Literary Terms Defined
​A
Advance - Money paid to an author before a book is actually published.  These funds are leveraged against future royalties earned from sales of the book. The author will not receive additional royalty payments from the publisher until the book’s earnings exceed the amount of money advanced to the author.  Large advances are typically paid in installments, such as a portion upon signing, a portion upon delivery and acceptance, and a portion upon publication. Advances may be as low as one dollar and can be in excess of a million dollars.

Acquisitions Board - A group of people who work for a publishing house who determine which books to accept for publication.

Agent - A professional who acts as a liaison between publishers and an author. An agent will submit a book project on behalf of the author to various editors in an effort to secure a contract. Agents negotiate advances and contracts, while acting on behalf of the author. They typically make around 15% of what the author makes.

ARC - Advance Review Copy - An early release version of a book for review. ARCs are different from bound galleys in that they include a cover which is most likely the final cover design. ARCs do not include an ISBN and are not available for sale.  

AAR - Association of Author’s Representatives - An organization of agencies which hosts meetings and panel discussions to keep agents informed about trends and issues facing the industry.

Auction - When multiple publishers are interested in acquiring a project they will sometimes bid against each other in an auction for the right to earn that project’s contract. Publishing houses will progressively increase their bid until all other potential publishers drop out of the bidding. 


B
Backlist - A list of older books available from a publisher, as opposed to newly released titles (frontlist).

Baker & Taylor -  A leading distributor of books, videos and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers. 

Beta Reader - A non-professional who reads a manuscript with the intent of finding ways to improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading can be done at various stages, between completion of the final draft and a book's actual release.

Big Five - The Big Five is a reference to the five major U.S. publishers: Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Macmillan and Hachette.

Blurb - A quote from an author or reviewer offering praise of a book. Blurbs are often used on author websites, sell sheets, and on the cover or inside of a book.

Bowker - The world's leading provider of bibliographic information management.  Thousands of libraries, booksellers and publishers use Bowker to discover new books. Bowker's Books In Print is an online catalog which enables people to search for books, eBooks, audio-books and videos. 

Buyer - The person at a library or bookstore responsible for purchasing books.


C
Commission - The amount an agent receives for their services. Agents typically receive a commission of 15% for all domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales, which is split between the primary agent and a subagent. Agents only receive commission on works they sell, and therefore are not paid unless the author is paid.

Co-op - Publishers often make certain titles available on a co-op basis for which they provide special promotions. Based upon these promotions, bookstores will typically give prime placement to those books being featured.

Copy-editor - Copy-editors ensure that your manuscript is clear and consistent, complete and credible, and that text is well written and grammatically correct. Copy-editors are often employed by publishing houses on a freelance basis.

Copyright - The legal rights and ownership of a written work. All work is technically copyrighted and the property of the author when they write it.  Regardless, your publisher should register a copy of your work in your name with the Library of Congress within three months of publication.  Copyright in the U.S. lasts for a term of the author’s life plus 70 years. 


​D
Debut Novel - An author’s first published novel (not necessarily the first book they’ve written).

Deep Discounts - A publisher may occasionally choose to offer substantial discounts in order to increase book sales. In the case of deep discounts, publishers may proportionately reduce the amount an author receives in royalties since authors typically receive royalties based on the net amount received rather than the retail price.

Discount Rate - In a book contract this refers to the standard rate at which books may be discounted to distributors, wholesalers, etc. Under the standard discount rate the publisher is obligated to pay the author’s royalties under the regular trade royalty rate. - Any books sold at a discount greater than the standard discount rate will subsequently decrease the amount paid in royalties for those discounted sales.  

D&A - Delivery and Acceptance refers to the point at which a publisher officially accepts a book for publication following delivery from the author. In terms of advances, a D&A payment is the portion advanced once the publisher has accepted the book for publication. However, many publishers do not issue a D&A payment until completion of editing, which often takes months after the initial delivery. If edits are not completed to the editor’s satisfaction, the contract may be nullified at the publisher’s discretion with no further advances being paid.

DLP - Digital List Price - In reference to digital, audio, and e-books this is the price the publisher or rights holder places on a copy of their digital content. This may or may not have any bearing on the actual price that will be charged.

Distributor - A company which distributes books from a publisher or printing house to bookstores, libraries, etc. Most major publishers act as their own distributors, while others use third parties for distribution. 

