Glossary of Publishing Terms



Add-ons are features and services the author decides to include to enhance his book.

1. Traditional publishers will normally not entertain add-on requests.

2. Beware of predatory self-publishing companies. Their websites are deliberately confusing. They will try to inflate costs by recommending add-ons that are not clearly explained or even necessary.

3. DIYers can do anything they want.


These are 'free' copies the publisher sends the author after completion.

1. Traditional publishers will provide a few (usually single digit) copies for free, but authors can buy more at a preset discount price. (Normally between 35% to 50%)

2. Self-publishing companies normally give authors 5 free copies and more at a discounted price of between 30% to 60%, the upper limit applying to purchases of more than 1000 copies.

3. DIYers can keep as many as they want.


Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) will give you a Library of Congress catalogue description, which will be useful for library sales. It is also an indirect assertion of one's copyright.

1. In traditional publishing, authors don’t have to worry about this. The houses will handle it as part of their admin.

2. Many self-publishing companies appear to ignore this (probably due to this explanation:

3. DIY publishers, please read the same link in clause 2 above.


The content editor looks at the ‘big picture’ of the manuscript and may recommend the chapters or paragraphs be moved around for better storytelling, plot development and organisation.


Will look at overall language, word and phrase use, contradictions, inconsistencies, factual errors or discrepancies, including authenticity of dialogue, story pacing and character development. Is the story believable? And will alert the client to possible legal problems.


Copyediting is to ensure that the ‘copy’ (or manuscript) is accurate, easy to read and free of errors, omissions and repetition. This purpose is meant to pick up embarrassing mistakes in grammar and spelling, ambiguities and anomalies.


Copyright is the legal right created by the law that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution for a limited time (the author's lifetime plus 70 years in many countries.)

1. In the agreement with a traditional publisher, the author surrenders exclusive publishing rights to exploit the works in many forms of expression.

2. The above should not apply to self-publishing contracts, since the author pays for everything. But do check the fine print.

3. Copyright need not be registered. Some online companies offer copyright registration for a fee, and many authors are lulled by this, but if any part of the author's work (except ‘fair comment’ and there is no clear definition of this) has been lifted off someone else's work, this is no protection at all. So, keep your work original.


This is the control over the content (language, storytelling, etc), and the look and feel the author dreams of.

1. There may be a major loss of creative control with a traditional publisher, as the house would want to maximise its return on investment. The book would comply with house standards.

2. With self-publishing companies, your content will be safe (they probably won't even add a comma without being paid extra), but quality is something else. Some of what we have seen is awful, but others have been impressive.

3. DIYers have total control over their product.


Distribution is the process of placing books in shops for retail and is the most expensive part of book selling.

1. Traditional publishers (all over the world) outsource book distribution to companies and wholesalers, for which they may pay 60% or more of the RRP. Distribution is easier for them due to being an established brand, and their many years of goodwill.

2. Self-publishing companies do not hold stock, but use POD organisations like Lightning Resources for printing and like Ingrams as distributors, and charge all costs to the author.

3. DIY publishers may employ local distributors to place books in shops, but that would mean they’d earn 60% less on every book sold. (Setting the right RRP is very important.)


E-books are meant for reading on computers and other electronic devices. They come in many formats: PDF, epub, mobi and others.

1. Traditional publishers acquire e-book rights with other subsidiary rights when the agreement is signed, but authors will be paid a predetermined percentage as royalty. E-book sales for them would be good since they publish thousands of books and represent many A-list authors.

2. Self-publishing companies also produce the e-books and pay out royalties, but don't expect huge sales figures (which they will promise) as none of their clients would be A-list authors.

3. DIY-publishers have to use third-party contractors to produce e-books (unless they can do it themselves.).


This refers to opportunities for one-on-one discussions with publishing professionals.

1. With traditional publishers, authors in most cases, will have some contact (face-to-face or otherwise) with someone from the house.

