During my publishing experience, as with any job I’ve had, I’ve come across a certain amount of jargon. I’m still picking up a lot of it, but through my training and various opportunities I’ve been given over the last few years, I’ve learned some stuff that I think is really cool.
I’ve put together a list of some of the jargon and phrases, in case you’re curious about some of the aspects of creating, publishing, and then promoting books. They’re organised… roughly by the area I think they relate to, and then somewhat thematically, but this is a fairly nebulous category so forgive me if anything is in a strange place.
If there are any terms that you’re curious about which I have missed, please let me know and I will add them. Equally, there are some areas which I am less conversant with than others, so if I have got something wrong, or you can add something more, I would be happy to update this!
BUILDING A BOOK
These are preliminary copies of the book, prior to editing, used for proofreading and copyediting. These can also be used as ARCs and sent out for reviewers.
Once the book has been laid out and looks like a proper book, it gets print set and sent back for final checks. These basically look like the interior of the book, but not yet bound, and is basically the VERY LAST TIME you can make amends, although you really shouldn’t be making amends now unless it’s absolutely necessary or everyone gets cross because then the proofs have to be reset and sent again for approval (see also: how to upset everyone in Production). In my current role, these proofs are generally digital and sent as PDFs, and I would suspect that’s the case for most publishers.
Most proofs are created on a laser printer which requires no set-up and can be run easily, but when a book is printed for real, it is done using plates which press onto the paper to print. A Wet Proof is a proof is provided after the plates are made, so the publisher can see exactly what the final product will look like when it goes through the press. Because they require the plates to be constructed, Wet Proofs are more expensive than ‘Dry’ Proofs, but they provide a more accurate representation of what the final product will look like. If the proofs are fine, these plates will be used for the actual book; if they’re not, new plates will have to be created at an additional cost. As such, Wet Proofs will generally only be requested for particularly complex items – we requested them only for the covers of our 2020 Horoscope books, because they had a mix of holographic foiling and spot white and CMYK printing and it was integral these lined up correctly.
Spot White/Spot UV
Spot treatments are small areas which are applied to book covers. A spot UV gives the area a slightly shiny finish – it’s often used to highlight particular key features on a book cover. Spot white is adding an additional patch of white in the same vein. We used it on our horoscope books, but placed it beneath the CMYK printing – this is because the covers were printed on holographic board, so printing CMYK and TB directly onto it would have been tricky to read. By underprinting all the text and imagery with spot white, it meant it was clear and easy to read BUT it meant we had to watch out for plates not being fully aligned, which is why we requested Wet Proofs.
These are the basic colours used in colour printing – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black). Almost any colours can be made up using these four colours, and they are printed together on the same layer for imagery, while text is set up on a different plate/layer.
If you want to make a product really pop, you can add an additional colour on top of the CMYK. This is known as fifth colour because it is often a particularly specified shade – while CMYK can vary depending on mixes and printers, so may not always be exactly the same, the Fifth Colour is generally specified as a Pantone which means it will always be exactly the colour you want. Obviously, this costs more than standard CMYK printing, so is done sparingly!
Pantone LLC is a company which has created a standardised colour matching service, and its colours are called Pantones. You can order Pantone fans which show all the colours, and each colour has an alphanumerical identifier. This means that you can specify exactly which colour you want and know that the printer will use that specific colour because they are working from the same book of Pantones.
The text black (or TB) layer is the layer on which the text is printed, a separate plate from any colour layers. For illustrated printing, often publishers will print co-editions at the same time, using the same colour plates but swapping out the TB plate in the printer for ones in the other languages required, as this is comparatively quick and easy, and allows for larger print runs which cuts the individual cost per book, as bulk equals discount.
Editions of the same book, printed at the same time, but for sale in different geographical territories. These may all be in English, or may have different language text inside.
These are the metal plates used to print books, in the same way the original printing press did. However, unlike the first flat presses, these are now wrapped around large cylinders so reams of paper can be rolled through them at speed when printing. They used to be made of individual chunks of letters which had to be set in place (hence the origins of the word ‘typesetting’) but now they are usually made of metal or plastic and are chemically treated so some areas attract ink and others don’t. During the printing process, ink and water are passed over the plates with the ink staying on the treated areas and the water solution removing excess. A second roller, known as the offset roller, passes over the first printer and squeezes out the water and picks up the ink. It then transfers the ink onto a rubber ‘blanket’ which is used to print onto the paper. This is why traditional printing is also known as Offset Printing, as the ink is ‘offset’ from the plate to the paper via the blanket.