DRM - Digital Rights Management. Software encryption which deters piracy and also allows publishers to sync an eBook between your Kindle and your iPhone.


​E
EAN - European Article Number - The EAN is 3-digits plus the ISBN, making a 13-digit number which includes a bar code for scanning. It is the most widely used bar code format in the publishing industry worldwide. (To the right of the ISBN bar code is often a smaller bar code which includes a 5 digit number encoding the retail price.)

Earn out - The point where an author has earned the sum of their advance after enough royalties have been earned from the sale of their book. From the point of earn out, authors will begin to receive royalties on all subsequent net sales and subrights income. 

Edition - Generally refers to the format of a book to include: hardback, mass market, trade paperback, student, book club, audio, or eBook version. 

Editor - An editor at a publishing house receives submissions (usually from agents), acquires projects, negotiates advances, and then coordinates with the publisher throughout the publication process. Production, sales, marketing, etc., are all overseen by the editor. (Editor and copy-editor are two entirely different jobs)

Editorial Letter - A text written by an editor giving the author a critique of their work. The editorial letter usually includes feedback, both good and bad, with recommendations on how the manuscript can be improved. The author may make changes at their own discretion, but it is understood that an author should rely on their editor’s judgment and heed most suggestions.

Electronic Rights - The right to sell or produce a work in digital form including eBook, online or through web-based databases.

Exclusive Rights - Rights granted to one party alone. When an author grants exclusive rights to a publisher, they cannot sell those same rights to another publisher until the contract has been terminated.  

Exclusive Viewing (or Exclusive Reading) - On occasion, when considering a manuscript for publication, a publisher may request an exclusive viewing of the full manuscript. This exclusive reading or viewing takes place within a mutually agreed upon time-frame. During this period the author will not submit their manuscript to any other agents (or publishers) for consideration. This viewing period usually lasts no longer than 2 to 3 months.


F
First Pass Pages - A bound proof of an edited book with pages which have been type-set, formatted and designed. First Pass Pages are sent to the editor and author for a final proof. First Pass Pages are created to catch any errors which may have been missed or possibly introduced during the type-setting process. In many contracts an author has a limited period of time by which they must submit final corrections on the First Pass. The author is often limited to the number of changes they may make (with the exception of printer’s errors) before they are expected to participate in the cost of resetting the book.

First Proceeds - If the publication of a book is canceled and the contract is terminated, some publishing contracts will include a clause allowing the author to retain the advance and repay the publisher out of the first proceeds from sales with a secondary publisher. These first proceeds, equal to the amount of the advance (or other contractually agreed upon amount) with the first publisher, are earmarked as funds used to reimburse the first publisher.

First Serial - Publication of excerpts from a book within a magazine or journal prior to the book’s release date.

Flow Through - In some contracts when there is income through subrights the author’s share of the revenue may be allowed to flow through directly (within a specified number of days) to the author rather than being held by the publisher for a period until the end of a royalty period.

Frontlist - The list of books most recently released by a publisher.

Full Request - An invitation to submit the complete manuscript to an agent or editor once they have reviewed the query letter or sample chapters.

Fully Executed Contract - An agreement which has been reviewed and signed by all necessary parties and is now legally binding.


G
Galleys - Advance copies of a book for edit or review which do not include a finished cover. Typically the same as an ARC with the exception of the completed cover.


​H
Hardcover - Books bound with paper or cloth over cardboard. Hardcover books are traditionally published a year or so before a paperback edition is released. Hardcover books usually retail at a higher price than paperbacks.

High Discount Sales - A publisher may occasionally choose to offer substantial discounts in order to increase book sales. In the case of high discounts, publishers may proportionately reduce the amount an author receives in royalties since authors typically receive royalties based on the net amount received rather than the retail price.


​I
Imprint - A smaller publisher acting as a subsidiary of a larger publishing firm. Often, the imprint will represent a particular genre of books. Each imprint usually has its own publishing process and typically operates autonomously of the main publishing house, with individual editors and processes unique to that publisher.

Indemnity Clause - This clause addresses who will be responsible should someone sue one or both parties (author and/or publisher) concerning material represented within the book. Responsibilities may include attorney fees and/or settlements wherein the responsible party is legally required to pay.

