Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Publishing Glossary

UPDATED: 10/4/14

This has been in the works for a while. Please let me know if I missed anything in the comments section and I'll add it.

Advance - The money a publisher pays an author to publish their book. This money is an advance against royalties. This means that the author does not receive additional money from the publisher until the book earns an amount of money equal to the advance (see "earn out"). As long as the book is published the author does not have to pay the advance back, even if the book does not earn out. Large advances are typically paid in installments, such as a portion on signing, a portion on delivery and acceptance, and a portion on publication. Advances range from $1 to $1,000,000 or more.

Agent - A publishing professional who shepherds books and authors through the publication process. An agent will submit a book project to editors, negotiate advances and contracts, follow-up on payments, and more generally serve as a creative and business adviser to an author (and much much more). An agent is the author's advocate.

ARCs - Advance copies of a book for review. While terminology varies by publisher, ARCs are typically distinguished from bound galleys because they feature the actual cover of the book.

Association of Author's Representatives ("AAR") - An organization of agencies who abide by a canon of ethics and host meetings and panel discussions to keep agents informed about trends and issues facing the industry.

Auction - When multiple publishing houses are interested in acquiring a project they will sometimes bid against each other in an auction. While auction formats vary, typically the bids will proceed from lowest to highest and they last until one publisher has the highest bid and others have dropped out. Auctions are a good thing for authors and agents.

Backlist - These are books that have been out for a while but whose rights publishers still possess.

"Big Five" - The five largest publishers: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan

Blurb - A quote from an author or reviewer in praise of a book. Blurbs may or may not be on the cover of a book.

Book Expo of America ("BEA") - An annual, massive book convention in the US attended by publishers, agents, authors, librarians, bookstore reps, and random hangers-on.

Book plates - Stickers that go in the front of a book and often allow the owner of the book to sign their name. Book plates are a popular way for children's book authors to sign books (since book plates are more portable).

Bound Galleys - (see "galleys")

British Commonwealth - A huge list of countries, territories, and random islands, many of which you may not have ever known existed, and which were once apparently colonized by Mother Britain. The British Commonwealth is important in publishing as it is often the countries and territories where British publishers will have exclusivity (see "exclusivity"). To make it still more confusing, the list of British Commonwealth territories varies from publisher to publisher.

Buyer - The person at a bookstore or library who is responsible for ordering books.

Commission - The amount an agent receives for their services. Agents typically receive a commission of 15% for all domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales, which is split between the primary agent and a subagent (see "subagent). Agents only receive commission on works they sell, and thus aren't paid unless the author is paid.

Co-op - You know those books at the front of Barnes & Noble? Those books didn't hitchhike there themselves: that placement is typically paid for by the publisher. Publishers make certain titles "available for co-op" and work out payment arrangements and special promotions, and it is then up to the bookstore to decide which titles get to go up front.

Copyeditor - A grammar and spelling ninja who is responsible for making sure books do not have typos, geographical errors, or dangling modifiers. Not to be confused with Editors.

Copyright - The legal right of ownership of a written work. Copyright in the US lasts for the author's life plus 70 years. Your work is technically copyrighted when you write it, although you want to make sure your publisher registers copyright of your work in your name with the Library of Congress within three months of its publication for legal reasons that you are free to research on your own if you have too much time on your hands.

Debut novel - An author's first published novel, not necessarily the first book they've written.

Deep discounts - When a publisher discounts steeply in order to move some books, they are often allowed to pay the author much much less in royalties. Often a source of confusion and angst when royalty statements arrive.

Delivery and Acceptance ("D&A") - The happy time when a publisher officially accepts a book for publication. This may trigger a D&A payment (see "advance").

Delivery date - When your manuscript is due. Write it in the calendar in blood (but tell your agent if you think you're going to miss it).

Digital List Price ("DLP") - In digital audio and e-book land this is the price the publisher or rights holder places on a copy of their digital content. This may or may not have any bearing whatsoever on the price the e-publisher actually charges.