POD stands for ‘Print On Demand’. This is a way for publishers to keep books in print that don’t have huge sales, meaning people can order directly through the publisher’s website and a book is printed to order. This is also the way a lot of self-publishing websites work. This means that there are less up-front costs, as publishers don’t have to order in bulk and risk not selling the product; however printing and binding a single book at a time increases the cost of each individual book, raising prices per unit. This means that publishers have to charge more per book to cover costs. POD is often done using digital printing.
This is done using high-volume laser or inkjet printers. Digital printing is more expensive than bulk Offset printing, but it saves costs as it does not require the creation or changing of plates. It is also quicker than Offset printing, and improvements in technology are meaning that the price gap between Digital and Offset printing is decreasing. Fun fact: you can tell if your book has been digitally printed if it’s floppy. Hold the book by the spine, and if it flops to one side, or flops open, then it has been digitally printed. This is more common in North America than in the UK.
These are the bits of paper before the title page and after the last page of the book. In hardbacks and some special edition paperbacks, one page is fixed to the cover and the other is turned over to take you back to the text. These are often coloured, illustrated, or patterned.
The description on the back of the book! These are hard to write, as they need to be catchy enough to grab attention, detailed enough to give a sense of the book, but mysterious enough to not give away any spoilers and make the reader want to buy the book.
Advanced Review Copies – these are early editions of the book, either hard copy (usually paperback) or as ebooks (often acquired through sites like Netgalley), which are sent out before the release date for readers to review the book and build hype. These are often sent out before final edits and artworking have been done, so it is not uncommon for there to be different details in the ARCs or typos. For example, the ARCs for Early Riser featured a scene with Rick Astley which was cut for the final release. As a result, ARCs will often say “not for quotation” on them.
This is the gap between letters on a page, which can be opened up or made smaller depending on the space needed, although it still needs to be readable!
This is the gap between lines of text vertically, so paragraphs aren’t all squashed together and sitting on each other.
This is the bit in the centre of the book where the pages are bound together and attached to the spine. When you open the book, the place where the pages meet is the gutter. It’s integral to make sure you leave enough space to allow for binding, otherwise you can lose text or parts of pictures into this fold and things look a bit naff.
This is the amount of space you have to allow around the edge of the page to ensure that nothing is accidentally cut off when the pages are cut. It’s also how far you need to overlap colours or images when printing a colour or illustrated book to ensure you don’t have weird gaps around the edge of the page.
A publisher’s back list consists of books that it has published historically that it still holds the license for and which are still in print, but which have been available for longer
These are the brand new books that are being brought out, in particular those which are deemed commercially exciting either because of their story or their author. This generally refers to new releases, but could also be releases that have continued popular appeal a while after their release date so gain new editions (for example, when a book gets a paperback release that is almost as big as its original, hardback release).
Unlike front list and back list which refer to the age of the book (generally speaking), mid list refers to the sales potential of a book or author – these are books which aren’t necessarily bestsellers, but sell steadily and continually so remain in print.
Metadata is the information used to categorise your book on any website, but particularly on Amazon. The core parts of metadata include the title, the ISBN, the cover image, the price, the author, and the publisher information. Without this, entries on websites cannot be populated accurately and you will struggle to sell your book. BIC is an organisation set up to provide support to publishers with metadata, they provide training, accreditation, and also awards for publishers whose product data is particularly exceptional.
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This is a unique identifier which is assigned to every new book. Presently, this consists of 13 numbers (previously it was 10), and the numbers are grouped to tell you where it was published and who by, as well as giving a collection of numbers to identify the individual book. Each new book or edition must have a new ISBN, however reprints keep the same ISBN.
Trade Fiction and Non-fiction
‘Trade’ books are the ones which you will find in bookshops, and a small selection in supermarkets if there’s a fantastic sales team involved. They’re books which are sold to people who buy books, so the general audience for any trade book is readers. That sounds obvious, but Academic publishing focuses on researchers, students, and academics primarily, while Professional publishing looks at targeting key jobs and trades, i.e. law, health and safety, accounting. Trade books are aimed at people who want to read, and read it for pleasure. It’s what most people picture when they think of publishing.
I work for a Mass Market publisher, and our definition is that we target customers who wouldn’t normally buy a book. We don’t sell to traditional bookshops (although WH Smith’s in service stations do stock our books), and instead sell to supermarkets, gift shops, and discount retailers. We aim to attract people who don’t consider themselves readers, and design and price our books in a way that makes them attractive to people who didn’t go into the shop planning to buy a book. We try to ensure our products have a very broad appeal, and base a lot of our content on current trends. We don’t create trends, but we definitely enjoy them. Because our prices are lower, our books have to be so carefully designed to save money, but to ensure that they don’t feel cheap. We’ve got some really nice stuff coming out soon which absolutely nails this (if I do say so myself).
