Navigating the publishing landscape is often overwhelming for an author: you’re opening your mind to new ideas, expanding your comfort zone, releasing your art out into the world. The last thing you want to worry about is trying to understand all of the lingo that goes into the process—and trust us, there’s a lot. It’s important to be familiar with the words and phrases you may come across during the publishing process.

From ARCs to YA, here’s your guide to everything you need to know. Some of this content is by our SparkPress and She Writes Press Author Handbooks, while other terms we think are important for you to know.



Acquisition: Beginning of the publishing process. This is where we fill the contract and negotiate rights.

ARCS (advanced reader copies): ARCs, also known as galleys, are the first go on the final version of your book. It can be an electronic, paperback or hardcover version, and might be missing some elements like illustrations, acknowledgments, the Library of Congress Control Number, and more. It will have the publicists information printed on the back cover, as well as the pub date, and the notation that it is not the final book.


Backlist: Titles that remain in print after their original publishing season.

Back matter: Materials following the main text of a book, including the index, suggested reading list, glossary, and other resources.

BCC or back cover copy: The text requested from an author by the publisher for the entire exterior of the book: review blurbs, author bio, paragraph summary, price, ISBN, and more.

BISAC Book Industry Standards and Communications, the standards setting forum within BISG. It categorizes a books genre and main theme and is necessary for metadata.

Blurb: A short quote or text used to promote a book, often done by other relevant authors, magazines, or trade reviewers.

Boilerplate contract (a.k.a. a standard contract): This might be the term your publisher or literary agent uses to describe your contract; it details the royalty rates, terms, sub right splits, world rights, and more.


Callout: A special boxed text, usually no more than 400 words, used as a design element within a book. Callouts (sometimes called special topics or sidebars) add background information and color to the main chapter text and should focus on subjects relevant to that text.

Catalog: Annual/six-monthly illustrated catalog of future publications, produced about six months ahead of each season and used primarily for rights, international sales reps, publisher branding, and marketing.

Compression software: Programs, including Stuffit and Zipit, which compress large files, graphics, and entire folders of data into a format that is easy to email.

Cover mech: Your full cover file (usually a PDF file) that includes your completely designed back cover, spine, and front cover.


Denouement: The denouement (French for “an untying”) of a novel is what immediately occurs after the climax of your story, unraveling the plot and explaining the story details. Basically, it’s what leads your climax to the conclusion. You might discuss this with your editor, or your publisher might tell you at some point that it is strong or needs more work.

Galleys: Also known as ARCs, galleys are the first go on the final version of your book. It can be an electronic, paperback or hardcover version, and might be missing some elements like illustrations, acknowledgments, the Library of Congress Control Number, and more. It will have the publicists information printed on the back cover, as well as the pub date, and the notation that it is not the final book.

Distributor: A company that contracts with publishers to warehouse and sell their books to retail and wholesale accounts.

DPI: An acronym for “dots per inch.” The dpi number represents the resolution of a particular image. For example, a 300-dip image has a higher resolution than a 72 dpi image. From a technical point of view, this is a higher-quality image. The lower a photograph’s resolution, the greater the chance that a printing device will pick up the minor color variations at the edge of each dot.


F&G: Otherwise known as “fold & gather,” this term refers to the picture book version of a galley. While the version isn’t bound, it shows the picture book in all its four-color glory.

Fair use: An exception to authors’ copyrights that permits copying from a protected work for certain purposes, including criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, so long as the value of the copyrighted word is not diminished.

Flush right/left: To align text or a graphic element with the far right or far left margin, with no indentation.

Frontlist: The new titles or editions published in any given season.

Front matter: Materials preceding the main text of the book, including the copyright page, dedication, epigraph, and table of contents.


ISBN: The International Standard Book Number, which is a unique identifier for a book, or more specifically, of a tradeable item within the book trade. A different ISBN is required for each version of a title (i.e. e-book and paperback)


JPEG: The format most commonly used for web graphics. Unlike the GIF format, which supports only 256 colors, JPEG supports millions of colors and allows for graphic compression. JPEG is widely used for web graphics that contain a multitude of colors and gradations, such as photos. These graphics can be opened in both Mac and Windows platforms. JPEG images are created for optimum computer screen display and consequently are not appropriate for print.