Distributor - The company that gets books from a publisher to bookstores, libraries, etc. Most major and some mid-major publishers function as their own distributors, while others use third parties. (see "wholesaler" for differentiation)

DRM - Digital Rights Management. This is software encryption that (theoretically) discourages piracy and which allows publisher to do fancy things like sync your e-book between your Kindle and your iPhone.

Earn out - When your book has earned more revenue than you were paid as an advance it is said to have "earned out." From here on out you get royalties on all "net sales" and all subrights income. Congratulations!

Editor - A publishing professional who works at a publishing house. An editor receives submissions (usually from agents), acquires projects, negotiates advances, and then coordinates with the different teams at a publisher throughout the publication process, such as production, sales, marketing, etc., basically making a book happen. An editor will typically be a savvy networker, have impeccable taste, and live in Brooklyn.

Editorial letter - The list of suggested changes an editor will ask an author to make prior to publication. Not every single tiny suggestion must be taken, but an author would do well to please their editor.

Exclusivity - 1. When an unpublished author gives an agent an "exclusive" look at their manuscript, usually for a period of time. This means the author cannot then send their manuscript to another agent during that time period. 2. Exclusivity can also refer to the exclusive rights and territory that are granted to a publisher in a publishing contract (see also "territory").

First pass pages - Once the manuscript is copyedited, the pages are then type-set and designed to look like how they'll look when the book is bound. A copy of these pages are then sent back to the editor and author, who check for any last minute errors that might have been missed or possibly introduced during the type-setting.

First proceeds - When a book is rejected for publication due to being editorially unacceptable some publishing contracts will allow the author to retain the advance and only repay the publisher out of the "first proceeds" from the sale to another publisher. Basically the author uses Publisher #2 to pay back Publisher #1.

First serial - Publication of an excerpt in a magazine or journal prior to book publication. (see also "Second Serial")

Flow through - In some contracts when there is subrights income (see "subrights") the author's share of the revenue is allowed to "flow through" directly to the author without being held by the publisher until the end of a royalty period.

Front list - A publisher's books that have come out recently.

Galleys - Advance copies of a book for review. While terminology varies by publisher, galleys are typically distinguished from ARCs as they feature a generic cover.

Genre fiction - A blanket term that refers to books with certain familiar settings and plot conventions. Genres include romance, science fiction, mystery and suspense, westerns, etc.

Hardcover - Books that are bound in cardboard or some other sturdy fashion, possibly featuring a dust jacket, and usually retailing at a higher price than paperbacks.

Imprint - The entity within a publisher whose name is printed on the spine of a book and which theoretically has a certain publishing "flavor." An imprint may be a division within a publishing house (Knopf, HarperCollins, etc.), it may be based around a certain genre (Harlequin Silhouette, Harlequin Blaze, etc.) or it may be a "boutique" imprint named after editor(s) (Nan A. Talese, Spiegel & Grau, etc.). Keeping imprints straight and remembering who reports to whom takes years of familiarity with the publishing industry and gigantic spreadsheets.

Indemnity - In a publishing contract a publisher will typically require the author to indemnify the publisher against losses sustained due to a breach in the author's warranty (see also "warranty"). In English: if the author screws up and plagiarizes someone or doesn't clear their permissions properly the author is the one on the hook.

Literary fiction - Fiction that is characterized by a plot that is typically beneath the surface and which is usually characterized by a unique and recognizable prose style.

Literary scout - A scout is someone who keeps tabs on all the hot books out there, usually on behalf of either film studios/producers or foreign publishers.

Mass market paperback - Rack sized paperback. Basically the size you usually see at the grocery store.

Midlist - Midlist titles are those that are literally in the middle of the range of advances and sales on a publisher's list. Typically midlist authors have a solid fan base but are not bestsellers. Some say the midlist is disappearing as publishers increasingly focus on their bestselling authors.

Narrative nonfiction - Nonfiction that illuminates through story. Examples of narrative nonfiction include narrative history (THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY), true crime (IN COLD BLOOD, HELTER SKELTER), memoir (MY MEMOIRS by Insert Author), etc.

Net Amount Received - Usually the amount actually received by the publisher from sales of a work, sometimes also after taking out taxes and/or certain expenses (watch those contract definitions!).

Net sales - The number of actual sales after deducting returns. Also known as "sell through".