This is fiction which has a very broad appeal, and is easily accessible to a wide audience. Often less poetic than literary fiction, it’s designed to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, even when working within a genre – although commercial and genre fiction are not the same thing, even though they can overlap. Commercial Genre Fiction aims to do the genre well without necessarily trying to subvert or address any of the tropes, and keep it accessible enough that people who don’t read the genre can still enjoy and understand it.
On the very basic level, this is what the book is about. It can usually be defined by setting, theme, or tone. For example, a book on another planet might be a Sci Fi book, but if it’s got jokes in it would also be under Comedy. Genre is best used with caution and perhaps most useful for guidance when looking for something new, rather than treated as a hard-and-fast rule with definite boundaries, as it’s rare that a book doesn’t cover at least a couple of genres. That said, most genres have specific tropes or shorthands which can be found in them, which make them easier to identify. When people refer to ‘genre fiction’, they’re talking about books which fit within these tropes. Examples of genre fiction include SFF, romance, thriller, and crime fiction.
Women’s Fiction/Reading Group Fiction
I have made no secret that I loathe the term “women’s fiction”, but it is a category used by bookshops and publishers to discuss theme and audience, and there is often an overlap with the term “reading group fiction”. These books tend to deal with personal and family relationships, or with social topics from a personal perspective, framed in a way to engage and open up discussion which makes them ideal for reading groups. They often fall into Commercial fiction, as the best ones can reach a lot of people.
An acronym covering Science Fiction and Fantasy, this genre also often covers a large number of horror books too. Anything otherworldly, be it alien or demon, falls into this category. You may also sometimes hear it referred to as ‘Speculative Fiction’, but this is usually when the book is being positioned more as literary fiction than straight genre fiction.
Second World is the term used – usually in SFF – when a novel is set somewhere that isn’t Earth, or in our recognisable solar system. So, the Shannara Chronicles aren’t second world, because they are set in a far-flung future of planet Earth, while The Poppy War is second world because although it is set in a very similar setting, with a shared cultural evolution and history, it isn’t actually Earth. Where you fall on whether Middle Earth counts as second world depends on your understanding of Lord of the Rings lore, and mine is shamefully slim, although Tolkien did mention on a number of occasions that Middle Earth was a mythologised history of Earth, in the style of Beowulf.
This is a comparatively new trend, but one which makes me very happy. UpLit is a genre of Uplifting Fiction, designed to spread positivity and leave the reader feeling happy. Often balanced out with some melancholy to avoid slipping into overwhelming sentiment, these books have quirky characters and wholesome stories that make you feel just warm and fuzzy inside.
Short for literary fiction, this is work that generally is put forward for prestigious awards like the Bailey’s Prize, or the Booker. It generally has a poetic style to the writing, and will try to push boundaries in terms of form, content or structure. Solar Bones, for example, doesn’t use a single full stop. Literary fiction can often encompass a range of other genres – romance, SFF (although usually renamed ‘Speculative’), crime, reading group – so what it comes down to is largely the way it is written and structured. Every Spring, Will Self emerges from his burrow to tell the world that there will be six more weeks of illiteracy because no-one is reading literary fiction any more.
“Own Voices” narratives are where people of specific groups tell stories based on their own personal or cultural experiences, whether that is based on their ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or social class. The story doesn’t have to be about them, but their experience has informed the narratives their characters follow.
Books which don’t get sold by bookshops are returned to the publishers. Sometimes these get pulped and written off as a loss, but sometimes they get ‘remaindered’ and sent to discount stores to resell at whatever price they see fit. In this instance the discount retailer will usually pay a bulk discount price for so many units, and the publisher can use that to offset some of the loss of printing. This can also be the case for books which are misprints too, or contain errors so cannot be sold at full price, as well as books which have just not sold.
Samplers are small printed copies with excerpts from upcoming books, often given out at events for free. They usually have the cover art, and two or three chapters, to give people a taste of the book and build excitement.
This is a subsection of YouTube dedicated to people who vlog about books. These can include reviews, memes, round-ups, and is quite a lovely place to hang out. Booktube can be a great place to promote books, as hosts sometimes run giveaways, and big-name Booktubers can get tens of thousands of views.
As with Booktube, except it’s on Instagram, and the aesthetic is absolutely gorgeous. Again, this is another great place for social media reach.
