21 book publishing terms all authors need to know

Do you know the difference between foreword and forward?

Do you think a galley is a type of kitchen?

Is “beta readers” just Greek to you?

If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take book publishing seriously. That starts with learning the lingo.

Let’s make sure you’re never confused when it comes to industry language.

Common book publishing terms

Here are 21 of the most common book publishing industry terms. It isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list. This collection focuses specifically on those you are most likely to encounter when you’re new to authorship and publishing.

Keep track of the number of terms you know. We’ll analyze your score at the end.

Anthology: A book that’s a collection of articles or stories written by several people.

ARC: Pre-publication advance review copy or advance reader copy. Send this when looking for media/trade/literary reviews, reader reviews you wanted posted as soon as you officially publish the book, and blurbs from endorsers (see below).

Back matter: Material at the end of the book, including the author bio, a list of other books from the author, and enticements to join the author’s mailing list.

Beta readers: People you send your manuscript to for feedback. Learn more at “Where to find beta readers for your book.

Binding: How a printed book is assembled between the covers. A book’s spine results from the binding process. Paperback books typically have a “perfect binding” but other binding options include saddle stitching and spiral coil.

Blurb: An endorsement or testimonial from an influencer. (Some people also refer to the book’s description as a “blurb.”) A blurb goes on the front and/or back cover, online sales pages, your website, and, when there are a lot of them, inside the book as part of the front matter (see below).

Book proposal: A detailed document that’s used to secure a nonfiction book publisher. It has many sections, including an overview, audience description, table of contents, and sample chapters.

Callout: Boxed text used as a graphic element in a nonfiction book.

Copyright: Protects original works of authorship so others can’t profit from it without your permission. Learn more at copyright.gov.

Foreword: An introduction to the book from an influencer. Not to be confused with “forward.” When the author writes the foreword, it’s called a preface. (See below.)

Front matter: Pages that precede the main part of the book, where the story begins — blurbs, copyright, title, dedication, foreword, preface, introduction, table of contents, etc.

Galley: The edited book in typeset form without a cover. Used for proofreading and final author review instead of a PDF file. Sometimes used for blurbs and trade/media/literary reviews.

Introduction: Appears after the table of contents of a nonfiction book to explain special features, highlight the book’s structure, and provide specifics that might help the reader get as much as possible from the book.

ISBN: International Standard Book Number, an identifier that’s unique to your book. It’s required for retail sales of printed and audiobooks unless the author is the retailer

Logline: A one-sentence book description.

Metadata: Book specifics such as title, author name, publication date, description, size, keywords, and so on. Think of it as search engine optimization — SEO — for books. It helps your book get found in online searches.

Preface: The author’s story behind the nonfiction book — why the author wrote it, etc. It appears in the front matter.

Print on demand/POD: A publishing method that allows a company to print a single book only when there’s an order. Amazon CreateSpace is a POD publisher.

Proof copy: Sometimes referred to as a galley (see above), it’s the edited manuscript that the proofreader uses.

Special market/special sales: Non-bookstore retail outlets and opportunities, such as health clubs, museums, and gift shops.

Street team: Volunteers who agree to help you share information about your book among their social networks and elsewhere in an organized manner under your direction. Responsibilities usually include writing and posting an honest review on retail sites that include Amazon, BN.com, and Goodreads.

What’s your score?

How many do you know? Here’s my totally made-up scorecard:

  • 16-21 correct: You’re no newbie. Go to the head of the class.
  • 9-15 correct: You’re not entry level, but to move up the ladder, you’ll want to learn more about the publishing business.
  • 0-8 correct: You’re just starting out, so the only way is up. Keep learning! It will pay off.

What must-know publishing terms would you add to the list?

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  1. What must-know publishing terms would you add to the list?

    Advance: A payment from publisher to author that must be paid back through book sales.

    Even writers with MFAs don’t seem to know this.

