A Publishing Dictionary

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 21 2008

I’ve had a request from a client to put together a publishing dictionary of sorts, an explanation of publishing words and phrases that you hear or see all the time but aren’t always sure of the meaning. I’m not going to go into great details on the how and why of these words, simply a what. In addition to the words that were requested I’ve included a few of my own that I think sometimes cause confusion.

AAR: The Association of Authors’ Representatives is an organization of literary and dramatic agents that sets certain guidelines and standards that professional and reputable agents must abide by. It is really the only organization for literary agents of its kind.

Advance: The amount the publisher pays up front to an author before the book is published. The advance is an advance on all future earnings.

ARCS: Advance Review Copies. Not the final book, these are advance and unfinalized copies of the book that are sent to reviewers.

Auction: During the sale of a manuscript to publishers sometimes, oftentimes if you’re lucky, you’ll have an auction. Not unlike an Ebay auction, this is when multiple publishers bid on your book and ultimately, the last man standing wins (that’s the one who offers the most lucrative deal).

BEA: BookExpo America is the largest book rights fair in the United States. This is where publishers from all over the world gather to share rights information, sell book rights, and flaunt their new, upcoming titles.

Cover Letter: This is the letter that should accompany any material you send to an agent or an editor. A cover letter should remind the agent that the material has been requested, where you met if you’ve met, and of course the same information that is in your query letter—title, genre, a short yet enticing blurb of your book, and bio information if you have any.

Full: A full manuscript

Genre: The classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction include mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and in nonfiction you might see business, health, parenting, pets, art, architecture.

Hardcover: A book printed with a hard cover.

Imprint: The name within the publishing house that the book is published under. Usually done as a way to market certain types of books. For example, Aphrodisia is an imprint of Kensington. It is still a Kensington book, but by publishing under Aphrodisia you are branding the book as erotic romance.

Literary Agent: A literary agent works on behalf of the author to sell her book and negotiate with publishers. A literary agent also helps with career planning and development and sometimes editing and marketing.

Marketing: Marketing is advertising that is paid for, including ads in magazines, display units in stores, and things like postcards or posters.

Mass Market: Also called “rack size,” these are paperback books originally designed to fit in rotating book racks in non-bookstore outlets (like grocery stores and drugstores). Mass market paperbacks are roughly 4” x 7” in size.

North American Rights: These are the type of rights licensed to the publisher, allowing the publisher only to handle and represent book rights in North America. This means that the author and the author’s agent are responsible for selling/licensing rights anywhere outside of North America (and usually a designated set of territories).

Preempt: When a publisher makes an advance and royalty offer high enough to take the book off the auction table. In other words, a publisher offers enough money that the author and agent agree that they will sell the book without asking for bids from other publishers.

Proofs/Page proofs: This is the last stage of editing that a book goes through. They are a copy of the designed pages, and the author is given one last chance to review the typesetter’s “proofs” to check for typos or other small errors. Proofs are also what are used to make review copies for reviewers and sometimes rights sales.

Proposal/Partial: A proposal or a partial is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a proposal usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a proposal usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two).

Publicity: Advertising that is free. Publicity includes magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and of course MySpace and other networking Web sites.

Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to attain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book.

Royalties: The percentage of the sales (monetary) an author receives for each copy of the book sold.

Sell-Through: This is the most important number in publishing. It’s the percentage of books shipped that have actually sold. For example, if your publisher shipped 100,000 books (great number!) but only sold 40,000, your sell-through is 40%. Not so great. However, if your publisher shipped 50,000 books, and sold 40,000, your sell-through would be 80%. A fantastic number.

Slush/Slush Pile: Any material sent to an agent or an editor that has not been requested.

Synopsis: A detailed, multipage description of the book that includes all major plot points as well as the conclusion.

Trade: To make it easy, trade is the shortened name for trade paperback books and is basically any size that is not mass market. Typically though they run larger than a mass market edition.

Vanity Press: A publisher that publishes the author’s work at the author’s expense (not a recommended way to seek publication by most agents or editors).

World Rights: When World Rights are sold/licensed to the publisher the publisher has the ability to represent the book on the author’s behalf and sell foreign translation rights anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that the author does get a piece of the pie no matter where the book is published.


20 responses to “A Publishing Dictionary”

  1. Avatar Arjay says:


    Marketing 101

    I learned that marketing was made up of 5 P’s.

    In short it’s the right Product, in the right Place, at the right Price, done with correct Probing (research), and the right Promotion.


  2. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    What a phenomenal post – thank you!

  3. Avatar imabooklova says:

    Incredibly enlightening! I’m sure this post will be visited again and again for reference.

  4. Avatar Heidi says:

    This is a fantastic list! While I know almost all of these now, I most certainly knew almost none of these ten months ago when I began looking into publishing. For a while the entire process was confusing, and learning these things took a long time and a lot of effort.

    Hopefully, you have saved many people time and confusion, and possibly some potential embarrassment.


  5. Avatar Writer Dad says:

    That’s a really helpful post. Thank you.

  6. Avatar Mark Terry says:


    Although not quite publishing, I probably would have included:

    Option: When a film production company or studio pays the author a sum of money to reserve the right, for a limited period of time, to produce a film based on the original work.

    Subrights: A grab-bag of publishing options including foreign rights, audio and electronic publications, film rights and dramatic rights, that are typically negotiated independently of first American rights.

    Or something like that. 🙂

  7. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Thank you, Jessica! I am bookmarking this post…it’s embarrassing to admit that, sitting here with the finished manuscript of my 30th title, I wasn’t completely certain what some of those terms meant. Sheesh…maybe I shouldn’t admit that!

  8. all I have to say is THANKS!

  9. Oh, my. I have a series of publisher info posts scheduled to publish for the week I’ll be out of town. One of the posts is a glossary with most of your words listed plus a few more. Great minds … blah blah. I think I’ll just point them to your blog for the ones we have in common. *g*

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The definition of full seams a bit circular.

  11. Avatar Steve Stubbs says:

    You might consider including the most confusing terms in publishing, namely, the meanings of the different genres, thus:

    commercial fiction
    genre fiction
    historical fiction
    literary fiction
    erotic romance

  12. Avatar Catherine says:

    Very interesting, and definitely very useful! I’m definitely going to add this to my delicious account.

    Thanks for this!

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Good info–thanks.

    Agree with above poster that options and subrights would be nice to include.

  14. Avatar Ryan Field says:

    How nice to go out of your way to do this. Thanks.

  15. Avatar Ginger says:

    This is a really cool entry. Many thanks!! Mind if I copy it? (Promise it’s for personal use only.)

  16. Avatar Kim Kasch says:

    I posted a link over at Verla Kay’s chat site. Wonderful information that would take us new writers a long time to learn. Thanks for the free lesson. 🙂

  17. Avatar tina gray says:

    Wow! Great post, Jessica. And so helpful. Thanks for taking the extra time to do this!

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thank y-o-u !!

  19. Avatar Sylvia Dickey Smith says:

    Wow. That took a lot of time! Thanks for the work!

  20. Avatar Anna says:

    What is an IRC? I’m hoping it’s some email-friendly alternative to a SASE.