Independent Bookstore - A retail bookstore which is independently owned.  Independent bookstores will typically consist of only a single actual store (although there are some multi-store independents). Often, Independent bookstores may be more likely than corporate bookstores to carry books published by independent publishers.

Independent Publisher - A publishing house which is not owned by another corporation, typically outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing.  Independent book publishers include small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.

Ingram - a leading distributor of books, videos and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers.

Initial Print Run - The number of copies a publisher will print during the first scheduled printing for release of a new book.

ISBN - The International Standard Book Number - A unique 10-digit number used to identify books (and other products, such as calendars and greeting cards). The ISBN does not include a bar code, it is simply a number.


​J
Jacket Copy - The text on the front and back of a book (often including: blurbs, pull-quotes, summary and/or author bio) written to entice someone to want to buy the book.


​L
Lead Author - A publisher’s star author (or one of a number of star authors), usually a guaranteed best seller with initial print runs meeting or exceeding a quarter of a million copies.  

Lead Time - The time required from the very start of a book project until its completion and subsequent release.

Line Editing - The process by which an editor will make recommendations about plot, characters and other manuscript details in an effort to help the flow of the book. Often line editing may affect subplots, timeline, character motivation and other aspects of how the book reads.

List Price Royalties - Royalties paid based upon the list price of a book (the ideal royalty is paid on list price). For big trade publishers, including larger independent publishers, royalties paid on list price is standard for domestic book sales.

Literary Scout - A scout is a professional who keeps their eye on the pulse of the newest and hottest manuscripts coming through the literary pipeline. They work primarily on seeking rights for film and foreign publishing projects.


​M
Manuscript - The complete text of a book as prepared by the author. Following editing, layout etc., the finalized manuscript is used to produce a book in print, eBook, or other formats.

Mass Market Paperback - This rack-sized paperback is marginally smaller and less expensive than a trade paperback. Generally printed on low quality paper, they are commonly released after the hardback edition and often sold at airports, drugstores, etc.

Midlist - Midlist titles are those new releases expected to hit the middle of the range in sales on a publisher’s list. Typically midlist titles are those written by new, or lesser known authors. 


​N
Net Amount Received - The funds received from sales of a published work after all contractually stipulated expenses are deducted.

Net Income Royalties - Royalties paid on net income or net sales proceeds. The money received less any discount or commissions charged by retailers, wholesalers, and distributors. -Royalties paid on net income are not as desirable as royalties paid on list price.

Non Exclusivity - When a publisher has nonexclusive rights in a designated territory the author may also choose to grant rights to an additional publisher within that territory.


O
Omnibus - A volume containing multiple novels or other literary works that had, at one time, been published separately.

Open Market - An unrestricted competitive market in which more than one publisher is free to participate. -For instance, when publishing rights have been granted to a publisher exclusively in North America and another publisher has exclusive rights in the British Commonwealth, the rest of the world can be considered an open market between both publishers, inadvertently forcing the two publishing companies to be in competition with each other. 

Option - A provision in a contract which typically gives the publisher an exclusive period of time to consider and offer on the author’s next work. The option may be limited or can sometimes allow the publisher certain financial matching rights.

Out of Print - When a book is no longer being actively sold by a publisher it is said to be out of print. Often when a book is out of print the author will be able to revert the rights. 


P
Partial - Or Partial Manuscript. - When an agent follows up on a query they may ask to see a certain number of pages or chapters rather than the entire manuscript. When not specified, the first 50 pages is a standard number to submit for a partial.

Peer Review - The evaluation of a written work by individuals qualified to verify the validity of statements made within a manuscript; used to determine an academic paper's suitability for publication.

Pitch Letter - An agent’s letter to an editor telling them why they should buy a book the agent is shopping.

Preempt - In the event a book is slated to go to auction and one publisher is particularly set on getting the contract, they may make an aggressive offer in order to preempt the auction (sometimes referred to as taking the book off the table). The agent and author must then determine whether to accept the offer or wait to see how high the bidding will go at auction.

Print on Demand (POD) - Copies of a book printed to order, often with no (or a very small) minimum required. POD is sometimes used as a blanket term for self-publishing, but POD is sometimes used by publishers to fill orders for backlist titles.

