Book Publishing Terms You Should Know

If you’re looking to publish a book for the first time, there are probably at least a few publishing concepts and terms you’re not completely familiar with.

We’ve assembled a glossary of common terms with brief definitions to help you navigate your way through this complex industry. Click on the term to get more information on utilizing it in your own work.

Acknowledgments - A section at the end of a book where the author recognizes the people who have influenced the book or the author’s life.

Advance - A bonus that an author negotiates and receives before the book is published. An author must earn the amount of their advance in book sales before they receive any additional royalty payments.

ARCs (Advance Review Copies) – Uncorrected proofs of a book created before its final printing to send to reviewers, booksellers, bloggers, and more to get the word out about a book. Also known as galleys.

Appendix – A section at the end of a book that contains supplemental materials, such as extra research or sources. 

Audiobook – A recorded reading of a book. 

Bestseller – A book that sells a lot of copies. Newspapers, magazines, and bookstores have different classifications for what makes a bestseller.

Book distribution – The process of delivering published books to designated retailers.

Book proposal – A formal letter used to sell nonfiction books to publishers, where an author attempts to interest an editor or agent by arguing why their book is a marketable product. Authors often write book proposals to gauge interest before writing the manuscript.

Book review – A published opinion of a book in a periodical or online.

Back matter - Any material that is printed at the end of a book, such as appendixes, notes, references, glossaries or indexes.

Brick-and-mortar retailer - Retailer who sells products in a store rather than online.

Copyright - Ownership of intellectual property, protected by law, whichgives the owner the right to copy, repurpose, or publish the content.

Design (Book design, Cover design) – The layout, pictures, selection of font, and font size of the interior or cover of a book.

Distributor - A company, group, or individual who sells products or services to retailers instead of to consumers.

Ebook – A book published in an electronic file format.

Editor – A person who works to revise and improve a manuscript to prepare it for publication.

Footnote - Reference citations and supplementary information that appears at the bottom of a book page.

Foreword – A short introduction to a book written by someone other than the author.

Front matter – Any materials that precede the main text of a book, such as the title page, preface, foreword, and table of contents.

Imprint - A trade name under which an author publishes a work. A single publishing company may have multiple imprints with different names and brands dedicated to specific consumers.

Index – A list of words at the end of a book that guides a reader to the specific pages on which subjects appear in the main text.

Intellectual Property Rights - The rights given to a person over their own creative work.

ISBN – International Standard Book Number. The unique 13-digit number that identifies a version of a book.

Literary agent – A person who functions as the intermediary for an author and the publisher.

Manuscript – A complete version of a book prepared by the author.

Marketing – The promotional efforts used to sell a product.

Networking - Expanding one's social circle by initiating business relationships with new people.

Nonexclusive contract – A legal agreement in which the publisher does not exercise exclusive rights over the author's book.

Online retailer - Bookstore on the internet, such as Amazon.

Out of print – A book that is no longer in a publisher's book inventory and is not currently being printed.

Pen name – A pseudonym that an author uses for their published work. 

Publication date – The official date when a book is released to the public.

Publishing house - A large commercial publisher that purchases manuscripts, makes all editorial decisions, pays all production and distribution costs, and owns the copyright.

Proofs - Printed out material that looks just like the final book pages.

POD (Print on Demand) – A publishing arrangement in which books are printed only as orders are placed.

Query letter – A formal letter used to propose a book idea to an agent or publisher.

Royalty – The percentage of a book’s revenue that goes to the author. 

Returns – Copies of a book that are returned to and refunded by the publisher after failing to sell on the bookstore shelf.

Self-publishing – A method of book publishing where the author assumes the full control and financial risk of producing and distributing his or her own book.

Sell sheet - A one-page document that provides details about a book for potential retailers.

Shelf life – The time an unsold book remains on the shelf of a retail store before being replaced.

Small press – A smaller publishing house that releases books intended for specialized audiences.

Subsidiary rights – The rights acquired by a publisher to resell, translate, and reuse a book's content.

Supported self-publishing – A method of self-publishing where the author has access to choose services found in a publishing house through an upfront cost.

Table of contents – A section of a book that lists the book’s chapters and opening page numbers.

Traditional publishing – A method of publishing where a publishing house buys the rights to an author’s book and takes on the responsibility of editing, production, and distribution.

University press – A type of publishing house owned and operated by a university that publishes academic materials.

Unsolicited manuscript – A manuscript sent to a publisher who did not request it.

Vanity press/publisher – A type of publisher where authors pay to have their books published and may retain the copyright.

Wholesaler – A company, group, or individual who purchases high volumes of books from a publisher at deep discounts and sells them to retailers at midlevel discount.

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