Nonexclusivity - When a publisher only has nonexclusive rights in a certain territory the author may then grant those rights to another publisher as well.

North America - For the purposes of publishing terminology, usually refers to English speaking North America, i.e. the United States and Canada. Sorry Mexico and Central America! Nothing personal.

Omnibus - When multiple books are collected into one volume it's called an omnibus.

Open market - When rights have been granted exclusively in North America and the British Commonwealth the rest of the world is typically considered an open market. This means both the US and the British publisher may sell there.

Option - A provision in a contract that typically gives the publisher an exclusive period of time to consider and offer on the author's next work. The option may be limited or allow the publisher certain financial matching rights, so keep a close eye on this.

Out of print - When a book is no longer being actively sold by a publisher it is said to be out of print, and often an author will be able to "revert" the rights. This term has gotten a little nebulous in the era of e-books and print on demand, so make sure your contract has a solid definition.

Partial - A partial manuscript. When an agent likes a query they may ask to see a certain number of pages or chapters. If they don't specify, just send 50 pages.

Pitch letter - An agent's letter to an editor telling them why they absolutely need to buy a book the agent is shopping.

Pre-empt - When a publisher really likes a project they may make an aggressive offer in order to pre-empt an auction (also known as "taking the book off the table"). The agent and author then has to decide whether to accept the offer or take their chances with an auction.

Print on Demand ("POD") - Copies of a book printed to order. POD is sometimes used as a blanket term for self-publishing, but POD may also used by publishers to fill orders for backlist titles.

Print run - The number of copies a publisher prints of a book. There is an "announced" print run and an "actual" print run, and the difference between those numbers is something probably best not discussed.

Publisher (company) - The company that publishes your book.

Publisher (person) - A publishing executive who runs either a publishing division or an imprint and who typically has final say over what gets published.

Query letter - A letter describing your book, which will hopefully make an agent want to read more. See how to write a basic one here, and see a good one here.

Reserves against returns - Since publishers usually calculate royalty statements within six months after publication, sometimes returns will lag behind the statements. Since an author is paid based on net copies sold, this creates a conundrum since publishers don't really know what the "net" will be for quite some time after a book is published. In order to account for this publishers hold a "reserve against returns" for the first couple of royalty statements after a book's publication, which means they hold back a certain amount of money in anticipation of returns. The reserve should be a reasonable amount (talk to your agent) and they should not hold a reserve forever. (see also "returns," "net copies," and "royalty statements")

Remainder - Sometimes when a book isn't selling a publisher will sell off their remaining stock as a "remainder," which means at a low low price. This is usually a sign the book is going "out of print."

Retail price - The price of a book as listed on cover. Often royalties are paid as a percentage of the retail price of a book.

Reprint - 1. May refer to a publisher going back to press to print more copies. This is good. 2. May refer to a publisher bringing out a new edition of a book that has been previously published.

Returns - Bookstores are almost always able to return unsold copies of books back to the publisher for a refund. This causes a great deal of chaos (see also "reserves against returns").

Reversion - When your book is out of print you may have the right to "revert" your book, depending on your contract language. Basically this means the contract is canceled and the author can sell the rights to a new publisher.

Rhetorical questions - the devil's preferred method of beginning query letters

Royalties - The amount an author receives on every net copy sold of their book (see "net sales"). Royalties are either based on the cover price of a book or on the net amount received (see "net amount received") by the publisher. An author does not receive royalty payments from a publisher until their advance has earned out (see "earn out").

Royalty period - The accounting schedule for royalties. Most major publisher calculate royalties twice a year and send the agent/author statements and payments several months after the close of a royalty period.

Royalty statement - A statement of gross copies sold, net sales, subrights income, returns, reserves, money owed, advances paid, lunar cycles, cake recipes, and ancient Egyptian prophecies. Royalty statements may or may not be completely incomprehensible to anyone who has not spent years working in the publishing industry. Bonus points for illegibility.

Season - Publishers organize their titles by season. Typically there are three seasons a year, which might mean that one publisher's "Spring" really means "Winter" while another publisher's "Spring" really means "Spring." Keeping publishers' seasons straight is a nearly impossible task, although for some reason everyone seems to know what "Fall" means. The Mayans they are not.