Print Run - The initial number of copies a publisher prints of a newly released book based upon orders from distributors, wholesalers and secondary markets, plus backstock for future orders. 


Q
Query Letter - A letter written to an agent (in rare instances submitted directly to the publisher) enticing them to want to learn more about your manuscript. 


​R
Reserves Against Returns - Publishers typically guarantee the right for book sellers to return unsold copies. Therefore, determining royalty payments can be challenging since returns may come in after royalties have already been paid. Because an author is paid based on net copies sold, publishers plan ahead for returns by calculating a reserve against returns for initial royalty statements. -Basically, the publisher will hold back a portion of royalties in anticipation of returns. 

Remainder - When book sales are low, or begin to drop, a publisher will discount any remaining stock as a remainder. 

Retail Price - The retail price of a book is the price that is listed on the cover. Sale prices often differ from the actual retail price. Typically royalties are paid as a percentage of the retail price of a book.

Returns - As standard procedure, bookstores are typically able to return unsold copies of books to the publisher for a refund. 

Reversion - When your book goes out of print you may have the contractual right to revert your book, at which point the earlier contract is nullified and the author may sell the rights to a different publisher.

Royalties - A royalty is the percentage paid to an author based upon sales of their book. Royalties are paid one of two ways: based on the percentage of net, or based on the list price.

Royalty Period - The accounting schedule for payment of royalties. Most major publishers calculate royalties twice annually and send the agent and author statements and payments after the close of a royalty period (up to several months following).

Royalty Statement - A statement provided to authors and agents (typically twice annually) which includes a list of copies sold, net sales figures, returns, reserves, advances paid and any other pertinent figures along with calculations showing final royalty figures. 


S
Second serial - Publication of excerpts from a book within a magazine or journal following the book’s release date.

Sell-in - The number of copies ordered by bookstores, libraries, etc. prior to the release date of a publication.

Sell Sheet - A professionally created flier used to promote your book to a bookstore, library or other potential buyer and is also used to accompany books when submitting for review.  It is a concise, one page document which usually includes cover image, professional author photo and bio, review excerpts, title, book genre, ISBN, format, release date, number of pages, trim (dimensions of book), price (retail and wholesale), distributor, and contact information.

Sell Through - When a book sells enough copies to exceed the amount initially advanced to the author. -Or when a book’s first print run sells out and a second print run must be ordered.

Slush Pile - A pile of unsolicited query letters or manuscripts sent directly to a publisher or literary agent by authors seeking to become published.

Small Press - A publisher with lower annual sales than larger traditional publishing houses.  Most small presses typically publish fewer than ten titles per year.

Subagent - An agent who works on behalf of an author’s primary agent to sell subsidiary rights, typically in the arena of translation and / or film rights.

Subrights - Or Subsidiary Rights are all non-original print publication rights including adaptation, film, audio, translation, first serial, second serial, merchandising, etc. Depending upon how a contract is crafted, some of these rights may be retained by the author, but they are often controlled by the publisher. Subrights income is subject to a percentage split between the publisher and the author as specified by the contract. 

Synopsis - A summary of a manuscript which outlines the major plot, characters and final outcome of the book. 


T
Taking a book off the table - In the event a book is slated to go to auction and one publisher is particularly set on getting the contract, they may make an aggressive offer in order to preempt the auction (sometimes referred to as a preempt). The agent and author must then determine whether to accept the offer or wait to see how high the bidding will go at auction.

Trade Paperback - A mid-sized paperback, usually larger than mass market paperback and of better quality in terms of paper and other production factors. Standard Trade Paperbacks are usually 6” x 9”


U
Unagented - The term used when a manuscript is submitted to a publisher without the benefit of representation by an agent.  


W​
Wholesaler - A large-volume buyer of primarily mass market paperback titles for distribution to book racks in newspaper and magazine stands, bookstores, and similar outlets. Prominent and well known wholesalers include Baker & Taylor and Ingram.
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Trying to make sense of publishing contract language and other literary terminology?  Below is a list of some of the words and phrases you may encounter when discussing a contract with your agent or publisher, along with other general literary terms.  The most important thing you need to know as an author is that the wording in your publishing contract can have a tremendous impact on your rights and royalties.  While this publishing glossary can help answer many of your questions, we highly recommend hiring a national publishing attorney to review your contract before you sign on the dotted line.  
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