These are events which can span a weekend or a couple of weeks, filled with workshops, signings, sales, and talks. They’re some of my favourite events to go to, and generally seem to be very positive experiences. These are often used as a chance for authors to promote their books as well as for audiences to meet their favourite authors. They can be general literary festivals, or themed for genres, but they are well worth checking out.
Think beyond the Scholastic fair at school, these huge industry events are held around the world. You can maybe buy some books there, but in reality this is a chance for publishers to showcase their wares to other publishers and agents. This is where agents, editors, and rights executives spend a lot of time in constant meetings listening to pitches and working out what they want to buy. Unless you have an appointment, don’t try to pitch your book to someone at a book fair. They’re exhausted, they don’t have time, they’ve heard a million pitches already today. It’s not fair on them, or the best chance to give your work decent consideration. Big events in the UK publishing calendar are London Book Fair in spring and Frankfurt in early Autumn. Bologna is a big fair for children’s and illustrated literature, while BookExpo America and Beijing International Book Fair are giant international events.
Working as liaisons between authors and editors, agents combine the work of editors, sales, literary scouts, and life coaches. They try to find the best new work based on their preferences, what they know publishers are looking for, and what trends are currently popular. They’ll work with their authors to edit the manuscripts until they’re as good as they possibly can be, and then they will match the authors directly with the best editors for them, pitching to publishers to get them to buy the book. They then negotiate the contracts to get the best deal possible for their author, and will keep selling rights around the world, for translations, for reprints, for adaptations. A good agent is your greatest ally as an author. They usually take a percentage of your earnings from any rights sales and royalties. The standard rate is 15%.
There are a number of different roles within the editorial bracket, from the overview of managing the whole list within a publisher and making sure it fits together cohesively, to the very close-up copy editing and proof reading which checks the nuts and bolts of a book. I’ve talked before about some of the different stages of editing, but there is also an element of pitching and commissioning books, as it’s important that Sales and Marketing are on board with any book you want to work with. In non-fiction, there’s also an element of proposing books yourself, and market awareness to know what will sell.
Marketing and Publicity
These are the people who sell the book to the public, using social media, mail-outs, organising reviews, giveaways, and advertising campaigns. They come up with campaigns and branding, and are creative geniuses. Meanwhile, the publicity side are arranging the appearances, the readings, the book tours, any media features, accompanying their authors on their adventures, which requires long hours outside of work. The lines sometimes blur between these roles, and often you will have someone covering both marketing and publicity.
The only reason shops have books is because these superstars sell them. Visiting stores, meeting buyers, and pitching upcoming releases, these guys are on the road a lot as they try to get their books in as many hands as possible. This can also involve international travel.
These guys price up and build the books that you hold in your hands. They essentially deal with project management of getting the book made and shipped, including giving price projections for the final product from proposal, liaising with printers, and checking everything is made to spec and to price. Always be nice to production.
From the original cover design, to page layouts, to final artworking before everything is sent out, the designers are wizards of making beautiful products. Sometimes it is like black magic.
The Rights people are the guys who will work on negotiating author contracts, on selling any subsidiary rights a publisher buys when they take on an author. They’re experts at literary contracts and getting a good deal. Knowing rights is also important if you want to work as a literary agent.
Agents and publishers can employ scouts around the world to keep an eye out for up and coming books, particularly in other languages. These scouts have to be quick readers and have a good knowledge of the market to know if a book is worth a publisher’s time. If they speak and can read in an additional language, this can help publishers buy works in translation.
Also known as ‘Submissions Pile’ this is the slightly archaic term for unagented submissions to publishers go until they can be read. There has been a slight move away from the term ‘slush pile’ in recent years as it can sound slightly negative, however this may also be because many publishers don’t often accept unagented submissions outside of set submissions windows so there are fewer submissions.
Sometimes, larger publishers will create new ‘lists’ or imprints – these are subsections of the company with their own branding which specialise in a certain type of book. This is often done to allow the publisher to more easily adapt their materials and branding to their key audience without alienating readers from other genres or areas, and allows them to focus their planning on a set market. Imprints can also be lists which have been bought by publishers. Examples of imprints which have been created are Aria, Head of Zeus’ digital fiction imprint, or Dialogue Books, which is Little, Brown’s inclusive storytelling imprint. Gollancz is an imprint of Orion that began as an independent publisher and was then sold. Not all publishers become imprints when they’re acquired, some remain as publishing companies within their own right inside a larger corporate structure – for example when Bookouture was purchased by Hachette UK, or when Penguin Random House bought the Little Tiger Group earlier this year.
