GLOSSARY OF TERMS– Learning the Lingo

by Cathy Clamp

New authors are often confused by acronyms and abbreviations used by publishing houses, agents and other writers. So, for you beginning writers, here are a few of the common terms that you’ll hear as you start the process of publishing your book or story:

Advance: Money paid to an author by a publisher before a book is published and purchased by the public. It’s usually paid in installments during the course of creation of the book (i.e., part on contract signing, part on delivery of the manuscript and part on publication.)

Agent: A person or company which acts as a liaison between the author and the publishing house for a fee based on sales of the book. Money is NOT paid to the agent until money is received FROM the publisher. Never use an agent who requests up-front money from the author.

ARC: An acronym for "Advance Reading Copy" or "Advance Review Copy." This is a book that has been through editing, and occasionally copy editing, but may contain some errors and isn’t yet available for sale to the public. They are usually printed several months in advance of publication to send to magazine and on-line reviewers so the book can be read and the review prepared in time for the release date.

Auction: When a book is sent out to various publishers and more than one is interested, the agent will start the publishers bidding against each other for the privilege of publishing the book. The agent will look for the best money and the best overall contract terms to decide the winner. The author gets the final say in where the book winds up.

Backlist: An author’s list of books that were not published in the current season (usually based on calendar year or quarter) but are still in print.

Bio: Abbreviation for biography. A brief paragraph about the author.

Boilerplate: A standardized contract presented by a publisher to an author. Usually, a boilerplate requires changes to clauses that could be detrimental to the author before signing.

Category: For romance, this term means the books published by publishers Harlequin, Silhouette and Zebra that are part of an established world or series. Like dairy products, they have a shelf life and are usually shorter than single title books. Short category generally runs from 50,000 to 60,000 words, while long category can be anywhere from 65,000 to 85,000 words.

Copyediting: Editing a manuscript for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, rather than subject content, plot or characterization.

Copyright: A way to protect the work of an author by registering with an office of the government of the country where the author lives. Copyrighting is NOT required to occur before submitting to an agent or a publisher. An unpublished manuscript is protected from the moment it is created in printed or virtual form. You can read more about your rights on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website, at:

Cover Approval: A contract term in a publishing contract that allows the author to approve cover art for their book. While highly prized, it's seldom agreed to by publishers unless the author shows an aptitude for art and marketing savvy.

Cover Consultation: Another contract term that provides that the author have INPUT into the cover's design (suggesting minor changes that could increase buyer purchases,) but final approval rests with the publisher. Also highly prized by authors, but seldom allowed.

Cover letter: A brief letter which accompanies a manuscript, which gives your name, mailing address, email address and phone number. This is NOT a query letter.

CV: An acronym for "Curriculum vita." This is a Latin term that is more than a bio. It’s more similar to a job resume. It is a brief listing of publications of the author and other writing credentials.

D&A: An abbreviation of "Delivery and Acceptance," usually referring to a manuscript. This does NOT mean what an author would normally expect. In publishing, delivery and acceptance of a manuscript means AFTER initial delivery of the manuscript, and AFTER editing of the manuscript has been COMPLETED to the editor’s satisfaction. This can be many months after initial delivery, depending on the edits required. It’s also important to note that if edits are not completed to the editor’s satisfaction, the publication may be cancelled at the publisher’s discretion and no further advances need be paid.

Earn Out: Same as "sell-through." When a book sells enough copies to have the individual royalties per book repay the advance to the publisher. A fast earn-out of a title is a good sales point for a second book to the same or to another publisher. The author "earns-out." The book "sells-through."

Edition: An edition of a book generally refers to format. There can be a hardback edition, a mass market edition, a book club edition, an audio book edition, etc. Occasionally, a "same-format" second (or third) edition will occur when a major change occurs, from changing the price to a discounted version, or reprinting an old, out-of-print title at the current format price. Often, a new edition will bear a new ISBN on the face, but that could soon change with the updated EAN-13 number, which will allow for a "permanent ISBN" that follows minor changes in the same format.

Exclusive Reading/Viewing: A publisher who is interested in a book will sometimes request an "exclusive" viewing of the full manuscript. This means that they do not want any other publisher to be reading it at the same time. It’s important for the author, if they wish to allow this, to limit the time an editor/agent has exclusive use of the manuscript. It shouldn’t be out of the marketplace for more than 2-3 months.

Frontlist: 1) Opposite of backlist. This is a publisher’s list of CURRENT books in their catalogue; and 2) The lead titles of best selling authors (depending on use in context.)

Galleys: A typeset version of the final manuscript. It is often created for the author and editor to check one last time for typographical or other errors before being sent to the printer.

Hardcover: A type of book which produces a larger sized product with a pressed cardboard cover. It often uses pressed, finished paper for the pages, rather than pulp paper.

Imprint: The name applied to a publisher’s line of books of a particular genre or style. "Tor" and "Forge" are imprint names of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

Lead Author: A lead author of a publisher is usually a best-seller with a first print run in excess of 250,000 copies. The "super-lead" generally has more than one million copies in a first print run. J.K. Rowling is Scholastic's super-lead author.

Lead time: The time between acquisition of a manuscript and the date of release.

Line Editing: Sometimes called "content editing," this is when an editor will make recommendations about the plot, timeline and characters in order to speed up, slow down or smooth out the book. It can entail removing subplots, changing a character's motivation for taking an action or inserting/deleting elements in the timeline of the book.

Mandated Publication: A clause in a publishing contract. "Mandated publication" means that the publisher must publish the book within a reasonable time (often 18 or 24 months from contract signing) or return the rights to the author free of charge. Frequently, any advances paid to the author to that point would be retained by the author as damages. In a multi-book contract, it usually only applies to the specific book not published, and the remainder of the contract remains in force.

