Home Bio Publications Events Bill's Books Worth Reading For Writers Contact

Dictionary of Publishing Terms

  • Advance: Funds paid by the publisher to an author before publication. The advanace is often apportioned incrementally (i.e., one-third upon acceptance, one-third upon delivery of final manuscript, one-third upon acceptance of revisions). Once the book starts selling, the royalties that would normally be paid to the author are paid to the publisher until the book "earns out" and the publisher has been paid back its advance money. After the advance is covered, the author earns the additional royalties, usually paid twice a year.
  • ARC: Advance reading copy. This is a pre-publication galley that is sent to book reviewers and booksellers long before publication so they have time to write about it or order it.
  • Copy editing: Making editing corrections for grammar, punctuation, and style, but not for content or flow.
  • Cover art: Artwork on all outside surfaces of book: front, back, and spine.
  • Distributors: Entity that acts as an intermediary between publishers and booksellers. Distributors store and ship books from warehouses and receive returns from booksellers. Ingrams and Baker & Taylor are two of the largest book distributors.
  • Dump: A cardboard display in a bookstore that holds specific books to lend them greater visibility.
  • Earn-out: Actual dollar amount required to cover the advance paid to author.
  • Flak: A slang term for a publicist or public relations representative, usually an entertainment publicist.
  • FNASR: First North American Serial Rights. This indicates the rights to publish something for the first time in any medium in North America.
  • Galley: A pre-publication version of a book. Changes can still be made to galley pages before the book is published. The galley frequently contains book information on the back jacket, such as publication date, sales price, and publicist contact information.
  • ISBN: International Standard Book Number. This unique number is used to identify the book and usually appears on the back cover.
  • Joint accounting: With multi-book contracts, author may receive advance on all the books and is thus required to earn back the advance before any royalties are paid on the first book, even if first book earned out.
  • Lead time: Amount of time between acquisition of a manuscript and its publication date.
  • Line editing: Editing a manuscript for content, flow, plot, tone, characterization, and other "big picture" items.
  • List: Publisher's roster of books to be released at a given time (i.e., fall list, etc.).
  • P&L: Profit and Loss statement detailing the cost of production (including author advance) and expected profit for each book. With today's corporate structure of big book buyers, this is the key decision point on whether or not to purchase a new author's book.
  • Print run: Number of copies printed of each book. Number shipped may be different, depending upon the house policy about warehousing.
  • Proposal: This is the method by which non-fiction authors "propose" to write a book for a particular publisher before actually writing the book. This is to non-fiction authors what a query letter is to their article-writing counterparts. Each agent or publisher has differing guidelines as to what they want in a proposal, but a great guide is Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman and Deborah Levine Herman.
  • Publication date (or pub date): Month and year the book is published. Generally a few weeks earlier than the release date.
  • Pulped: Recycling of unsold books into pulp to be made into paper. This happens when sizable amounts remain of a print run and demand for them has ceased.
  • Release date: Date when book is expected to appear on shelves. Generally a few weeks after the publication date.
  • Remaindered: Slashing the price of a book as its sales drop off so they can “sell the remainder of the print run.”
  • Reserves: A percentage of the royalty withheld from the author by the publisher to allow for books being returned to them by booksellers. Once all books have been accounted for, the reserve amount is passed along to the author.
  • Returns: Books returned to the publisher from booksellers.
  • Revisions: Changes to the manuscript performed at editor's request.
  • Sales rep: A publisher's representative who contacts booksellers to sell the publisher's list.
  • SASE: Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. Often required by agents and publishers as part of a submission so they can send you their response. If their guidelines require an SASE and you don't include one, the entire submission is usually tossed in the trash.
  • Scraps: Books never shipped from warehouse; often sold to discounters.
  • Second Serial Rights: This indicates the rights to republish something that has already been published elsewhere before.
  • Sell-In: Period when sales reps solicit orders from booksellers. Approximately 5-6 months before a book's publication date.
  • Sell-through: The number rerepsenting the percentage of books shipped that are actually sold. The sell-through number is critical in obtaining future contracts; also critical in ordering decisions by distributors and booksellers.
  • Series (or line): Novels grouped with similar themes, tones, and types. Examples are Silhouette Romance, Harlequin Presents, etc.
  • Single-title: Not part of a line or series. A book that stands alone.
  • Slush pile: Unsolicited manuscripts received by publisher.
  • Stripped books: Often called "strips." Books not sold will have covers stripped and returned to publisher as proof that they did not sell. Author receives no royalties on these.
  • Synopsis: Summary of a book's plot and main characters.
  • Tip sheets: A sheet from the publisher detailing specific information about the book and author.
  • Trim Size: The height and width of the book page.
  • Wholesalers: Distributors who stock books in non-bookstore locations (convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.) and sell books in bulk at discounted prices.
  • Word count: Number of words in manuscript. A double-spaced page will yield approximately 250 words per page.