Second serial - Publication of an excerpt in a magazine or journal after book publication. (see also "First Serial")

Self-publishing - When an author arranges for their own publication and distribution. Sometimes (though less frequently now) referred to as vanity publishing and POD, although as anon@7:32 notes in the comments section, self-publishing, vanity publishing, and POD have slightly different meanings and connotations. Vanity publishing usually refers to a service where the author pays to have their book published, self-publishing is more of a blanket term and may or may not involve paying up front, and POD has more to do with the process by which the book is produced (see "POD") than the self-publishing itself.

Sell-in - The amount of copies that are ordered by bookstores, libraries, etc. prior to publication. You want this to be a high number.

Sell through - See "net sales."

Subagent - An agent who sells subsidiary rights on behalf of a primary agent. Subagents are most common with translation and film/TV rights.

Subsidiary rights (aka "Subrights) - These are all rights under the sun that aren't original print publication rights, such as excerpt, adaptation, film/tv, audio, translation, first serial, second serial, merchandising, etc., etc. and I mean it etc. Some of these are retained by the publisher, who may exercise the rights themselves or sell them to third parties, some of these rights are retained by the author. When they are sold by the publisher to third parties the revenue is called "subrights income," which is subject to a certain percentage split between publisher and author as specified by the contract. Subrights income counts toward an author's revenues, thus helping an advance "earn out."

Synopsis - A summary of a work that covers the major plot points and characters. See this post for information on how to write one.

Term of copyright - Most contracts for original publication in the US are for term of copyright, which literally means for the length of copyright, and the author only gets the rights back if it goes out of print and the author reverts the rights (see "out of print" and "reversion").

Term of license - Sometimes contracts are for a set number of years. Terms of license are usually either based on the contract date or on the date of publication.

Tie-in - An edition of the book that ties in with a movie or TV show adaptation, usually featuring the movie cover or TV art.

Trade paperback - Mid-size paperback.

Territory - The countries in which rights are granted in a publishing contract.

Unearned - When an advance has not "earned out" the book is said to be "unearned."

Warranty - The part of a publishing contract where the author swears on their life that they are not plagiarizing anyone and everything is on the up and up (see also "Indemnity").

Wholesaler - Companies that get books to bookstores, libraries, etc. Unlike distributors, which fill orders for one or a few publishers, wholesalers fill orders for basically everything under the sun. Prominent wholesalers include Baker & Taylor and Ingram.


Stefanie said...

Very helpful! Thanks! Consider it bookmarked. :)

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Nathan. This is a wonderfully comprehensive list... although I noticed that "proposal" is missing (unless this was intended for fiction authors only).

JohnO said...

Wow! Move this straight to the Essentials link on the right side.

If you're looking for more glossary fodder, perhaps you could untangle the nuances involved in these various definitions (all culled from bios that accompanied a recent conference): debut fiction, offbeat fiction, commercial fiction, high-concept fiction, mainstream commercial fiction.

Heidi Willis said...

This is an incredible list! One I could have used 2 years ago!!

I'm bookmarking it and putting it in the sidebar of my blog.

Outstanding! thanks for all the work that went into this (and for the humor that kept it interesting!)

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I tried not to get into genres too much. I personally don't know precisely what people mean by "commercial fiction" let alone "mainstream commercial fiction" so I'll defer on that. High concept is more of a taste thing than an actually defined category.

Kristi said...

This will make the perfect appendix to your book, Nathan - awesome.

Jil said...

You worked hard on that. Thank you, Nathan,

Karen Schwabach said...

Nathan, looks great, thanks.

One quibble:

"Backlist - These are books that have been out for a while but whose rights publishers still possess."

"out of print" instead of "out"? At least that was my understanding of the term backlist. Could be wrong. Often am.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, the "backlist" is comprised of the titles that were published a while back but which a publisher is still actively selling. "Out of print" means the publisher still has the rights but does not have stock on hand and is not actively selling.

kathrynjankowski said...
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kathrynjankowski said...
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Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Very helpfully mind-boggling - I'll be sure to send you my 50 chapters as it seems to be an option :)

Steph Damore said...

