Jargon-busting publishing glossary

It’s fair to say there’s plenty of acronyms, puzzling lingo, and head-scratching terminology in the publishing industry… Knowing your ARCs from SKUs can be a challenge for anybody.

Let’s jettison the jargon! Here are just some of the terms you might come across at interview or when browsing a job spec…

Acquisitions meeting – A regular meeting in which the editorial team pitch the books they’re trying to buy to other departments before they present an offer to the author/agent. A great chance for the team from rights, marketing, publicity, design, etc. to weigh in!

Advance – The lump-sum cash an author receives up-front on a book deal in ‘advance’ of publication.

AIs – Advance info sheets. A cheat sheet with all the key info (short author bio, blurb, selling points, and ordering details).

ARC – Advance reading copies. These are printed and triple-checked before the real deal. A chance for publicity to give the book to press and influencers to build buzz pre-publication and for editors and designers to take one last look and make sure everything seems in order before mass publication.

Auction – When more than one publisher is interested in a book, they’ll battle it out at auction. The best offer (taking the advance, royalties, and sub rights into account) wins. Like eBay, but more expensive.

Backlist – Previously published books.

Back orders – Fancy term for pre-sales: anything sold before publication.

Biblio – A content management system used by pretty much every publisher and containing just about everything you need to know about each book. If you work in publishing, you’ll probably spend a lot of time on here…

Buy-in – A deal with an overseas publisher to obtain the rights to publish a book in a different territory.

Co-agents – The rights team may seek out a co-agent with specific local market knowledge to support them in a certain territory. They’ll then sell translation rights on the team’s behalf for a commission. Also known as a sub-agent.

Co-edition – The practice of co-printing several languages together on one single print run, which in turn scales down and shares the costs involved with printing.

Ebook – A digital book usually read on a phone or e-reader.

Frontlist – Current and upcoming books.

FTP – Files to print. The all-important date that files have to be sent to the printer to bring the book to life!

Imprint – A mini publishing house within a publishing house. Find our imprints – and what they publish – here!

Indies – Independent bookshops.

IP – Intellectual property. Increasingly, editorial will come up with their own ideas to pitch to authors, rather than wait for the ideas to come to them!

ISBN – International Standard Book Number. Those numbers near the barcode on the back of your book. Intended to be unique for each book so they can be identified if they commit a crime or something…

Metadata – Data about the data…It summarises information about data, that makes it easier to sort and identify.

MS – The manuscript. The book before it becomes a book.

NetGalley – A publishing-favourite website used to share digital review copies of books with influential readers, including media, influencers and librarians.

Option – Having the right of first refusal on an author’s next work, before it’s submitted to other publishers. 

Packaging – The way we want the book to look…

PI – Print instruction. An order to print more copies of a book when we’re low on stock.

POD – Print on demand. Publishers will sometimes print in super-low quantities for limited runs.

POS – Point of sale. Any materials – window clings, badges, postcards, bookmarks, whatever brilliant idea the marketing team masterminds… – used to sell and promote the book.

Positioning meeting – A meeting that happens after the book has been bought to discuss how to best position it to readers.

Pre-empt – An early offer for a book designed to get the agent to take it off the table so other publishers can’t make competing offers (and thus avoiding a tricky auction!)

Proof – An advance copy of the book sent out early to reviewers (often floppy – see here for why!

Royalties – Paid by the publisher to the author for their work – and calculated as a percentage of each sale.

Royalty deal – We’re getting technical now: this means selling the rights to a certain language and/or territory to a foreign publisher, where they will proceed to print the book themselves and pay a royalty rate back to the original publisher on every copy sold.

Scouts – Consultants with their ears to the ground scouting out the next big literary hit or the perfect fit for their international publishing clients.

Serial – An extract or excerpt from the book that’s sold to a newspaper, magazine, or website. First serial means that it runs before pub date, and second serial comes after. 

SKU – Stock Keeping Unit. A unique code assigned to a product to help track stock levels and sales. Pronounced ‘skew’.

Sub-rights – All the rights to a work beyond the primary publication rights. These can include large print rights, anthology and quotation rights, serialisation rights and translation rights. So, say we’ve secured “world all language rights”, we might publish the English edition in the UK but then license the rights in another language to a foreign publisher to sell in their market.

TCM – Nielsen BookScan’s Total Consumer Market. The official figures totting up the total numbers of copies sold of each book in bookshops, supermarkets, websites and specialist stores. This is used to establish The Sunday Times bestseller charts. Note however that it doesn’t include every single book sale in the UK as not all retailers are included.

TPB – Trade paperback. Usually larger in size than the normal mass-market paperback, but less expensive than the hardback. Often sold in airports, which avoids your hand luggage getting too heavy.

Typesetter – Responsible for laying out the type of each book.

Wholesale – Books bought in bulk at a steep discount.

WIP – Work in progress. An acronym favoured by the editorial team.