  • The Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
  • Headline (or "hed"): A brief statement appearing at the top of an article that signals or alludes to what the article is about.
  • Subhead (also "dek" or "deck"): A one- or two-line teaser that appears just below the headline meant to entice readers to continue reading. Often the subhead will elaborate on the article's content. For example: Hed: Brace for Impact Dek: Venable’s James Hanks Jr. was the last passenger out of Flight 1549
  • Lead (or "lede"): The opening sentence or sentences, which are meant to act as a thesis statement for the article. The lead should attempt to answer as many of the five Ws as possible without becoming cumbersome.
  • Nut graph: A brief summary of facts. Usually this appears at the front of the article just after the lead or introductary material. In a feature story, the nut graph is sometimes called a "billboard" because it hints at certain facts instead of detailing them, allowing the writer to save details until the article's end.
  • Inverted Pyramid Structure: The organization of an article is often described as an inverted pyramid because the most important information is front-loaded so that readers can gain all the most important information in the first few paragraphs before deciding if they want to continue. This structure also allows editors to make cuts to meet page-space restrictions by lopping off the end of an article without losing important content.
  • Runner: Something mentioned in the story that is repeated multiple times, usually to evoke the same feeling at each usage. Often it's a minor item or object that has personal significance to the subject being profiled. Runners can also be used in a many-faceted story to alert the reader that each section with the runner connects directly to the other sections with the same runner.
  • Features: Longer articles that typically do not use straight-news leads; instead they attempt to lure readers in with the promise of a payoff at the end. A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event, as in an "anecdotal lead". From the particulars of a person or episode, its view quickly broadens to generalities about the story's subject.
  • Kicker: A dynamic closing to an article, most often used in features and sometimes in straight-news stories.
  • Sidebar: A section of material that supports the main article but is separated graphically to stand apart and often presented as a list, table, bullets, or other data-friendly format.
  • Above the Line: The listing of editors at the top of the masthead, often separated from the rest of the staff by a line.
  • Art Director: The person who oversees all of the editorial art in the magazine, which includes design, photography, and illustrations (not ads).
  • Backfill: To provide important information later in a story, after a reader has been "hooked" and the story is in full progress. When exposition comes later instead of being front-loaded, it is called backfill.
  • Back of the Book (or "B.O.B.): The last third (not necessarily equally apportioned) of the magazine after the “well.”
  • Blue lines: The first set of pages that come back from the printer before a final print run of the magazine or newspaper is done.
  • Clips (or "tear sheets"): Samples of published work that writers will include with an article query to demonstrate their proficiency. The guidelines for many magazines require new writers to send clips to be considered for current assignments.
  • Column: Can refer either to a column of print on the page. Articles are often discussed in size using columns as the size measurement (i.e., a one-column story). Column can also refer to a specific type of article that appears in the same section of each issue of a magazine or newspaper.
  • Drop-in: A flashback or reflection on something outside of the current story line that is "dropped in" to add context. Care must be taken to craft smooth transitions so that the story's flow is not harmed.
  • Fact-Checker: The person responsible for verifying all of the facts in a story before it is printed.
  • Fillers: Short items, sometimes just a paragraph in length, that provide a quick, broad overview of a subject. These text-light pieces usually incorporate photos or graphics to help tell the story or focus on a subject.
  • Front of the Book (or "F.O.B.): The first third (not necessarily equally apportioned) of the magazine before you get to the “well” that has advertising surrounding it. The F.O.B. usually consists of fillers and columns.
  • Galley or Galley Proof: A page of a story or column with the approved text incorporated into the approved layout for the magazine page. These are sometimes provided to writers as a last-chance opportunity to make editing suggestions.
  • Handler: The personal assistant or other intermediary that you must go through to set up interviews with celebrities.
  • Layout: The design of any magazine page, including pictures, headlines and captions.
  • Masthead: The list of staffers at any given magazine that usually appears in the first few pages of any magazine.
  • On Spec (or "on speculation"): When someone writes and submits a complete story without having an assignment for that story in hopes the editors will accept it for publication.
  • One-off: A one-time publication of a themed issue. The one-off is usually associated with a larger, regularly appearing magazine. Lifestyle magazines often publish one-offs of bridal fashions or other issues of seasonal interest.
  • Over the Transom: When a writer sends in a story that was never assigned or discussed, it is said to have come in “over the transom.”
  • Query: An idea pitched by a writer to an editor. Querying is the standard process by which a writer gains an assignment from a magazine to write a story. A query letter will often contain a story's hook, relevant facts, and proposed length and treatment. Normally a freelance writer will not begin the real work on a story until an editor assigns the story and sends a contract detailing length, payment, and deadline.
  • Slush Pile: The pile of unsolicited manuscripts that collects in editors’ inboxes.
  • Slug: The short name given to an article that is in production before a title has been chosen (i.e., dress-making article).
  • Stringer: A writer who frequently writes for a certain publication but does not hold a staff position.
  • Tabloid: A newsprint magazine that is smaller in size than a newspaper and is printed in portrait format so a reader pages through it in the same way as a regular magazine.
  • TK: Editor's shorthand for “to come.” It is often used as part of a statment that the editor wants included in the story that requires information from the writer. For example, a writer might submit a story that includes the line, “George McGuffin believes he was abducted by aliens.” The editor, wanting to inform readers (and perhaps warn neighbors) of George's age and city of residence, might then add the following comments to the line: “TK resident George McGuffin, age TK, believes he was abducted by aliens.”
  • Well: The well is the group of pages where no or little advertising appears. The well articles are usually cover-stories and fashion or beauty spreads. They are also usually longer than F.O.B. or B.O.B. stories.
  • Wrangler: The person on staff who is responsible for booking the celebrities who appear in the magazine and handling their needs when they arrive for photo shoots and/or interviews.
  • Write-around: A profile article that is written about a subject without actually interviewing the subject. This is done by contacting known associates, friends, and relatives of the subject and interviewing them instead, thus "writing around" the subject. Direct quotes from the subject may also be pulled from other sources and attributed to the original article or speech.
  • Writing Samples: Samples of writing either published or nonpublished. See also "Clips."

