Publishing Terms 101

When I first started writing, I didn’t have a clue as to the definitions of some of the basic terms used in the Publishing industry. It was worse than legalese at times. I thought I’d help out the pre-published and newbie authors with some of these explanations.

ADVANCE: The Advance is the money you are paid up front for your work. You don’t pay back an advance if you don’t sell enough books to EARN OUT (see below). Your advance is applied against the royalties you earn and once you earn beyond the advance, you start getting additional monies.

ARC: Advanced Reading Copy. An unedited, uncorrected proof of the book, usually in a cheaper binding. Intended for review copies and to create buzz. ARCs are not to be sold as they are merely intended for review purposes.

ART FACT SHEET: The author is oftentimes asked to suggest scenes for the cover and to describe the hero, heroine, clothing, setting, etc. in order to help the Art Department produce the cover.

CATEGORY BOOKS: Generally mass market paperbacks that are part of a line, put up on the shelves for a month and then replaced with the next month’s offerings. Many imprints from Harlequin and Silhouette are category books.

COPY-EDITS: The manuscript with the copyeditor’s marks.

COVER FLATS: The cover for the book before it is bound to the book. Cover flats are sent to the authors and industry professionals to help create buzz for a book.

EARN OUT: What’s left after deducting the advance from the royalties. If enough copies of the book have sold to cover the advance (and then some) the book has earned out.

GALLEYS: Also known as Page Proofs. The pages printed in the way that they will appear. An author will get one final chance to make minor revisions (FYI — I first wrote under the name Caridad Scordato because that’s what appeared on the galley and it was impossible to change it on so many pages!)

GMC: An abbreviation used for Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

GUIDELINES: Guidelines are the details of what a publisher wants to see for a particular imprint. For example, check out this section at where Harlequin provides the requirements, editor names and submission requirements for all their different lines.

HARDCOVER: The print format where the book is bound with a hard cover and generally sold for a higher price.

HEA: An abbreviation commonly used in the romance genre which is an abbreviation for HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

JOINT or BASKET ACCOUNTING: When the royalties for two books are lumped together. So, if Book #1 doesn’t EARN OUT, the sales of Book #2 will be applied toward the advance paid on Book #1. Definitely not a good thing and to be avoided at all costs.

MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: A smaller format book with a soft cover (see Trade Paperback below also).

OPTION: The clause in an author’s contract that grants the publisher the right of first refusal on the author’s next work. Publishers will like to get as broad an option clause as possible, while authors will like to limit the option to the next similar work, or the next women’s fiction book, etc.

PRINT RUN: Number of books being printed.

PROPOSAL: The work that you are submitting to an editor or agent for consideration. A proposal will generally consist of a synopsis and the first three chapters.

QUERY/QUERY LETTER: A letter introducing yourself and your work to an editor or agent. Look for a future article on the Dos and Don’ts of query letters.

REVISIONS: The editor’s requested changes to your proposal or manuscript.

SELL-THROUGH: Percentage of the shipped books that actually sell. Sell-through is really important. There is some disagreement, but in general, sell-throughs of about 50% are good, although some say publishers are looking for sell-throughs of 70% or higher.

STRIPPED BOOKS: When booksellers do not sell a book, they pull off the front cover and send it back to the publisher. Books sold without covers are “stripped books” and are the equivalent of stolen as they have been reported as unsold to the publisher.

SYNOPSIS: A short summary of your novel detailing the basic elements. Synopses can be anywhere from 2 pages to about 10 as a max. It all depends on the publisher and the genre.

TRADE PAPERBACK: A larger format with a soft cover, generally sold at a higher price than a mass market paperback, but at about half the price of a hard cover.

One thought on “Publishing Terms 101”

  1. Wow thanks this is interesting to know.
    As a reader I must say I enjoy getting the MASS MARKET PAPERBACK version, not to mention that the prize is reasonable *lol*

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