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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Call

Common Publishing Terms to Know

New to the publishing world? Read these need-to-know terms and definitions.

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Photo Credit: Sincerely Media | Unsplash

If you’re jumping into the publishing world—welcome! We’re happy you’re here. We love new people, voices, and stories. As you’ve looked into writing groups, editing stages, publishers, and more, you’ve likely come across the many terms associated with the publishing industry. As with any trade, there is a plethora of jargon. 

But there’s no need to be overwhelmed or confused as you step into your writing journey. We’ve got you covered. This publishing tip will introduce you to some of the main terms used in writing, editing, design, and publishing.

Now, you can easily find the term you are looking for in this alphabetized list. Every time you come across a term you don’t recognize, return to this tip for a simple explanation.

Acquisition. When a publisher “acquires” a manuscript and sends a contract to the writer for its publication. 

Advance. Money paid to a writer by a publisher before his or her manuscript is published.

Advance Reader Copy (ARC). A copy of a book that is given to a select amount of readers before it is officially published. This allows readers to read the book before publication so that they can positively review the book as soon as it is published.

Agent. A person acting as the go-between for a publisher and a writer. Agents will review writers’ works to potentially pitch to appropriate publishers. Agents earn a commission from their writers’ published works. Many traditional publishers require writers to have an agent in order to submit for publication.

Alpha Reader. A reader who looks over the first, unpolished draft of a manuscript to give feedback.

Appendix. Section in the back of a book that includes supplementary material to the main text, such as sources, maps, letters, family trees, and graphs. Appendices are most commonly found in scholarly works, biographies, and scientific publications.

Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (AP). A style guide used in publishing that sets grammar, punctuation, and similar guidelines for publication. It is most commonly used in broadcasting, content marketing, corporate communications, journalism, newspapers, and public relations.

Backlist. Books that are not newly published but are still in print.

Back Matter. The material in the back of a book, including afterwords, addendums, appendices, author biographies, epilogues, glossaries, and indices.

Beta Reader. A reader who gives feedback on a manuscript after it has gone through several drafts. Beta readers can be volunteer or paid and should be regular readers of the book’s genre.

Bibliography. Section in the back of a book that cites all sources that were consulted in the book's research. Bibliographies are commonly found in genres such as nonfiction, reference books, and historical fiction.

Bleed. When items on a typeset document extend beyond the edge of what will be printed. Bleed is necessary for elements that run to the edge of a page, such as photos or borders, and allows for marginal differences in printer cutting. In the printing and binding process, the excess bleed is cut off.

Blurb. A brief description of a book that entices readers to read it. The blurb is commonly found on the back of a cover, inside a book jacket, and as the book description in an online store. Also known as cover blurb.

Character Arc. How a character develops from their original state at the beginning of the book to their new state at the end of the book based on the events that transpire throughout the storyline.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). A style guide used in publishing that sets grammar, punctuation, and similar guidelines for publication. It is most commonly used in print publications, fiction books, and nonfiction books.

Climax. The part of a story that has the highest tension, emotion, and action and is a major turning point for the main character.

CMYK Color Model. The colors used by printers: cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K for “key”). Before a publication can be sent to a printer, all color photos or other color elements need to be in this color model.

Comps. Published works that are similar to a writer’s own work. Comps are usually referred to when a writer is pitching their work or writing a proposal to an agent or publisher.

Copy. The text within a manuscript. 

Copyediting. A type of editing that corrects errors in capitalization, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. This stage of editing generally comes right before the book is put into printer-ready format.

Copyright. The right to publish, sell, and revise a work, be it written or artistic. This right generally belongs to the creator of the work automatically unless otherwise stated by the creator or sold by contract.

Cover Blurb. A brief description found on the cover of a book that entices readers to read the book. Also known as blurb.

Cover Letter. A brief letter that introduces the writer and his or her manuscript. It is normally included in a book proposal that is sent to an agent, editor, or publisher.

Developmental Editing. A type of editing that evaluates overarching story elements, such as themes, organization, character arcs, and pacing for the manuscript as a whole. This stage of editing would be done before any other stage. Also known as substantive editing.

