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Talking the Language: Publishing Terms & What They Mean

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Started | Writers’ Tips
Repro Free:Tuesday 1st September 2015. Picture Jason Clarke.

Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin

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It’s London Book Fair week and the great and the good of the publishing industry are meeting and greeting and striking deals in London’s Olympia. The Book Fair is a trade fair, but increasingly they are letting authors in (!) and providing events to enlightend and entertain. Worldwide, the two key centres for publishing are London and New York so the LBF is a vital event in the publishing calendar.

At this year’s International Literature Festival Dublin How to Get Published Conference, which will be held in Smock Alley on 20th May, Writing.ie and our team of agents will be exploring the following terms in more detail – there’s still time to submit your work for Date with An Agent, an invaluable opportunity – don’t hesitate! We are just confirming our fifth agent who specialises in fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, thrillers etc and is keen to build their list. Regardless of whether your work is selected for an agent date, it’s an invaluable information packed day.

To help you understand the industry better, these are the some of the terms publishing professionals use on a daily basis. Next week we will have a detailed glossary of book production terms courtesy of Silverwood books.

acquiring editor: an editor working in a publishing house whose main role is to identify and acquire new titles for publication.

advance: the non-returnable payment to authors by publishers against which royalty earnings are offset.

agent: a literary agent represents your work to publishers – they work on a commission basis so they only make money on what they sell, and that commission is usually 15% for home sales and 20% for overseas. A good literary agent will know all the publishers and be able to match your book to individual editors, they will also have a foreign rights department and will do their best to maximise your sales in foreign territories. Their role includes submission of a book to publishers, negotiating a contract, collecting money due, and dealing with other rights not held by the publisher, such as (in many cases) broadcasting and film rights.

AI: (sometimes AIS) abbreviation for Advance Information (Sheet), a document produced by publishers for new titles to provide marketing information about a book. Would usually include a blurb, author biography, review of the author’s previous works, book size/format, publication date and price.

auction: the bidding process by which several publishers interested in the same book will offer for it.

blurb: the brief description of a book which appears on the back of a paperback or on the inside front flap of a hardback.

book proof: a specially produced advance copy of the uncorrected text of a title, used by publishers’ sales teams and as early review copies.

commissioning editor: a person employed in a publishing house to seek out authors to write particular books for publication; sometimes used as for acquiring editor.

contract: the agreement drawn up between the publisher and the author to confirm payment terms, royalty, rates, delivery dates, territories etc.  Publishing contfacts are very complex, it is vitally important that you NEVER sign one without  taking advice on what the various clauses mean and fully understanding it.

You will also have a contractural agreement with your agent – ensure that there is a termination clause in it that suits both parties.

copy editor: the person employed in a publishing house who works on the detail of a book, ensuring accuracy and completeness and preparing it for typesetting.

copyright: the right of an author, artist, publisher etc to retain ownership of works and to produce or contract others to produce copies. In 1996, the full term of copyright was extended throughout the European Union to 70 years (previously 50 years in the UK) from the end of the year in which the author died.

discount: the percentage reduction from the publisher’s recommended retail price at which a book is sold to a bookseller.

editorial: the department within a publishing house responsible for the content of its titles, both by commissioning and acquiring but also subsequently ensuring accuracy and completeness of the finished publication.

foreign rights: You have written your book in English and the first place to sell it is in this market, whether that be Ireland and the UK, the Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) or the US and Canada. Then it is time to sell it in foreign language territories – France, Germany, Spain, South America etc.

extent: the number of pages in a book.

firm sale: books supplied on this basis may not be returned unsold by the bookseller.

first edition: first printing of a book; occasionally gains substantial secondhand value if the book or its author become especially collectable.

first draft: the bare bones of your book. When you put the last full stop down, this is the time to begin shaping, revising and rewriting. Printing your book off to edit it, is a vital part of this process. A first draft should NEVER be sent to an agent or publisher (unless you’re already under contract, and even then they won’t be thrilled!)

folio: the page number which is printed at the top or bottom of each printed page.

font: the style of typeface used in a book. Also the style of typeface used in a submission to an agent or author – this would usually be 12 point Times New Roman or other clear font, and double line spaced. NEVER COMIC SANS.

footnote: explanatory note inserted at the foot of the page referring to a point within the text, usually indicated by symbols such as asterisks and daggers or by superior numerals.

format: the shape of a book defined by its height and depth.

genre: the style or category of a book, for instance thriller, romance, literary, fantasy etc. Books that cross genre can be hard to categorise and market for publishers and bookshops but understanding your genre is very important in understanding who your reader is.

imprint: the name of the publisher who is issuing the title. Increasingly in larger publishing houses the term represents a publishing brand rather than a publishing company in its own right.

