The Language of the Book World

May 22, 2020

When you’re so thoroughly engrossed in something you lose sight of what it was like to be a novice or a newbie. The trouble with acronyms, like jargon and buzzwords of all kinds, is that they represent a secret society and they haven’t quite yet decided whether or not they’ll grant you the password to get in.

Even after a few decades in the business myself, I’ll still occasionally receive an email from someone who uses their own terms and/or initials and I’ll have no idea what they’re saying and them I’m obliged to ask—so uncomfortable and awkward.  And nothing’s worse than having someone casually drop a new abbreviation, then watching everyone else in the group nod knowingly while you sit there clueless. 

And while that may not actually be the case (where we take a vote on whether or not to let you into the club) sometimes those in the industry are so thoroughly engrossed in their work and the language that they lose sight of what it was like to be a novice or a newbie. You know what they say, fish discover water last.

And this is as true in the publishing industry as in any field. It’s a whole new language and culture. 

It would be very useful for you to know some publishing terms so that you can better navigate the publishing world, speak confidently,  and so you too can nod knowingly.

Let’s start with some of the standard and most common.

ARC: Advanced reader’s copy; it’s a reviewer’s copy, a pre-press copy, or a galley. An ARC is printed and distributed so it can be read before its official publication date. Typically it’s for review purposes or to drum up talk.

Agent: Literary agents are professionals who represent an author. A literary agent is responsible for managing sales, contracts, publication, production, as well as maintaining good contacts in the writing and publishing industry. They act as a middle person between author and publisher. 

Backlist: a book that was released before the current calendar year.

Beta reader: beta readers are people that an author asks to read his/her manuscript and give critique and respond to the story. 

Big 5: traditional old-school publishing houses that have been around for many years. The Big 5 are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster (S&S is now up for sale—the big 5 could shortly become the big 4).

HC: hardcover

ISBN: International Standard Book Number. A unique number assigned to every published book. A

KDP: Kindle direct publishing. Amazon’s ebook self-publishing unit.

MS: manuscript

PB: paperback

Query letter: A letter or professional email that writers sent to agents asking them to represent them for representation. The letter includes details about the manuscript and relevant credentials. 

SEM: search engine marketing; it’s a marketing tactic where a marketer optimizes and advertises their website in order to appear higher in search results. 

Self-Published: exactly as it says; published by the author (usually KDP).

SEO: search engine optimization

YA: young adult

1P: first pass review, usually the first time a manuscript is typeset to how it will flow in the book.

2P: second pass.

I think I have just exposed the tip of the iceberg. Each of these terms and words opens up a door into more whole new worlds upon worlds. And there is so much more.

 Got something you can’t figure out? Send it our way and we’ll help you navigate.

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