Draft. An unfinished version of a manuscript.

Dust jacket. A paper cover that wraps around a hardcover book to protect it.

E-book. An electronic version of a published book.

Editorial Letter. A letter that most often accompanies a developmental edit and can accompany other levels of editing. This letter is written by the editor and includes actionable steps and advice for revision of a draft.

Electronic Publication (EPUB). The electronic file type used to create an e-book. EPUBs are compatible with most smartphone, tablet, and laptop e-readers.

Elevator Pitch. A short promotional description of a book that aims to sell the book as fast as possible. An elevator pitch is typically no more than 100 words and delivered vocally to agents, publishers, or potential readers.

Endnote. A source reference or author note that is listed at the end of a book or the end of a chapter. It is marked by a superscript in the main body of text.

Epilogue. A section at the end of a book that is found directly after the main chapter content. It can act as a conclusion for the book or give commentary on what happened in the story.

Flash Fiction. A short fictional publication generally no more than 1,500 words. It may be a few paragraphs or even a few words long.

Footnote. A source reference or author comment that is listed at the bottom of a printed page and marked by a superscript in the main body of text.

Foreword. Section at the beginning of a book that briefly describes how the book came into being and why readers should read the book. Forewords are typically written by someone other than the book’s author.

Frontlist. Newly published books that are actively being promoted by the publisher.

Front Matter. The material at the front of the book, including title pages, forwards, prefaces, copyrights, dedications, lists of publications by the same author, and tables of contents.

Galley. A typeset document that authors, editors, and publishers review before the final publication. Also known as a proof.

Glossary. A list of alphabetized terms and their definitions found at the end of a book.

Grayscale Color Model. The required color mode that black-and-white photos and elements must be when sent to printers.

Gutter. The extra margin spacing in the middle of two facing pages of a typeset document. A gutter ensures words do not disappear into the fold of a printed book. 

Hi-Lo. A story that has high-interest content and a low-reading level.

Hook. A sentence or paragraph that catches the reader’s attention and entices them to keep reading. Hooks can be found at the beginning of a book or chapter and even on cover material.

Hybrid Publishing. A new publishing model that combines aspects of traditional publishing and self-publishing. There are many variations of hybrid publishers that allow for more author involvement, but it is important for authors to research any hybrid publisher in order to avoid illegitimate publishing deals.

Imprint. The trade name a larger publisher uses to distinguish and publish a specific type and collection of books.

Index. A list of alphabetized topics or keywords listing the page numbers where they can be found in a manuscript. Indices are found at the back of a book.

Indie Publishing. This term is debated in the publishing industry. It can refer to “self-publishing,” or it can refer to publishing through a small or hybrid publisher.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN). A number used to identify a specific book. This number is needed in order to sell a book.

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). A number used to identify specific serial publications, such as journals, magazines, and newspapers, so that they can be sold. 

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).’s e-book publishing platform.

Lead Time. The time between when an editor receives a book and when it is officially published.

Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). A number used to identify a specific publication so that it can be cataloged in libraries. This number must be applied for in order for a book to be carried in a library.

Line Editing. A type of editing that amends discrepancies in tone, style, plot, and characterization at the paragraph and sentence levels. This stage of editing happens after a developmental edit and before a copyedit.

Main Character (MC). The character the story centers around. Other variations of this term include Main Female Character (MFC) and Main Male Character (MMC). 

Manuscript (MS). The working text of a work before it is published. MSS is used for multiple manuscripts.

Merriam-Webster (M-W). A dictionary many publishers and editors refer to for spelling, grammar, and usage.

Middle Grade (MG).  A genre of books with an audience targeted toward readers ages 8 to 12. The main character can be 10 to 13 years old, and the length is generally no more than 50,000 words.

The Modern Language Association Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (MLA). A style guide used in publishing that sets grammar, punctuation, and similar guidelines for publication. It is most commonly used in the humanities, liberal arts, and literary criticism.

Narrative Nonfiction. A genre of books in which actual events and facts are structured and presented in a storytelling style.