International Publishers Association: an organisation representing the publishing industry worldwide.

ISBN: universal abbreviation for International Standard Book Number, a ten digit unique identifier for each title published, which is used in a wide range of applications in all stages of the supply chain throughout the world. The number – made up of a language prefix (0 or 1 for the English language), followed by a publisher prefix, then a number relating to the individual title, and finally a check digit (used to validate the remainder of the code) – is customarily encoded in a bar code printed on the back of the book and normally appears also in the bibliographical details on the reverse of the title-page. The issuing agency for ISBNs in the United Kingdom is managed by Whitaker.

ISSN: abbreviation for International Standard Serials Number, the equivalent of the ISBN in the journal and magazine publishing business.

jacket: book cover

large print: editions of existing titles redesigned for reading by those with impaired vision, produced specifically for the library market.

legal deposit: the legal requirement for publishers to deposit with the British Library and the five copyright libraries (University Library in Cambridge, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the national libraries of Scotland, Wales and Ireland) a single copy of each publication.

licence: a subsidiary right usually granted for a fixed term or for a particular usage by the holder of the head contract in a work.

limited edition: a book published on the basis that a stated number of copies will be printed regardless of demand. Such titles are often individually numbered by hand and may achieve rarity value for collectors.

literary agent: see agent

London International Book Fair: held annually in the Olympia halls in London in March, this fair has grown rapidly as a meeting place for all those involved in the book trade in the UK and Europe.

manuscript: trade term for your book, often abbreviated to ms or mss. Partial Manuscript: 3 chapters. Full manuscript: the whole thing

market:  the potential readership for a title/ the territories of the world in which a title may be contractually sold.

marketing: the department in a publishing house with responsibility for promoting titles; this may include the press and other advertising, and securing coverage through PR and publicity.

net, nett: price paid for the book by the book shop. In Ireland royalties are often calculated on the nett price of the book rather than the retail price.

new edition: a reprint of an existing title incorporating substantial alterations, or republication of a title which has been out of print.

NYP: common abbreviation for Not Yet Published

OP: universal abbreviation for Out of Print

packager: company which creates and originates, sometimes manufactures, books for publishers.

page proof: proof of the made-up pages in a book, often used not only to check accuracy of typesetting but also as an advance promotional tool.

PDF: portable document file. Check to see what’s required – publishing prefers  documents in Word as editorial comments can be added, PDF’s are a locked format that cannot be altered and do slightly suggest you don’t trust the person you are sending it to – not a good start.

permissions: the granting of rights by one publisher to another to quote extracts from a previously published title; under normal circumstances a permission fee is charged.

picture research: the process of finding suitable illustrations for a book, normally involving contacts with photo libraries, art galleries, museums and so on.

point of sale: merchandising display material provided by publishers to bookshops in order to promote particular titles.

prelims: universal abbreviation for the preliminary pages of a book before the start of the main text, often numbered in roman numerals and including the publisher an copyright information.

print run: the number of copies printed in a single impression.

production: the department within a publishing house responsible for print and paper buying and cost and quality control; in some cases has responsibility for typographic design also.

proof: general description of any kind of check of accuracy and quality control of a book’s content; might be used of typesetting (when normally takes the form of a photocopy), of the reproduction of illustrations, or as a final check before printing (see ozalid).

proofreader: person either employed in a publishing house or as a freelancer to read text proofs and ensure accuracy of typesetting.

publicity: the department within a publishing house which organises ‘free’ promotion of titles published, often through the sending out of review copies or soliciting coverage in the media.