COPYRIGHT AND OWNERSHIP
An advance is often paid when a publisher buys the right to publish a book, and is a payment against future royalties the book will make when it sells. Sometimes these can be staggeringly huge, but more often they are a more reasonable amount – there are pros and cons to both approaches. A larger advance means that the publisher needs to make the book succeed for it to earn back the money paid out, but if the book doesn’t sell well the author may not get a second chance; a smaller advance means that there is less pressure on the book to perform so less impetus from the publisher to push it, but there is more chance of the author ‘earning out’ the advance so the book isn’t seen as a financial failure. Advances are usually paid in multiple instalments – three is common. One payment on sale, one on delivery of a publishable manuscript (the clause ‘publishable’ is important in contracts), and one on publication.
This is a percentage of the sale of each book which is paid back to the author. Advances are a projected bulk payment of these, and authors don’t start receiving additional payments towards royalties until enough books have sold that the advance has been ‘earned out’. Depending on the size of the advance, this can take years, particularly given the low rate per book an author gets paid, as I have discussed in some of my previous posts.
The literary estate of an author consists of the copyright and intellectual property of an author, including all rights and original manuscripts. Often these are executed by family members after the author’s death and who then become responsible for any new publishing and rights deals. The estates can be bought, however. Notable examples of literary estates include Enid Blyton’s estate, which is owned by the Hachette Children’s Group; J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate, which was formed into a trust directed by his son Christopher until he retired in 2017 at the age of 93 (although he remains the literary executor); and Beatrix Potter’s estate, which is owned by Frederick Warne & Co. as an imprint of Penguin Random House.
The term of copyright in the UK is the life of the author plus 70 years following their death, in line with the Berne Convention, after which time a work becomes Public Domain and is free for use by anyone. One notable exception to this is Peter Pan, all rights to which were gifted by Barrie to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a move which is legally known as ‘the Peter Pan Gift’. In 1988 the House of Lords passed a special amendment granting Great Ormond Street copyright to Peter Pan in perpetuity within the UK. As such, all adaptations of Peter Pan within the UK have to pay Great Ormond Street for rights, although this is not the case elsewhere in the world. Peter Pan is in copyright in the USA until 2023, but is now public domain everywhere else in the world.
Sometimes authors will have clauses in their contract saying that copyright will revert to them after a set period of time if the publisher is no longer actively printing and selling their work. This allows them to try and sell on the rights to another publisher.
These are additional rights which can come as part of a copyright to a property. These can include translation rights, audio rights, digital rights and rights to individual countries. Publishers can choose to exploit these themselves or sell them on.
When copyrights are sold, they are often split into territories, languages (English language rights, all language rights etc.), and different formats (i.e. print rights, audio rights, film and media rights etc.). This is a way to ensure that the publisher is only buying rights which will be useful for them, and ensures that the author can get the most money possible. Many publishers will aim for World English Language Rights in the UK and USA, but often it is split – Europe and Commonwealth excluding Canada, and the North America are a common way of splitting things, but you will also see people buying translation rights too.
While copyright can be sold, you should never ever sell your moral rights. These include the right of attribution, the right to publish the work anonymously or under a pseudonym, and the right to protect the integrity of the work. This means that the work cannot be adapted or reused in a way which you deem unfit or defamatory to either the work or you as the author. Moral rights are separate from copyright, and they remain with the author even if the copyright is sold, but they grant the author no economic rights – all economic rights are part of the copyright side of things.
Digital Rights allow the owner of the rights to publish works or pictures online, including the publication of ebooks. Famously, J.K. Rowling retained the digital rights for the Harry Potter ebooks, allowing her to set up Pottermore and essentially self-publish the books while retaining 100% of the profits herself. Usually digital rights would be included in a traditional copyright sale, however when Harry Potter was first sold it was eight years before the first e-reader would hit the market in 2004, and ten years before the first Kindle. It’s unlikely we’ll see something like this again.
This applies to the legal reuse of copyrighted materials for specific purposes. One of these is ‘transformative works’, such as fan fiction or fan art, but others can include taking a specific portion of a work for teaching or sampling purposes, research, or parody. There are four things to take into consideration for Fair Use:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished;
- The amount of the work used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, such as using a poem in its entirety, or using one chapter from a long book;
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.
For more information on the ins and outs of Fair Use, you can read up on it here.
Works which are no longer in copyright so can be published, adapted or used by anyone without having to pay royalties. A great archive of public domain ebooks is Project Gutenberg, which makes them available for free.