Mass market: Literally, it means books of wide appeal that are directed toward a large, national audience. By application, it’s the size and construction of a book which is generally 6-3/4" x 4-1/4" and contains pulp paper in a perfect binding

Midlist: Titles on a publisher’s list that are expected to sell through their advance, but not be major sellers.

Multiple submissions: Sending out more than one book idea to an agent/publisher at the same time.

Novella: A short novel or long story, usually defined as being between 7,000 to 20,000 words.

Pen Name: Also called a pseudonym, many authors prefer not to have their given name on the book’s cover. However, contracts are entered in the given, legal name of the author.

Pre-empt: The stuff of dreams to an author. In an auction, a publisher who is hot to get a book will offer an obscene amount of up-front money in order to stop all bidding and make an immediate deal.

Print Run: Major publishers use a method of producing a book that involves an offset press, which prints and binds many copies of the book all at one time. The first print run of a new title is based on orders from distributors, wholesalers and secondary markets, plus an additional quantity that is kept in the warehouse for re-orders. The more copies ordered, the less expensive each individual book will cost the publisher, because each time a printer starts the press, there is additional cost. The number of books produced in the first print run often determines whether an author is a mid-list or lead author.

Proofreading: Careful reading and correction of errors in a manuscript.

Query: A letter that SELLS a book idea to a publisher or agent. The letter is generally no more than one page, contains contact information, a short summary of the plot, and requests permission to send either a synopsis or a full manuscript of the book.

Remainders: Copies of a book that were slow to sell on the shelf and the publisher sells to discount outlets for a fraction of the initial price.

Returns: Copies of a book that didn’t sell at all in a particular store. The store sends back the book to the publisher (or the cover of the book, in the case of paperbacks) for credit against their invoice.

Royalties, net sales: A royalty is the percentage of the sales of the book that is paid to the author. The royalties will vary depending on the form of the book (mass paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio, electronic, etc.,) or the method of sale (high discount, direct sales, premium sales and remainder sales), and can increase within a form if sales are very good. There are two ways to determine how much the author is entitled to, and it’s VERY important that you know which one your publisher is using. One way is to give the author a percentage (let's say 6%) on the net price. The net price is the retail price of the book, less the costs to produce it. So, from the $6.99, the publisher would remove 10 for the cost of paper and ink, remove 9 for the salaries of the publisher and staff, another 1 for insurance and equipment leases, etc., etc. So, instead of receiving 42, the author will receive 22 on each book sold. Often, a publisher offsets this deduction by increasing the percentage, guaranteeing that if sales are good, the author will benefit, and the publisher will still get their costs paid. However, if a contract is based on net sales, it’s important for the author to know what costs will be removed from the book’s list price before royalties are paid.

Royalties, list price: The author’s percentage (again, we'll use 6%) of the list price or retail price of the book. So, a paperback selling for $6.99 would give the author 42 on every book sold.

SASE: Self-addressed, stamped envelope. This envelope should be included with any query or full manuscript for the editor/agent’s use in replying. It should have a return address (yours), a mailing address (yours) and proper postage to get from the publisher back to you. It’s very important to ensure that you apply the postage of other countries if you’re approaching the publisher from a different country from yours. Ask your postal agent if you have any questions.

Secondary Markets: A secondary market in publishing refers to stores and locations which don't sell books as their PRIMARY business. Wal-Mart, Target, and airport gift stores are examples of secondary markets. Secondary market orders often account for 1/3 to 1/2 of first print run orders, but returns of unsold copies can be as high as 50%.

Sell-through: 1) When a book sells enough copies to have the individual royalties per book repay the advance to the publisher. A fast sell-through of a title is a good sales point for a second book to the same or to another publisher; and 2) When a book's first print run is all sold to bookstores and a second print run must be ordered.

Simultaneous submissions: Sending out queries for a single book to more than one editor/agent at a time. Many publishing houses refuse to consider simultaneous submissions.

Single Title: A single title romance is one that is a stand-alone world or story, rather than part of an established world or series in a category. A single title book is often longer at 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Slush pile: A stack of unsolicited manuscripts at a publishing house or agency. While the slush submissions are most always read, it is a slow process, and an author should be prepared to wait for many months for a response.

Subsidiary Rights: Any right in a novel that is less than the first publisher’s claim to print and sell the book (called the "primary right") is known as a "secondary," "serial," or "subsidiary" right. Many authors have heard of audio books, eBooks, book clubs, foreign editions and movies based on a novel. These are all subsidiary rights, and an author (or agent) who knows their stuff can ensure that the lion’s share of the profit from the sale of these rights will go to the author. But it’s important to consider whether you have the ability to deal with the right, too. You can keep the audio rights, for example, but they will do you little good if you don’t know how to sell them. Some authors happily allow the publisher to keep the subsidiary rights, because it’s in the publisher’s best interest to make as much money from your book as possible, so they will sell any right possible. Naturally, this also benefits the author, who will either earn a flat fee for the sale of foreign rights or audio rights, or will earn a royalty percentage.

Subsidy Publisher: A publisher who charges an author to publish a book or charges a higher than normal price for a book to the buying public, rather than a royalty publisher, who pays the author for the privilege of publishing the book. Some of these publishers are also called "vanity" publishers, because they prey on a writer's wish to be a published author without the time and effort of finding a traditional publishing house.

Synopsis: A summary of a book, often 2-5 pages long, which describes the plot, the characters and the resolution of the book.

Trade Paperback: A trade paperback book is a product between a mass market paperback and hardback. It uses the better quality paper of hardback, but the soft cover of mass market. The size is usually 6" x 9".

Unsolicited manuscript: A book that an editor did not specifically request to see.

Hope these definitions help some of you out!