Tom's Glossary of
Book Publishing Terms

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ADVANCE: A secret code signalling to the marketing department whether or not to promote a title.

ADVANCE COPY: A bound book that when opened by an editor will instantly expose an embarrassing mistake.

AGENT: An intellectual property and contract law specialist who is unable to pass the bar.

ANTHOLOGY: An artifact that has been superseded by stacks of velo-bound photocopied pages, usually unnumbered and with text cut off at the edges, known as CLASS READERS.

AUTHOR: A large class of individuals (approximately three times as numerous as readers) serving a promotional function in book marketing or providing make-work for editorial interns.

AUTHOR BIO: A piece of creative writing whose length varies inversely with the attractiveness of the person depicted in the AUTHOR PHOTO.

AUTHOR PHOTO: Pictorial fiction. Authors always choose photos that emphasize that quality in which they feel most deficient.

AUTHOR TOUR: A hazing ritual intended to make authors compliant to their publishers.

AUTHOR’S DISCOUNT: A penalty charged authors who are unable to wheedle sufficient masses of free copies, purportedly for the purpose of promotion, from their editors.


BACKLIST: Unsold inventory.

BACKMATTER: Unread verbiage. (See also SPINE)

BEST SELLER: A book purchased for display.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A list of out-of-print books found in a book that will soon go out of print.

BINDING: A mechanical technique of organizing disordered thoughts.

BLUELINES: A signal to the author to begin rewriting.

BLURB: A brief noise that embarrasses everyone.

BOOK DISTRIBUTION: An elaborate system testing the commitment of readers by making sure they cannot obtain specific books too easily.

BOOK PACKAGER: A publisher unwilling to invest in his product.

BOOK REVIEW: A recycled press release offered to publishers by newspaper and magazine sales departments as an inducement to advertising.

BOOKS IN PRINT: Beta version of


CASING: Boards that make a dubious publication appear upright. See SPINE.

CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER BREAKDOWN: The progressive deterioration of a COPY EDITOR who is on a tight deadline.

CLASS READERS: Documentation suggesting to students what teachers would have talked about if they had managed their time more effectively. (See ANTHOLOGY.)

COLLABORATION: A relationship in which one author exploits another.

COLOPHON: Coup de grace.

COMMERCIAL FICTION: The notion of publishing as a way of making money.

COMP COPIES: A publisher’s entire inventory, according to the urgings of his friends and colleagues.

CO-OP ADVERTISING: Bookstore promotion paid by a publisher to placate an author.

COPYEDITOR: An independent scholar, usually with a Ph.D. in the humanities.

COPY EDITING: A phase of publishing that requires little or no budget, is considered of slight importance, and may be omitted at the option of the publisher..

COPYRIGHT: A concept invented by lawyers as a hedge against unemployment.

tom freaking out

CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER BREAKDOWN: The progressive deterioration of a copy editor who is on a tight deadline.


DEADLINE: An item that exists to be renegotiated and revised. In his famous paradox, the Greek philosopher Zeno proved that deadlines can never be met.

DESIGNER: A specialist in illegibility.

DISTRIBUTOR: An annoying apparatus that is always out of tune, causing sluggish performance.

DUST JACKET: An ephemeral object without which a first edition becomes worthless to collectors.


EDITOR: A writer with a day job.


FANTASY: An author's sales aspirations.

FOREIGN MARKET: The part of the country outside New York City.

FOREIGN RIGHTS: In a publishing agreement, rights that cannot be expressed in ordinary English.

FOREWORD: A blurb that is placed between the covers of the book to compensate for an unmarketable author.

FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR: An annual international exhibition of artwork on paper.

view of the world from 9th avenue

FOREIGN MARKET: The part of the country outside New York City ("View of the World from Ninth Avenue,"
New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg).


GALLEYS: Rows of cubicles staffed by entry-level editors.


IMPOSITION: An author call announcing an unexpected visit.

INSTANT BOOK: Dummy copy that separates topical front and back cover images.


KILL FEE: The cost of a contract on an author or editor.


LEAD: A heavy metal that thuds when dropped. Used in the expression "Our lead title this season is luminous and compelling."

LETTERHEAD: Colloquialism for a typographer.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: The best place to hide from a congressman.

LITERATURE: Designation applied to titles judged unsaleable.

LINE EDITOR: An escort charged with limiting an author's consumption of cocaine.

LITMAG: Incendiary writing.

Library of Congress signage

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: The best place to hide from a congressman.


MAINSTREAM FICTION: The pretense that there is a group of readers who can be reached through writing that is sufficiently unspecific as to exclude no one.

MAKEREADY: Updating your resume.

MECHANICALS: Genre fiction.

MIDLIST: A term applied to books that sell in only moderate numbers, a category that covers approximately 99 percent of the entire sales range.

MULTIMEDIA: A book with many pictures and few words (see CHRONICLE BOOKS).


NET RECEIPTS: Gross receipts after discounts, fees, hurts, and returns are deducted, usually a negative number.

NOVELLA: A short story that has not been edited.


OLD STYLE FIGURES: Old publishing ledgers filled with black ink.




PRINTER'S ERROR (PE): An error made before a book goes to print.

PUBLICATION DATE (PUB DATE): A sliding holiday based on the phases of the moon.


QUERY LETTER: A literary genre in which the key sentence ends with a proposition.


REJECTION LETTER (FORM): A condensed restraining order serving to justify requests for SASEs.

REJECTION LETTER (PERSONAL): A formulaic literary genre, premised on justifying not reading or misreading a manuscript, in which the narrator grossly exposes both deep character flaws and an absolute blindness to them.

RETURNS: A book distribution policy invented by UPS to increase its stockholder dividends.

REVIEW COPIES: Books sold at the Strand bookstore.

ROYALTY: The glamorous heads of large publishing houses, also known as GLITERATI.


SALES REP: A roaming bookstore employee retained as a buffer against publishers and authors.


SHELF LIFE: Bookworms.

SHORT STORY: A story that is seldom short enough.

SPINE: Once an essential aspect of any book, spines are no longer found in the publishing industry.


TITLE PAGE: A bombastic page found in university press books listing degrees and honorifics of contributors (offered in lieu of payment).

TRADE PAPERBACKS: What readers do instead of purchasing new books.

TRANSLATION RIGHTS: The right to betray an author in multiple languages.


UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY: A biography in which there is no trace of original writing by an author.

UNIVERSITY PRESS: A business predicated on obtaining materials from scholars without compensating them in order to sell the same materials at high prices to scholars.

UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPT: A manuscript that can’t sell because it includes too few salacious solicitations.


WORK-FOR-HIRE: Migrant labor.

WRONG FONT: Comic Sans.


contributors page in book

TITLE PAGE: A bombastic page found in university press books listing degrees and honorifics of contributors (offered in lieu of payment).