Awesome - thanks!

Mira said...

Wow, Nathan. This is absolutely above and beyond. Thank you.

I especially liked the 'rhetorical questions definition.:)

So, this could serve a dual funciton. Helping authors who come to your site, as well as making an excellent glossary for your future book.

Lots of prep work already done. Just a thought....

Rick Daley said...

You forgot "Form rejection" :-(

Although if you want to split hairs, form rejection would be better placed in the Not-Publishing Glossary, so perhaps you were correct in excluding it.

bryngreenwood said...

"The Devil's preferred method for starting a query letter." Bwahahahaha!

Haste yee back ;-) said...

The word "Net" in any contract really needs investigation.

And if they start asking for rights in this galaxy, all known and unknown galaxies in this Universe and all yet to be discovered Universes, in this medium and all known and yet to be discovered mediums in this technology and all technologies yet to be discovered - RUN!

Great list, Nathan!

Haste yee back ;-)

Jen P said...

Appreciate that this was lots of work to keep concise. Very helpful. Thanks.

ref: Auction - I'd like to understand better, is that in a room shouting, or is it in written form handed in at book fairs, one-to-one is it typically held?

How about adding 'Literary scout' to remove confusion that this is not someone whom an unpublished author should seek out to be discovered as 'new talent' but the editorial ears and eyes for the publishers for whom they work.

And is it worth considering adding:

Self- and Vanity Publishing?

What are digital and audio rights and are they distinct from one another?

Debut author/novel.(Need not be first book written.)

Best seller. (To show with typical sales numbers it's not as unachievable as one may think)

ref: Wholesaler Baker & Taylor and Ingram (perhaps the US)

Perhaps some of these may be helpful.

moonrat said...

thanks, Nathan. TOTALLY stealing this.

csmith said...

Nathan - maybe "Synopsis"

Lovely list - will ingest it when I'm slightly more alive/awake.



PS - Regarding genres: I'm conducting a little experiment on a livejournal community I run (meta_writer). I've asked people to give me names of genres, and then opened it to the group to define them if they could. Polls are closing tomorrow, and then I'm going to analyse the results. I have a feeling that many people I know are needlessly restricting their agent/publisher search by doing what I refer to as the "speshul snowflake" genre i.e. My book is so different it either can't be categorised by genre, or requires 19 separate subheadings.

I'm pretty sure most people are befuddled by the more specific genre names (but will see if poll bears me out)- and I figure if readers are bemused (because I presume publishers have some idea what readers want, and a minimal amount of time in which to find it) then you're fighting against your ability to sell the book rather than aiding it.

I hope this makes some sort of sense - just started an insane commute this week and so am a bit out of it.


Anonymous said...

Great list. I'm sure it took a lot of time and effort. Thanks for this. But could you tell us the difference between a copy editor and a proofreader? Thanks again.

Anna said...

Nathan- This is terrific and thanks so much!

One questions- if a partial is requested and details aren't forthcoming, are those fifty pages preferred to be from a single or double spaced document?

Again, many thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...


See How to format your manuscript.

PurpleClover said...

This is so helpful Nathan. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. It's a real eye-opener for us slightly lacking in the publishing terminology dept.


Reesha said...

My goodness. That's a lot of work to put together. At least it would be for me.
Thanks for taking the time to do that.

Word Verification: natbran = The cereal you eat for breakfast that makes you grow up to be a successful agent with fabulous hair and know all the wonderful meanings of publishing words.

(Okay, so that wasn't really my word verification. It was actually merele, which I think means a story genre of mermaid serealism.)

Anna said...

Nathan- Thanks again! (she writes, with sheepish fingers)

Newbee said...

Holy Cow... That's a lot of information. Thanks for posting this glossary for us to look over from time to time. Your always full of great information Nathan. Thank you so much.

Nathan on another note. Will you be doing another workshop besides the one on September 13, 2009?

Nathan Bransford said...


No current plans on than that workshop this year.

chik said...

This is an invaluable glossary for terms that an author would be wise to learn. As always, your blog has provided another nugget of information!