Logline: A one-line summary of your story, much shorter than your elevator pitch.


Marketing: The methods used to promote a book to consumers, media, and retailers. This includes publicity, advertising, trade shows, and materials such as catalogs, websites, posters, fliers, author biographies, media kits, and bookstore displays.

Media outlet: A specific type of media coverage, such as newspapers and magazines, TV shows, or radio programs. This term also can refer to a specific publication or program, such as the New York Times or The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Metadata: This refers to data about data, and where book publishing is concerned, this is all the information you and your publisher must compile that goes out on the data feeds that update online retailers and gives them accurate information about your book, ranging from price to ISBN to trim size and more.

MG or middle grade: This term stands for the genre of middle grade fiction.

MS/MSS: This stands for manuscript/manuscripts, the typed, double-spaced version of an author’s work.


Narrative nonfiction: This is a popular style of writing that uses the devices of fiction. The basis is a true story, but the author uses fiction elements like character development and cliffhangers. Think Seabiscuit or Apollo 13.

New adult: This new, up-and-coming genre focuses on the demographic in between young adult and adult. The protagonists are usually ages 18-26.


Page signatures: The unit of pages to create the plates to print books. Signatures can consist of 8 to 48 pages.

PB or picture book: A book aimed towards younger children with limited text and large pictures in either color or black and white. The sweet spot for these books is 32 pages.

PDF: An acronym for “portable document format.” A PDF is an electronic snapshot of a document. PDFs maintain the layout and graphic elements of the original document but lack page reflow flexibility. They are useful for electronic transfer of page proofs and any graphics-heavy document, such as maps or forms.

Premium sales: Selling a customized edition of a book to a business. For example, selling a guidebook with a specialized cover to a company hosting a convention to pass out to the attendees.

Public domain: Any work that is not protected by copyright is said to be in the public domain. This includes works for which the copyright has expired. Such works belong to the public as a whole. Any anyone is free to use them without seeking permission.

Publicity: The act of promoting books to the media. This includes television and radio programming, websites, newspapers, and magazines. It also covers any type of author interview or event featured either in the media or in another type of consumer venue. Such as a bookstore, panel, or festival. Publicity is an integral part of the book publishing process.


Read-only file: This is any file, whether it’s locked or not, that a publisher asks not be altered for the purposes of keeping the file pristine and not introducing new errors.

Reprint: Printing more copies of a current title to meet demand. To produce a reprint, the printer who originally printed the book uses the stored film or digital files from the most recent edition to create new printing plates.

Returns: Books returned to the publisher or distributor by the account that bought them originally. According to a standard book-industry practice, books may be returned at any time for any reason. A system that gave rise to publisher Alfred C. Knopf’s famous saying, “gone today, here tomorrow.”


Sic: This Latin term for thus or so is inserted after a phrase or expression to indicate that it has been quoted exactly as written. It’s usually enclosed in brackets or parentheses. It’s used to clarify things that might seem incorrect. For example, a spelling error in a quote.

Special markets: Sometimes referred to as special sales, special markets includes sales to nonbookstore retailers and wholesalers. This includes airport stores, outdoor retailers, pet stores, museums, or large companies like Costco.

Stet: This Latin term for let it stand is used by editors and proofreaders. It’s often placed in the margin of a manuscript to indicate that a marked change or deletion should be ignored. Or that the copy typeset should be kept in its original form.


TIFF: The most widely supported graphic file format. It is used primarily for scanned images (mostly photographs). It is the best graphic file format for use in desktop publishing applications.

Trademark: A trademark protects names, titles, and short phrases. Under both federal and state laws, manufacturers, merchants, or groups can obtain protection for a word, phrase, logo, or symbol to distinguish their product or service from others.

Trim size: The physical size of a book page, measured in inches.


Vet: When researching publishers, you’ll probably come across the term “vet” or “vetting.” It refers to the procedure of what happens to manuscripts after they are submitted for consideration. At the publisher’s expense, every manuscript undergoes evaluation to see if it is suitable for publishing.


YA or young adult: This stands for the genre of young adult fiction.