Glossary of Publishing Terms and Abbreviations

In publishing, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of industry jargon and abbreviations. I’ve listed some of the most common ones here.

Acquisitions: This is a phase in the manuscript purchasing process, when the acquiring editor pitches your book to others at their publishing house in order to convince them to buy it.

Advance: An advance payment on future royalties from a publisher to an author. Before an author will be paid per-book royalties, the book must first earn this amount in its royalty percentage. It’s essentially a pre-payment of royalties. However, if a book undersells, the author does not need to pay back the advance. An author will usually only need to return an advance if they breach their contract.

ARC / Advance Reader Copy: This is a special edition of the book printed before the release date. Sometimes these may not include the final copy edits or they may be a finalized manuscript instead. These are not for sale and are provided to reviewers for the purpose of building marketing buzz leading up to a book’s release.

Auction: When multiple publishers express interest in acquiring a book, it can go to auction. In this case, various publishers will bid to purchase the book.

Beta Reader / Beta: These are readers that will review an author’s manuscript and provide feedback, usually after the author has completed a polished draft and can’t see any other edits to make on their own. The revision after betas is often the final draft, unless the author chooses to do multiple beta rounds.

Big Five: The five largest publishing companies: Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster

Blurb: Most often used to describe the accolades or quotes given to a book by another author. These are frequently seen on the cover or inside flap. Sometimes the term is also used to refer to the “back of the book” description or the plot portion of a query letter, however.

Category: The target age group for the book’s readers. Common categories include picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, and adult.

CNR: Closed No Response. A term used by querying authors to indicate that a query was closed after a specified time frame without a response from the agent.

Comp Titles: Comparative or comparable titles. This is a practice of referring to similar books in order to pitch a manuscript. These are often included in query letters and in an agent’s pitch to an acquisitions editor, as well as being used in P & L statements.

Copy Edits: These are the final stage of edits, and include things like punctuation, grammar, and continuity errors. It’s the last, nitpicky phase of editing.

CP / Critique Partner: A fellow writer with whom you have a close working relationship. You’ll swap manuscripts and provide critiques for one another, but often critique partners can also provide emotional support and help with brainstorming or early stages of a novel’s development.

Debut: Just what it sounds like – an author’s first published book.

Deckled Edges: These are the rough-cut edges you’ll find on some books, often a special edition.

Developmental Edits: The first phase of edits. In traditional publishing, if a writer’s agent is more editorial in nature, a book will often go through this phase both with the agent and then again with an editor at a publishing house. These are the big story changes. Plugging plot holes, trimming out unnecessary characters or subplots, etc.

Earning Out: When a book has earned enough royalties to fill the advance given, and the author starts earning regular royalty payments based on the number of books sold.

Edit Letter / Editorial Letter: This is a letter sent by your agent or editor after reviewing your manuscript, with a list of revision notes. These are usually developmental edits such as plot structure issues, subplots that need tightening, or similar notes.

Editor: There are multiple types of editors.
Freelance Editors can be hired by an individual to work on a manuscript usually for self-publication.
Acquiring Editors (or Acquisitions Editors) work at a publishing house and will be the primary editor a traditionally-published author works with. This is the editor that acquires your manuscript for the publishing house and will do the initial developmental and line edits.
Copy Editors can be freelance or in-house at a publisher, and they specialize in copy edits such as grammar, punctuation, and continuity, rather than story flow or plot structure.

Galley: An advance copy of a book designed for reviewers and to solicit blurbs from other authors. These are often sent out before final copy edits are complete and will bear a disclaimer that it is not the final edit. Galleys can be a bit simpler in production than other Advance Reader Copies – they may not be bound in traditional paperback format, instead spiral-bound or wire-bound, and they can also be a different size than the finished book will be.

Ghostwriter: Someone who writes a piece based on someone else’s concept, usually with the author credit going to the originator of the idea rather than the writer. Frequently used for celebrity memoirs and similar books.

Hybrid Author: An author who releases books through both self-publishing and traditional publication.

Imprint: The Big Five publishers (and many other smaller publishers) manage multiple imprints. These are the trade name that is assigned to your book, and is usually used for classification purposes. A large publisher may have imprints for specific genres such as romance, thrillers, or fantasy. Likewise, they may maintain multiple imprints for various age categories such as children’s literature, young adult, and adult.

Indie Author / Independent Author: An author who self-publishes their work.

IP / Intellectual Property: In publishing, this is often used to mean something different than its technical definition. It refers to work-for-hire based on a publisher or company’s specifications. This can include themed series that are ghostwritten by multiple authors under a single pen name, like the Nancy Drew series. It also often refers to books written for existing franchises such as Star Wars.

ISBN: International Standard Book Number. This is a 10-or-13 digit number that is assigned to a specific publication. Specific metadata is associated with the number, and it’s used by bookstores and libraries to sort and identify books.

Jacket Copy: The book description that appears on the back of the book or the inside flap of a hardcover.

KDP / Kindle Direct Publishing: Amazon’s self-publishing platform.

Kidlit: A common colloquial term for children’s publishing.

KU / Kindle Unlimited: Amazon’s book subscription service. Self-published books that give Amazon exclusive ebook rights can be enrolled in this system, in which authors receive payment based on number of pages read by subscribers.