I laughed at your definition of royalty statement. :D

"Royalty Statement - A statement of gross copies sold, net sales, subrights income, returns, reserves, money owed, advances paid, lunar cycles, cake recipes, and ancient Egyptian prophecies."

Robin said...

Coherent and excellent. Thank you very much.

Lydia Sharp said...

Nathan Bransford = everything you need to know plus stuff you didn't know you needed to know.

Seriously. All writing/publishing-related questions that come my way from this moment forward shall be answered, "Go to Nathan's blog."

Lora96 said...

I think the industry can put a hit out on you for demystifying some of their lexicon! Thank you.

JenD said...

Thank you for yet another invaluable resource!

Terry said...

Beyond helpful. A dictionary for writers.

Priceless! Thank you.

John Barnes said...

Good list, although I'd add to copy editor "except when it's the publisher's drunken nephew who got a C+ average as an English major at Jesus Junction State, though no one knows how." And you might want to mention some of the other specialty editors, e.g. acquisitions, line, fact checker, etc. And does anyone make the distinction between galleys and page proofs anymore, or would it be worth mentioning that some old poops still fuss about it?

Lucinda said...

Thank you, Nathan, for this valuable information. I will bookmark it, file it, save it, and dog ear it.


Rebecca Ryals Russell said...

Awesome! This is going to be so useful. I've bookmarked and will promote the heck out of this blog.

M. K. Clarke said...
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M. K. Clarke said...

Outstanding list, Nathan, endless thanks. One for the archives, for sure.


Strange Fiction said...

Excellent information! I needed this list. Thank you!

mcp1776 said...

Outstanding!!!! Printed it and saved it as a pfd. Thanks a lot.

Amanda Coppedge said...

Wow, Nathan! Great stuff as usual. I would add one thing to the "Buyer" entry. At a library the person who selects the books would usually be called the Collection Development Librarian or something along those lines. (My husband is one. *beams*)

Anonymous said...

1) ALA?

2) Newbury award?
3) Printz award?

4) The scale of "deals?" As in, nice, good, significant, etc, with the amounts listed? I'm forever confused on those...

Malia Sutton said...

I don't think I've ever seen such an indepth, concise list of terms before.

Many thanks. I'm saving them all.

Other Lisa said...

Will there be a quiz? Because I feel like I should memorize this!


Mitali said...

I'm so glad Maureen Johnson tweeted this link.
I can't begin to tell you how helpful it was.

I have an internship interview next week and this is a much needed guide.
Thank you so much!

kdrausin said...

This is awesome. Thank you very much.

Karen Schwabach said...

Ah, my bad. Your definition certainly makes more sense than mine did.

Julia said...

Thanks so much! Great information!

T. Anne said...

This is why I love you Nathan. Next will you teach me how to write a bullet proof proposal?

Cheryl Barker said...

This is great! Thanks, Nathan!

abc said...

Good God. Ok, I vote for you for Employee of the Month. You get your own special parking place and a 25 dollar gift certificate to Applebees. yay you!

Vicki Lane said...

Most excellent -- and I love the humor.

How about Dutch auction, Compositor, Hard/Soft Deal (not porn), Memoir vs. Creative Non-fiction?

nkrell said...

Whew! When do you plan on scheduling your carpal tunnel surgery?

Hats off to you. This is an EXCELLENT post. Thanks for all the work.

Cass said...


It's posts like this that remind me why I love you.


Wendie O said...

I would revise "Trade Paperback."
At least in the children's book world, they're often the pages of the hardback book, but with paper covers the same size as the book pages, instead of the slightly large paper over board covers or cloth over board covers. (which is why the later are called hardback.)

Hmmm -- but printed on that cheaper paper used for 'paperbacks' that yellows quickly.

Love your blog.

Precie said...

This reminds me that I've been away too long. On the flip side, it's exactly why this is on my short list of recommended sites on publishing.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting and informative list, although I object to your comparison of 'self publishing' to 'print on demand' to 'vanity publishing.' Each is a seperate and distinct thing, although the meaning between each is being blurred (and stating that the three are the same thing is further blurring the line between them).

