The Indie Author’s Dictionary: 25 Publishing Words & Phrases You Need to Know

25 Key Publishing Words and Phrases

If you’re new to the publishing world, there are common words, terms, and phrases you’ll need to know as you work on your book! Here’s the Indie Author’s Dictionary, with 25 words and phrases you need to know to be a publishing pro.

Advance: A payment made in advance of the book’s publication against future royalties (defined below) to the author from the publisher; usually paid in a series of payments, timed around signing the contract, submitting the manuscript, and/or upon the book’s publication.

Agents: A person whose job is to sell books to publishers. On average, their cut of advances and royalties is around 10-15 percent.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy): An early copy of the book sent to media outlets for review consideration as well as other influential authors for endorsement quotes prior to publication.

BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications): These codes are part of your book’s metadata, and are used industry-wide to properly categorize books based on its content in stores and online. For example, True Crime→Serial Killers, or Cookbooks→Vegan.

Blurb: Endorsements that appear either on the book’s front or back cover, front matter pages, or in the “Editorial Reviews” section online.

Earn Out: When an author earns enough royalties that exceeds the advance payment, they begin to receive checks with royalty statements.

Front matter/back matter: Content at the beginning (front) or end (back) of the book that isn’t text but other important copy and content, such as the copyright, title page, endorsement quotes, acknowledgements, and author biography.

Frontlist/Backlist: Frontlist books are the new titles published each season, whereas  backlist titles are the ones previously published, still in print, and make up the rest of a publisher’s catalog. 

Ghostwriter: A person who helps an author write their book but is generally not credited as the author. A ghostwriter may write the majority of the book in the author’s voice. Many celebrities use ghostwriters to craft a better book and overall arc of their story.

Imprint: A group within a publishing house that focuses and/or specializes on a particular genre.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number): A unique 13-digit number assigned to identify each and every book. Every publisher has an ISBN prefix, and each printed book, ebook, and audiobook gets its own ISBN, which can be used to search for a title.

List price: Also known as retail price, this is the full price of the book (as listed by the publisher and on the back cover).

Mass market paperback: Smaller-sized paperback books often sold at a lower price point targeting mass merchant retailers.

Mass merch: Big box stores like Target, Walmart, Costco, etc.

OP (Out of Print): A book no longer being printed.

Packagers: Similar to agents, book packagers will do all the work of creating a finished book and then selling it to a publisher to print, distribute, sell, market, and publicize.

POD (Print-on-Demand): Books are printed and bound as they are ordered rather than printing a full run in advance of sales. This is often an economical alternative to traditional publishing.

POS (Point of Sale): The moment when a book is sold to a customer/consumer at a retail store.

Proof: Printed or digital, an almost final version of the book in layout.

Query: A one-page letter written by an author sent to an editor or agent to get them excited about and interested in your book.

Returns: Books that do not sell through to customers and are undamaged can be returned to the publisher or distributor (unless sold unreturnable).

Royalties: A percentage an author earns for every book sold, based on the retail price.

Slush Pile: Unsolicited submissions and proposals are usually sent to a pile reviewed by assistants and flagged with the editorial team if it’s a possible fit for the publisher.

Specialty Retail: Nontraditional retailers that sell books, such as Urban Outfitters, Anthropology, Papyrus, etc.

Trade: Books published and intended for the general public. Other areas of publishing would be professional publishing (for specific industries) or textbook/academic publishing.

There you go! You’ve learned publishing lingo, and now you’ll be more prepared and ready to take your book from an idea seedling into a tangible product that’s sitting on shelves everywhere!

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