50+ helpful publishing terms to know

There are a lot of different publishing terms thrown around, and they can get confusing. Navigating the publishing world without an understanding of these words is difficult.

To help, here is a list of different terms to know:


Advance — Writers get advances—or a lump sum of money—from the publisher before their book is published. They are usually paid in installments. For example, they could be when the writer signs the contract, when the manuscript is delivered, and when the book is published. It all depends on the contract.

Agent — Writers hire agents to act as a go-between for them and the editor/publisher. Most traditional publishers will not look at a writer’s work if they do not have an agent. Agents know the ins and outs of the publishing world. After the book is sold, they get a commission (about 10%–15%) from the writer’s advance and royalties.

All Rights — All rights are all the rights to a writer’s work. It is negotiable in some contracts to give all rights to the publisher, but it is not recommended.

ARC — An ARC stands for an advanced reader’s copy. These are manuscripts given in advance to help gather reviews and hype before the book comes out. I dive deeper into this topic here.

AU — AU stands for author.


Backlist — A blacklist is a list of books that were not published recently but are still in print.

Blurb — A blurb is the words on the back of a book or inside the jacket cover meant to get readers interested in the story. It tells a captivating summary and can include reviews.


Chapbook — A chapbook is a smaller book, usually up to about forty pages.

Contributor copies — These are the writer’s copies of their own work.

Copyediting — Copyediting is an editing process that usually takes place after developmental editing or a manuscript evaluation. Some books, if they have a great structure, go straight to copyediting. I go into more detail about copyediting here.

Comp titles — Comp titles stand for comparative titles. These are books you can compare to your own and are usually included in query letters.


Developmental editing — Developmental editing is one of the first types of editing a book can receive. It is focused on the big picture, such as pace, characters, etc. I go into more detail about developmental editing here.

Dust jacket — A dust jacket is the removal cover off a hardback book.


E-book — An e-book is a popular book format in which the books are digital.

Electronic rights — Electronic rights are rights related to the manuscript in electronic or multimedia formats.


Fair use — Fair use is when short passages from copyrighted materials can be used without the copyright law going into effect. This is usually after materials go out of copyright, which is generally seventy-five years after the creator’s death.

Film rights — Film rights are rights that either the writer or the publisher hold to sell the manuscript to the film industry, so the book can become a movie.

Forward — A forward is a short introduction at the beginning of the book. It can be written by the writer, but most of the time, it is written by someone respected in the industry.


Galley — A galley—or a galley proof—is a final proof of your manuscript before it goes to production. Writers and editors use these to catch any final mistakes before the book prints. They can also be used for promotion, and they are sometimes called ARCs then.


Hook — A hook—or a hook sentence—is created to draw the reader into the story. They are also used to draw an agent into a query letter.


ISBN — ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a unique code given to a book, almost like a fingerprint. Each variation or special edition of a book has its own ISBN. It is usually about thirteen numbers long.


Kill fee — A kill fee is a fee that is still due even when the project is canceled.


Manuscript evaluations — Manuscript evaluations are similar to developmental editing. The main difference is that no editing is done on the page but instead is all in a letter. Usually, a manuscript either gets developmental editing or a manuscript evaluation. I go into more detail about manuscript evaluations here.

MG — MG stands for middle grade. These are books generally written for readers between the ages of nine and eleven.


Novel — A novel is a manuscript that’s at least 50,000 words.

Novella — A novella is a short novel that is usually between 15,000 to 40,000 words. Those numbers vary slightly depending on who you ask.


Onetime rights — Onetime rights allows a publication to publish your manuscript once. After that, the writer can sell the rights again.


P-book — A p-book is a book that is published as a hard copy or paperback.

Pen name — A pen name—or a pseudonym—is when a writer writes under another name that is not their legal name.

Platform — A writer’s platform is their reach to their target audience. This includes their experience in the field, social media following, email subscribers, publishing history, and more.

POD — POD stands for print on demand. When a book is POD, no copies of the book are made until someone orders them.

Proofreading — Proofreading is an editing process that takes place last. It is a close reading to make sure there are no glaring errors throughout the manuscript. I go into more detail about proofreading here.

Proposal — A book proposal is usually just for nonfiction. It is a summary of a proposed book and is submitted to publishers. Proposals usually include a cover letter, a synopsis, chapter-by-chapter outline, author information, and sample chapters.


Query — A query is a half-page letter that a writer sends to a literary agent to seek representation.


Reprint rights — Reprint rights are the rights to republish the book after its initial print run.

Rights — Rights refer to the ownership over the writer’s copyrighted materials. There are many different types of rights a writer can sell to a publisher or keep to themselves.

Royalties — Royalties are what the writer earns after they have earned out their advance. For example, if their advance was $5,000, the writer needs to sell $5,000 in sales before they start getting royalties. Their royalties are usually a percentage of the sale price that was designated when they signed the contract.


Self-publishing — Self-publishing is when a writer publishes their work without the help of a publisher.

Serial rights — Serial rights is the right to publish sections of your manuscript.

Simultaneous submission — A simultaneous submission is when a writer submits the same story, poem, or manuscript to several publishers or journals at once.

Slush pile — A slush pile is rejected manuscripts or proposals.

Stet — Stet is Latin for let it stand. It is used when editors mark something for correction but then reverse their decision. Basically, it means do not change the text.

Subsidiary rights — Subsidiary rights are rights other than book publishing rights that are included in a book publishing contract. Another way to think of it is rights to sublicense the manuscript for different formats. This includes paperback rights, translation rights, movie rights, book club rights, and more.

Synopsis — A synopsis is a summary of your manuscript, about one to two pages long. It is usually a part of a book proposal or could be part of the material to send to a literary agent.


TOC — TOC stands for table of contents.

Trade book — A trade book is a book made for a general audience. These are your literary fiction books, crime books, children’s books, creative nonfiction books, cookbooks, etc.

Translation rights — These are the rights to translate the book to a different language and sell it.


Unsolicited manuscript — An unsolicited manuscript is a manuscript that does not have a literary agent.

USP — USP stands for unique selling points. It is what makes your book stand out from others and is used to develop a marketing plan.


WIP — A WIP stands for work in progress. It is a manuscript that is not finished yet. Many writers have one or more WIP going on at once.


YA — YA stands for young adult. They are books written with a MC between the ages of twelve to nineteen. They are also generally marketed toward readers of that age group as well.

Any terms I missed that you would like to see listed above? Or have a question about one of the terms above? Leave a comment below!

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