Public Lending Right: the right of an author to receive from the public purse a payment for the loan of works from public libraries. I fyou are an author make sure you register here.

query letter: submission to US publishers/agents is a different process to submitting to UK or Irish publishers. Most will require a query letter/email in which you pitch your novel. If they like the sound of it they will request a partial or full manuscript.

recommended retail price: the price at which the publisher recommends that a book should be sold; to which the bookseller’s discount is applied and ideally on which the royalty payment to the author is calculated.

reminder: a publisher’s overstock sold off cheaply for resale through bargain bookshops etc.

returns: bookshops work on a sale or return basis. Most shops will stock a book for approximately three months, when any unsold stock will be returned to the distributor.

reprint: a second or subsequent printing of a title.

returns: books returned unsold from bookshops to publishers for full credit.

review copy: advance copy of a book sent out without charge to the press or other media in order that they can review the book. These would normally be send anything from six months prior to release date.

royalty: the payment made by publishers to authors and others on sales made; this should be a percentage of the recommended retail price in the home market and of the monies received from export sales. Often in the Irish market royalties are calculated on the net price of the book (see above), or the price that it is sold to the bookshop which can be 40-50% less than the retail price. These payments are usually set off against an advance and accounted for at six monthly intervals.

RRP: abbreviation for recommended retail price.

scout: a person employed in an overseas territory to identify possible acquisitions of new titles.

serial rights: a subsidiary right involving the sale of extracts from a title to a newspaper or magazine.

submission package: when submitting to an agent or publisher you are usually required to send a cover letter, the first three chapters of your book and a synopsis. Always check publishers’ guidelines and follow them to the letter as some may want a synopsis of a particular length or perhaps the first fifty pages of your book rather than the first three chapters.

subsidiary rights: rights which are acquired by publishers for subsequent resale, such as serial rights, translation rights, etc.

synopsis: an overview of your plot/book containing all the reveals, ideally 1-2 pages long. This is not a blurb, it needs to show what happens in the book, outline the key characters and events.

translation rights: the right to translate and publish a work into another language.

wholesaler: stockholding supplier of titles to booksellers whose business is based on buying from the publisher in quantity and supplying single copy or small orders.

word count: books are measured by word count, not by the number of pages (everyone sets their pages slightly differently) Each genre has word count guidelines and as a new author you need to be cognisant of them. Word count is linked to the length of the book, and its production and selling price. It is a commercial constraint and while well known, bestselling authors are much less restricted by prescribed lengths, understanding where your book should ideally fall lengthwise is important.

Writers and Artists Year Book: an annual publication by A. & C. Black listing publishers, agents and providing valuable information to writers.

Commonly heard statements (generally to be avoided):

My book’s guaranteed to be an International Bestseller

No it isn’t.

But don’t stop dreaming (just don’t say this to anyone in publishing, it makes their eyes roll back)

A book will only become an international bestseller if the rights are sold to different publishers in different countries and it becomes a bestseller in each of those countries (no mean feat). No one book deal – even one for Worldwide rights – will automatically make your book an international bestseller, or even guarantee that it is sold in different countries. Not all publishers, although they may want Worldwide rights, will have the capability and connections to sell those rights on.

Perfect for all ages

No books suit all ages – how many seven year olds read the same books as middle aged men? Really. Understand your market, know who is going to read your book. There will always be books that different ages groups will enjoy, but for marketing purposes, books need to be clearly targetted.

Not a particular genre/Different from everything else

We hope so but not too different. As a first time novellist it is incredible if you can break the mould but you need to persuade some brave and fearless publisher to back you first. They are out there, but there aren’t very many of them. Understanding genre shows that you understand who your reader might be.

The best advice I was ever given was ‘just keep writing’, doing that but also understanding the world of publishing will keep you on the road to success.

(c) Vanessa Fox Loughlin

About the author

Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin is the founder of Writing.ie, The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and The Rights Bureau. She is Ireland’s leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and best selling authors to publication.

Vanessa conceived and developed the National Emerging Writer Programme for Dublin City of Literature, and was the lead consultant and presenter for  WritersWebTV bringing free, live, online workshops to writers worldwide.
Vanessa is the Chair of Irish PEN and the Irish and Eurozone Adviser to the international organisation The Alliance little_bones_b_1 280x420of Independent Authors.

Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book. She is represented by Simon Trewin at WME and writes crime as Sam Blake. The first of her Cat Connolly thriller trilogy LITTLE BONES  was published in May 2016 and hit the bestseller list,  spending 8 weeks in the Top 10 with 4 weeks at No. 1. Book two in the trilogy IN DEEP WATER is due out on April 6 2017.

  • The Dark Room by Sam Blake
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