Traditionally, for example, self-publishing means that the author handles all of the details, including the printing and distribution of the book, by themselves, which both POD and vanity publishing take care of (for a price). The basic distinction between POD and Vanity (at least traditionally) are that POD only charges for books printed, and print runs could run as small as one book, while Vanity publishers demanded you pay for the printing of books in lots.

Both POD and Vanity publishing have greater degrees of negative connotations to them them than self-publishing, especially in the poetry world where self-publishing is considered respectable, POD less so, and vanity is considered borderline fraudulent.

Kristine Overbrook said...

This is so helpful!!! Thank you.

I would like permission to put this in my local writers club newsletter, giving you credit of course. May I? and is there anything specific you want me to list in your credit?

Newbee said...

Okay, you twisted my arm! I made the flight reservations...See you on the 13th of September.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, what is the between Hard and Soft Science Fiction? (I've often heard it debated, so I'm interested in your take). Also, is there a name for science fiction which isn't quite hard, but includes enough 'real' science it isn't soft either? The definitions I've heard for both genres almost always leave room for a middle-ground that never seems to quite be explained.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's a tricky balance between brevity and including everything, but yes, I agree they have different connotations and have updated the post accordingly. I disagree just slightly with your take in that I see "self-publishing" as more of a catch-all term than necessarily implying that the author took care of the details themselves.

Nathan Bransford said...


Genre distinctions, particular subgenre distinctions, are always so blurry I kind of tried to avoid them except as needed in the glossary.

But, to answer your question, "hard" science fiction tends to be more technical and involving more realistic and plausible technological advancements (think 2001 and NEUROMANCER) whereas in "soft" science fiction the technology is more tangential and the plots can be more fantastical (think HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY).

And no, I don't really know of a term (other than just "science fiction") for the huge number of books that are a little of both. It's all blurry and you could spend all day trying to figure out where certain books fall between these distinctions. If you're trying to figure out where you own book lies, unless it's obvious just call it science fiction and don't lose any sleep over it. As you can probably tell it's not something I am ever very worried about as an agent.

PurpleClover said...
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PurpleClover said...

(spelling issues today)

Wow, your last comment was spooky. I was just reading Eric's post at Pimp My Novel and made a comment referring to my "blurry" genre (should have stated it as sub-genre).

Just spooky. This has been happening to me all week. Lot's of coinkindinks.

word veri: burraw - undercooked burro

The Writing Muse said...


ChristaCarol said...

Thanks for this, awesome!

Bane of Anubis said...


mkcbunny said...

Oh. My.

Thanks, Nathan, for all of this.

Word verification: "andlo"
As in, "And lo did Nathan bestow upon his acolytes a tablet of terminology."

wendy said...

Thanks for the thoughtfulness. Always wanted to better understand the concept of literary fiction and was happy to see that def there, plus a link to more info.

Bellissimo! (inspired by the word verfication) Boativo! might not have had the same impact...

Neil said...

Nathan, you forgot your trademarked word: Freevangelist. Should be there!

Thermocline said...

This is a great list. Thanks, Nathan.

katieleigh said...

Wow. Brilliant list - and I enjoyed the bits of snark. I'll definitely refer back to this one.

rkdarnell said...

Great work Nathan -- thanks for it. We are mutual members of the Lawrence Durrell appreciation society. Even thinking about "The Black Book" gives me chills. I sent Bukowski my only copy in about 1990....

Cheers -- Roger Darnell

Liz said...

This might be the most comprehensive list of book facts I've seen in one place! Thanks. Bookmarking it now.

Mike said...

On the topic of a partial, is 50 pages considered 50 pages from a word document or 50 pages of what what that manuscript would translate to when printed into a book (a certain number of words)? Font size and spacing can affect these greatly.

Chuck H. said...

What they all said.

Word Ver: mingsco, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mongo Inc.

Chuck H. said...

I saw back list and front list but what is midlist?

Thomas Burchfield said...

Excellent stuff. Like everyone here I've bookmarked it. Don't think I've seen so much basic information in one place before.

Back to work now . . . the Red Room held a "contest" last week, taking essays about the relationship between "obsession" and writing. My "obsessive" response is at

Nathan Bransford said...

chuck h-

Ah, good one.