    1. Thanks, Bill. “Advance against royalties” applies only to authors seeking traditional publishing contracts. I’d adjust your definition to say it’s “designed to be paid back” rather than “must be paid back” because “must” suggests that if you don’t earn out your advance, you have to give money back to the publisher, and that’s not true. For those who aren’t familiar with the term: It’s a fee the publisher pays the author to write the book. Once you’ve sold enough books to cover that fee, you start earning royalties on sales. Until then, your royalties get credited against your advance.


    1. Thanks, Paul. I did double-check my definition before running it and everything I found said “multiple authors,” but of course there are exceptions like yours.

      As a sidebar, I get offers to contribute to anthologies pretty regularly, and every single one has been a scam disguised as an opportunity to get my name on a book (with 32 others). There’s no quality control. For most, all you have to do is pay a fee to be included and agree to buy a large number of books that you can sell directly to, um, nobody. Some ARE legit, of course, but many aren’t.

      One public relations publishing company that puts together anthologies on specific topics such as crisis communications gets the content for free from industry “thought leaders.” The publisher then sells the books for $600+ each and pays the contributors nothing. Amazing. Even the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies pay contributors $200 for their essays.


  2. Many newer writers, those totally unfamiliar with the publishing industry, will request that someone “proofread” their manuscript. They assume they do not need editing and somehow proofreading is a junior, less sophisticated form of editing that perhaps won’t cost as much.

    A proof (galley) must be compared only to the final approved edited copy. I’m a professional editor and run into this incorrect usage frequently.

    1. That’s really interesting, Michaele. Thanks! That reinforces my decision with the galley and proof copy definitions to include that it’s the EDITED file that gets proofread. I’d add “proofread” as a separate definition based on your input, but then I’d have 22 terms instead of the 21 in the headline. Fingers crossed that people read the comments and see this!



  3. Good idea for article! I’d add some more ‘modern’ terms like ‘CPC’, Reader Magnet etc that is more on trend for marketing. That would make article even more useful and more shared online.

  4. Only term I wasn’t familiar with was “callout”–though I noticed you missed the related an more-likely-encountered “sidebar.”

  5. Thank you for sharing. I am not famous author, though, I am familiar with some of the terms stated due to my short book published some years ago. Entitled “Parameter of Life.” I noticed the difference between: “Forward” and “foreward,” interesting.

    1. Yeshi, just a quick FYI, it’s “foreword” not “foreward.” And, really, these are not terms that just famous authors should know. *All* authors need to know them. Are you working on another book now?


  6. Incidentally, I came across to this page, and noticed short question from Sandy if I am working on another book now? Well, I wish I could because of pilled life experiences and observations over the years of my walk of life. Due to health, age and unidentified circumstance I am not writing. Even if I write who would be interested to read it.

    One thing I noticed, a short book I wrote in the past was highly advertised, and that surprised me. In fact, that short book was meant for children to give a bird an eye view of different culture. Who ever put it on sale, whether they benefited out of it or not I have no knowledge; and didn’t get a dim.

    Finally, I have collections of poems which are not published, but once in a while I share it with readers. Again, I am not professional poet, only I expressed my feelings, observations and experiences in a poetic way. For example:


    I am appealing foreword
    With words of appreciation
    You have a big place in my heart
    You saved my brain from idling
    You encouraged me to express
    My taught freely
    You gave me a chance to 
    Appraise and to be appraised 
    That is meant to be in the community
    Of poetry

    Where ideas expressed
    Where talents imported
    Where brainstorming flooded
    All eagerly collecting the harvest
    Wishing each and everyone
    For a better achievement 
    For a new beginning to come
    That is in every year; as far as one can breathe
    Wishing a delightful year to be
    With no distinction to make
    To all human race
    Love and Peace

  7. Reply? The above expression is mine, not a reply, but another short comment. In the past several years, I have had shared many of my writings, which I call it my “ABC” poems, and wished to be published. So, no one came “Foreword” or “Forward” which ever is right. I still looking foreword.

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