FICTION, NON-FICTION, NARRATIVE NON-FICTION, & CREATIVE NON-FICTION It used to be easy to distinguish fiction from non-fiction, but then creative non-fiction was thrown into the lexicon and now nobody can tell one from the other. Simply put, FICTION is writing that is not factual and has been created out off the imagination of its author. NON-FICTION is writing that is factual, such as articles and essays. Non-fiction often includes quotes from interview subjects and hard data from research sources.

NARRATIVE NON-FICTION is a blending of the the two. It tells a factual story but uses fiction's story-telling techniques to make the flow of information more compelling. Truman Capote is often credited with the birth of this technique with his fascinating book In Cold Blood. In researching this book, he interviewed the murderers of a Midwestern family and then wrote up the story the same way he would craft a novel. Most people today who cite an article or essay as being creative non-fiction are actually referring to a piece of narrative non-fiction. There is a difference.

CREATIVE NON-FICTION takes the blending of fiction and non-fiction a step further. It begins with a non-fiction story and then adds "creative" story elements to it. In other words, the writer makes stuff up that he or she doesn't know to be true, such as inventing dialogue. I know what you're thinking: As soon as you start making stuff up, isn't that the definition of fiction? Well, yes it is. Hence the confusion.

is considered to be "essentially" factual because Although purists decry this misuse of the words "non-fiction," creative non-fiction's imaginative methodology has become an acceptable practice in today's writing world. Here is how it is applied. Let's say you are writing an essay about your grandfather's uncomfortable encounter with General Douglas MacArthur. You know they actually met because the photo of the two of them frowning at each other has stood upon the family mantel for decades, but you don't any of the details and your grandfather is deceased. So you invent the meeting and the dialogue and tell about the encounter as you might create a scene in a novel. What allows you to do this in creative non-fiction is the premise that, "Well, it could have happened that way. We just don't know."

Following that caveat, if you show the general pinning a medal on your grandfather's chest and trying to shake his hand but being rebuffed, you're on solid ground in the world of creative non-fiction. You might even be able to stretch plausibility and say that they argued over something and your grandfather slugged the general in the stomach and his aides had to pull him off. However, if you say that he got so mad he sliced the general's ear off with a bayonet and because of the poor state of medicine in those days they replaced his ear with a wooden one, well then you've fallen down the rabbit hole and you're now in the world of fiction.

Making matters even more complicated is the relaxed state of MEMOIRs today. Memoirs are very similar to autobiographies, except in the matter of scope. An auto-biography covers an individual's entire life and a memoir either covers a specific period of his life (childhood or a period of war, for example) or a specific type of event that occured during different periods throughout his life (such as the various times he cheated on his girlfriends and wives). Once upon a time, memoir used to follow the strict rules of non-fiction. But now many memoirs play loose with facts with a front-of-the-book clause that is something akin to, "This might not be how it really happened, but this is how I remember it."