Like any business, publishing is full of terms that don’t necessarily make sense to someone on the outside. You might come across these terms within my own articles, or in various other discussions about writing, editing, and publishing your book.
To make things easier, I’ve gathered together a collection of these terms below. If you think there’s something missing, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to add it to the list!
Acquisitions editor – The ‘buyer’ at a publishing house to whom your agent will try to sell your book.
Advance – A lump sum payment given to the author by the publishing house, upon signing of a publishing contract. Called an ‘advance’ because it’s a portion of your royalties paid up before they have actually been earned.
Agent – Someone who represents your book to publishing houses, in exchange for a percentage of income from any resulting deal.
Big five – The five major publishing houses in US English (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan).
Book doctor(ing) – Another name for developmental editing (or someone who carries out such editing), most frequently used by literary consultancies.
Commissioning editor – Another name for an acquisitions editor.
Copy-editing – Low-level editing to correct technical errors in spelling, grammar, and consistency. See here for more detail.
Developmental editing – High-level editing to address big-picture issues such as plot, characters, and pacing. See here for more detail.
Earning out – The point where the royalties you’ve earned catch up to your advance. Before this point, you won’t receive any new royalties.
Editor – Refers both to someone who provides editing services, and to someone who oversees submissions to a publishing house.
Editorial letter – Another name for a manuscript assessment.
Freelance editor – An editor for hire, either by the author or by a publishing house.
Heavy editing – Another name for developmental editing.
Imprint – A brand or trade name that a publishing house operates under. The big five publishing houses each operate a large number of imprints.
Independent author – An author who self-publishes their work.
Line editing – Low-level editing to improve style, focusing on elements like clarity, flow, and word choice. See here for more detail.
Literary consultancy – An agency supplying advice and high-level editing to aspiring authors.
Manuscript – The full text of your novel before it goes through publication.
Manuscript assessment – A high-level assessment of your manuscript’s strengths, weaknesses, and readiness for publication. See here for more detail.
Manuscript critique – Another name for a manuscript assessment.
Mark-up – The comments and suggestions that an editor makes directly on your manuscript.
Proofreading – A final check for errors before your book is published.
Publication – The process of making your book available in its completed form, either through a publishing house or by self-publishing.
Publishing contract – The legal agreement between the author and the publishing house once they agree to publish your book.
Publishing house – A company that buys and publishes books. You sell them the legal rights to your book in exchange for an advance and royalties.
Print on demand – A service that prints physical books when your customers buy them.
Querying – The process of soliciting agents to represent your book.
Query letter – A short business letter sent to agents when querying, which serves as the sales pitch for your book.
Royalties – A percentage of each book sale that’s paid to the author. Upon signing a publishing contract, a lump sum of royalties is typically paid up-front as an advance.
Self-publishing – Publishing your own book without a publishing house, often as an e-book or using a ‘print on demand’ service. See here for more information.
Small press – A small, independent publishing house not associated with the big five.
Structural editing – Another name for developmental editing.
Substantive editing – Another name for developmental editing.
Stylistic editing – Another name for line editing.
Synopsis – A summary of the plot or content of your book. Unlike the query letter, this is not intended as a sales pitch so much as proof that you can write an effective novel.
Traditional publishing – Publishing your book through a publishing house. See here for more information.
Vanity publisher – A publishing company that charges you money in exchange for publishing your book. Vanity publishers make their money from you, rather than from sales of your book, and are best avoided.