Line Edits: This is the middle stage of editing. Line edits are done after the major plot development revision has occurred. These include rephrasing sentences for flow or clarity, removing paragraphs or rearranging them, and similar changes.

Literary Agent: A representative who will pitch your book to publishing houses. Agents work on commission, receiving a percentage of sales from the book deals they negotiate.

Manuscript / MS: A completed book. Can also refer to the file containing said book.

MSWL / Manuscript Wishlist: A list of genres and other aspects of a book that an agent or editor is currently looking for. Can be found on Twitter using the #MSWL hashtag or the MSWishlist and ManuscriptWishlist websites.

Mass Market Paperback: Small paperback editions that are often produced more cheaply than other editions and are sold at a lower price point.

MG: Middle grade. An age category targeted at readers from ages 8 to 12.

Midlist Author: An author that consistently publishes profitable books, but those books aren’t bestsellers.

NA: New Adult. A bit of a contentious age category, intended for readers aged approximately 18 through their early-to-mid-twenties. This category often mimics the pacing and voice of young adult books, but with content that is more appropriate for slightly older readers. Traditional publishing doesn’t really acknowledge a New Adult category in any genre except contemporary romance. However, some self-published authors embrace the New Adult category in other genres such as fantasy.

Option Clause: A clause in a publication contract giving the publisher the first chance to publish the author’s next book. Usually negotiated in the contract to the next book in the same genre and/or age category.

P&L Statement: Profit & Loss Statement. When an aqcuiring editor at a publishing house wants to buy your book, this is a statement they’ll put together to pitch the project to their publisher. It uses comparable books and other factors to predict how many copies your book is likely to sell, and weighs those estimated sales against the cost to the company.

Pass Pages: A printed document of a book laid out exactly as it will be formatted in the print book, but unbound. This is usually provided to the author after all edit passes as a final review and last chance to make minor revisions or check the text flow on the layout.

Perfect-Bound / Perfect-Binding: The type of binding used on paperback books, with a heavy cardstock cover and glued pages.

Platform: An author’s online presence, or relevant experience and accolades. This is more pertinent when pitching and selling nonfiction than it is with fiction. It is often an encouraged tactic for a fiction author to build a platform to help with marketing, but isn’t necessary to build this to receive agent representation.

POD / Print-On-Demand: Book printers who will print smaller runs of books for self-published authors, rather than requiring a large or bulk order.

Pre-empt: If a publisher is extremely interested in a book, they may propose a pre-empt. This is a “limited time only” offer in an attempt to buy the book immediately instead of allowing it to go to auction.

PW: Can mean either Pitch Wars or Publishers Weekly.
Pitch Wars is an annual mentorship program in which unagented authors submit for mentorship from a traditionally-published author. They’ll revise the mentee’s manuscript together and display it in a showcase for agents at the end of the event.
Publishers Weekly is a news publication that posts book deals and other publishing industry news.

Query Letter: A pitch letter for your manuscript, sent to literary agents as a request for representation. It usually consists of a short plot blurb similar to the copy on the back of a book, as well as relevant metadata like word count and genre.

R & R / Revise & Resubmit: Exactly as it sounds like, this is a request by an agent or editor to make substantial revisions to a manuscript and submit again. Usually given when the agent/editor has significant interest in a project but has reservations about one particular aspect (such as a plot hole, a character arc, a high word count, or similar).

Royalty: A percentage of each book’s sale price that is paid to the author. In self-publishing, this is determined by the distributor. For traditional publishing, royalties are only paid out after the author has earned enough royalties to fulfill their advance. Royalties are paid out at regular intervals, such as every six months.

RWA: Romance Writers of America. An organization for romance writers. However, at the time of this posting, this organization has been the subject of some controversy over the past year (2019 and 2020).

Self-publishing: The process by which an author publishes their own work without a publishing house, though they may hire freelance contractors such as editors and cover designers.

SFF: Sci Fiction and Fantasy, an abbreviation used to refer to these genres.

SFWA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. An author’s organization for writers of speculative fiction.

Slush / Slush Pile: The unsolicited submissions received by an agent, editor, or publisher.

Sprayed Edges: The page edges of a book that have been painted while the book was closed, to create a colorful effect.

Sub-rights / Subsidiary Rights: The rights to use your book to create media that is outside the primary book formats (paperback, hardcover, ebook). These can include audiobook, film or tv rights, and even media like video games. Sub-rights are sometimes negotiated by an agent who specializes in these type of rights, and some agencies have a sub-rights agent in-house.

Synopsis: In colloquial speech, this term can refer to the brief plot hook on the back of a book, but in publishing it has a very specific meaning and purpose. A synopsis is a 1-or-2-page document that summarizes the entire plot structure of a manuscript, including the ending. Agents and editors use the synopsis to check a book’s general plot structure and make sure it has a satisfying resolution.

Trad Pub / Traditional Publication: The process that involves selling a book to an outside publisher for publication.

Vanity Press: These predatory companies prey on uninformed (usually newer) authors. They offer to publish a book, but usually charge exorbitant fees to do so and often promise distribution that they later fail to provide. This is different than a Print-on-Demand printing company, who will produce books to order as a particular service.

YA: Young adult. An age category targeted toward readers from ages 12 to 18.

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