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Glossary of Publishing Terms

The publishing industry is filled with specific terminology and lingo. While it isn’t hard to learn and no one will judge you for not being in the know, we don’t mind giving you a leg up. Did we forget to include something? Email us.


A sum of money a publisher pays a writer prior to the publication of a book usually paid in installments, such as one-half on signing contract; one-half on delivery of a complete and satisfactory manuscript.


Advance reader copy—an early version of the book sent out to media outlets for possible reviews and interviews.


Publishers sometimes bid for the acquisition of a book manuscript that has excellent sales prospects. The bids are for the amount of the author’s advance, advertising and promotional expenses, royalty percentages, and more. Auctions are conducted by agents.


A publisher’s list of its books that were not published during the current season, but that are still in print.


The copy on book covers or book dust jackets, promoting the book and the author or featuring testimonials from book reviewers or well-known people in the book’s field. Also called flap copy or jacket copy.


Editing a manuscript for grammar, punctuation, printing style, and factual accuracy.

Comp titles

Comparable or competitive titles—usually included in a book proposal.

Elevator pitch

Concise pitch for a book or screenplay that can be delivered in the time it takes to travel in an elevator.


Situation where an author gives an agent or publisher the ability to consider a submission without competition from other agents or publishers. Authors should always cap the exclusive time period.


A type of fiction that offers a high level of interest for readers at a low reading level.

High concept

A story easily expressed in a quick, one-line description.


The aspect of the work that sets it apart from others and draws in the reader/viewer.

Lead time

The time between the acquisition of a manuscript by an editor and its actual publication.

On spec

Writer submits a completed manuscript for publication “on speculation.” The editor is under no obligation to buy the finished manuscript.

Option clause

A contract clause giving a publisher the right to publish an author’s next book.


Print On Demand. This method of printing is often used by self-publishers or smaller presses to keep the upfront cost of producing a book down.


Close reading and correction of a manuscript’s typographical errors.


Summary of a proposed book submitted to a publisher, particularly used for nonfiction manuscripts. Proposals commonly include a cover letter, one-page overview of the book, marketing information, competitive books, author information, chapter-by-chapter outline, and sample chapters.


Letter that sells an idea to an editor or agent.


In this arrangement the author pays for manufacturing, production, and marketing of his book and keeps all income derived from the book sales.

Slush pile

Unsolicited manuscripts and pitches received by an editor, publisher, or agent.

Subsidiary rights

All rights other than book publishing rights included in a book publishing contract, such as paperback rights, book club rights, movie rights, and more.


Brief summary of a story, novel, or play. As part of a book proposal, it is a comprehensive summary condensed in a single-spaced page.

Work for hire

Situation in which a writer writes material for a publisher or company for a specified amount of money—usually selling all rights to the work, including potential reprint rights.

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