New Adult (NA). A developing genre of books whose target audience and characters range from ages 18 to 29. The length of books in this genre may be up to 80,000 or 90,000 words.

Novella. A story that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The word count typically ranges from 17,500 to 40,000.

Pacing. How quickly or slowly key events in a story develop.

Page Heads. The text at the top of a page that typically displays the author name and title of the work. Also known as running heads.

Pen name. A fake name authors may use to publish their works.

Pitch. A very brief written or verbal presentation of a book that authors use to entice agents, editors, or publishers to accept their book for representation or publication. This pitch may also be found in a query letter.

Portable Document Format (PDF). An electronic file format that gives an image of text and graphics that can be used for review and print purposes.

Printer. Not to be confused with a publisher, a printer is a company that prints the physical copy of a book.

Print on Demand (POD). A printing process that prints single physical copies of a book only after they are ordered by a customer, instead of printing a large amount of books at once to sell at a later time.

Proof. A typeset document that authors, editors, and publishers can review before the final publication. Also known as a galley.

Prologue. A section at the beginning of a book that is sometimes found directly before the main storyline. It acts as an opening for the book or gives relevant information needed to understand what will happen in the story.

Proofreading. A type of editing that catches the final errors in the typeset format of a book, including making corrections in punctuation and formatting.

Proposal. A document sent to an agent, an editor, or a publisher to convince them to accept a manuscript for representation or publication. It may include a cover letter, an author’s bio and credentials, a query letter, comparable titles, sample chapters, an outline of the book, and marketing strategies.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). A style guide used in publishing that sets grammar, punctuation, and similar guidelines for publication. It is most commonly used in behavioral sciences, healthcare, and social science.

Publisher. A company that acquires, edits, designs, and markets a book. They also oversee public relations and sales.

Query Letter. A brief letter, typically one page or approximately 250 words, that is sent to an agent, editor, or publisher to convince them to accept your manuscript for representation or publication. A query letter includes a manuscript’s title, word count, and genre, as well as a hook, quick author bio, and synopsis of the story.

Revisions. The changes an author makes to a work.

RGB Color Model. The color mode generally used in electronic images: red (R), green (G), and blue (B). This model allows for a larger range of colors but cannot be accurately printed.

Royalties. A percentage of money that is paid to authors when a book is sold.

Running Heads. The text at the top of a page that typically displays the author and title of the work. Also known as page heads.

Self-publishing. When writers publish and market their work themselves instead of through a traditional publisher.

Slush Pile. Unsolicited manuscripts received by an agent, editor, or publisher. These manuscripts may not be top priority and may not be read in a timely manner.

Stet. An editing term meaning “leave as is,” which indicates that a suggested edit should not be used.

Story Arc. The chronological structure of a plot, including a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

Style Guide. A guideline that sets parameters for publishers regarding grammar, punctuation, printing, and other publishing topics. The most common style guides are AP, APA, CMOS, and MLA.

Style Sheet. A document for a specific project that works in tandem with a style guide to track decisions made about grammar, punctuation, and other guidelines for publication.

Synopsis. A brief summary of a manuscript.

Table of Contents (TOC). Content found at the beginning of a book that details chapters or headings and their page numbers.

Title Page. A page near the front of the book that includes the title, subtitle, edition, author name, publisher, and, when necessary, the imprint.


Traditional Publishing. When writers publish their work through a publishing company.

Trope. A common theme or element found in a specific genre.

Typesetting. Formatting a manuscript from a Word document, Google Doc, or similar format to an industry-standard e-book or PDF. 

Typography. The font or typeface style of printed text.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What makes a book stand out in the marketplace.

Work in Progress (WIP). A manuscript that a writer is currently working on.

Young Adult (YA). A genre of books that is targeted toward readers ages 12 to 18.

You’re sure to find many more terms and acronyms in the publishing world, but this list should give you a good starting point to understanding the rich jargon used by agents, editors, designers, publishers, readers, writers, and more.

Comment here if you’d like to see a word added to our list. To have a conversation with one of our editors about a term or definition you read, send us an email at We love talking all things publishing.

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