Kristi Valiant said...

Thank you so much! I'll be bookmarking this.

Smokey said...

You wrote, "Exclusivity - 1. When an unpublished author gives an agent an "exclusive" look at their manuscript, usually for a period of time."

Why would an author do this? Is it partiicularly helpful to be exclusive with an unsigned agent who might reject the manuscript?

Nathan Bransford said...


Check the FAQs, which has a link to a post on exclusivity, why agents want it, what authors should know, etc.

Dawn said...

This is invaluable! Thank you so much, Nathan. :)

caboozie said...

Very timely. I've been trying to figure out what an ARC was for a while. I see the term alot. I was planning to Goggle it. No need now. This post also led to an excellent discription of literary fiction. Thanks Nathan. You're an excellent resource as usual.

Vacuum Queen said...

Whoa! I can't believe you just offer all of this advice and knowledge as a service to us in our little homes. Thanks. Your my main entertainment of the day. :)

LV Cabbie said...

Wow! Thanks

missfiddyment said...

When I finally sell a book, I don't want an advance. Like a pro ball player, I want a signing bonus.

Eric said...

Wow, Nathan!
Thanks a heap!

kathrynjankowski said...

Thanks for putting this together. It helps to have everything distilled so succinctly. I know I'll be referring to it often.

I'm also curious about auctions. Are they conducted in=office, online, via conference calls, using bike messengers?

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

Awesome post!! My book just went to contracts and I'm talking to my editor for the first time next week. The book sold quicker than I thought it would, so this info, especially at this time, is extremely helpful! My first thought when my agent told me Wednesday about the editor call, was what if I have no clue what the editor is talking about! Thanks for the great post!

Travis Erwin said...

You are a true hero to all of us writers.

Jean Reidy said...

What a great resource. How about adding "F&G" for "folded and gathered" picture books.

Lisa Melts Her Penn said...

Hi, Nathan. A good glossary, but you might want to mention that an EDITOR also performs the function of editing the ms! At least, some of us still do. Also, that editors these days are sometimes freelancers, as the in-house editor might not have time to actually edit.

Donna Hole said...

Thanks Nathan, very valuable info. I was wondering about the literary fiction. I read the link, and every time I ask someone about a genre for my novel I tend to say its Litery Fiction, based on that link, and several others like it.

However, many people tell me I really don't want my novel to be sold as that genre, that's its too unpopular.

I'm wondering if an author should ever describe the novel as Literary Fiction in the query? Or, if it should just be described as the closest genre and let the Agent, if they like the query, decide which genre the novel fits into.

James said...

Wow, the rabbit hole of publishing goes a lot deeper than I ever imagined. :P

I really learned a lot in this post, so thanks!

Lisa Lucas said...

A hat tip to you, Nathan. As the comments acknowledge, this is a helpful list for those who are encountering these words and phrases for the first time.

One clarification re the term of copyright: in the U.S., for works created after 1/1/1978, the term is the author's life + 70 years (not 75); jointly authored works are protected for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. Other works, including those that are made on a for-hire basis and works created before 1/1/78, have different terms, and knowledge of these variations can be important for authors (for example, to those seeking to use others' works as source materials).

- Lisa Lucas
Lucas LLP

Nathan Bransford said...

Whoops! Thanks for spotting that, Lisa.

Crystal Posey said...

Am so copy/pasting myself a copy. You rock!

Anonymous said...

co-agent: An agent who sells translation rights on behalf of a primary agent.

Julie20201 said...

Thank you very much. I could spend all my time here. I will definitely bookmark your blog. It's probably the most useful one I've run across.

Unknown said...

You're the man, Nathan!

Rick Crawford said...

Wow! You just added a new vocabulary list to this whole writing thing.

C Durand said...

Can we ask you to review our book, "A Moose in a Tutu", Nathan? It is now available on at URL:

Thank you!

-C. Durand
TMD Consultants & self-Publisher
Wasilla, AK

Cydney Rax said...

The info you provided is soo very informative, and funny in parts. Thank you for taking time to pull together these publishing industry terms from A to Z.

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