.

SKU: Stock Keeping Unit…a number assigned to a book by a retailer for inventory purposes.

Slush pile: The pile (or inbox) where editors place unsolicited manuscripts. Learn more about slush piles here: Life in the Slush Pile: Surely Make You Lose Your Mind

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


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

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


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: If you have a book lying open, the left page is called the verso.


Widow: A widow occurs when a paragraph is split between two pages, and only the last line of a paragraph appears at the top of the second page. Publishers try to avoid this.

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