2. With many self-publishing companies, authors may never contact with anyone other than the sales rep (if that).

3. DIY publishers may have friends with know-how (but beware of the blind, misleading the blind).


Galleys (or galley proofs) are the preliminary versions of publications (often with extra-wide margins for corrections). Galleys may be uncut and unbound, or in some cases, electronically published (usually PDF). They are created primarily for proofreading and copy-editing, but may be used as promotional and review copies.


A ghostwriter is someone hired to write a book (or other text) that is credited to another person (the 'author'). Usually, the ghostwriter remains anonymous, and there is normally a confidentiality clause in the contract between the parties. But sometimes, he or she is acknowledged by the author and/or publisher for their services, although often diplomatically called something else, like researcher.


Some predatory (big) self-publishing companies are notorious for the hard sell. Once they get your contact, expect relentless harassment by telephone or email until you sign a contract.


The International Standard Book Number is a 13 digit number that identifies every book in the world. This is essential for all books that are sold in shops.

1. In traditional and self-publishing companies, this will be taken care of.

2. DIY publishers will have to, well ... DIY.


Leading (pronounced as in the metal ‘lead’) is the space between adjacent lines of type. In hand typesetting of the pre-computer days, leading was the thin strips of lead (or aluminum) that were inserted between lines of type to control the vertical space between the lines.


A line editor looks at the creative content, writing style and language. She focuses on the way language is used to communicate with the reader. Is it clear, fluid and pleasant to read? Does it convey the right atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Are the words precise. She also hunts down generalisations, overuse of certain words, and clichés. Line editing is all about enhancing the style.


This refers to the listing of the author’s book on prominent e-commerce sites like, Apple’s iBook store, etc.

1. Large traditional publishers will do it as a matter of course, because they are important retail outlets and for branding. They get traction due to their A-list authors.

2. Online self-publishers primarily use this feature to flatter the author into dreaming of world fame, huge sales and outrageous fortune. In reality, it’s merely bait. Sales from these channels are minimal because a new author is an unknown. Royalties from a sale (if any) will be around 10%. 

3. DIYers are advised not to waste their time with Amazon and the like. It’s good for vanity, not the wallet.


Traditional publishers may nominate stand-out works they have produced for literary prizes, and these are more easily accepted because their books are perceived as having gone through a 'pre-selection' process. Critical acclaim and sales of translation rights, too, are more likely


This includes all methods of promoting your book.

1. Large traditional publishers absorb marketing costs for books by their big name authors. Lesser authors are expected to sell with the prestige of the house brand. So, lesser authors must promote their own books.

2. Self-publishing companies do no marketing at all, except their own services, besides listing the author’s book on Amazon and the like (see under 'listing' above).

3. DIY-publishers understand clearly that they have to sell their own books.


This is the widespread respect and admiration perceived by authors as a result of acceptance by a major publishing house.


This is often called POD, a system which allows publishing houses to not keep stock of books, but depend on a POD printer (like Lightning Resources) to produce the book only when there’s a sale.

1. Traditional publishers normally offer this service for books that have gone out of print, which they have preserved in digital form. Espresso Book Machines use this technology.

2. POD is the preferred method of distribution for many self-publishing companies. This is good for them since they only need to store digital copies, but not for authors because the retail price becomes very high, and bookshops are normally reluctant to stock the books at that price.


A publisher's professional team will include editors, proofreaders and designers. Many self-publishers, though, lack professional teams. Authors need to research before signing on. Google reviews.


After copy editing, the manuscript is sent to a designer for typesetting. The work is printed (or displayed on the screen) and is ready for publication after proofreading, which is the final quality check and tidy-up. A proofreader looks for consistency in language usage and presentation, typos, accuracy in text, images and layout errors, but is not responsible for editing the author's work.


This is the process of using computers and software in book production.

1. In traditional and self-publishing companies, authors don’t have to worry about this at all. It will be taken care of.

2. DIY publishers will have to, well ... DIY. (Some learning and investment  in software will be involved, or else this work could be outsourced.)


Quality is what most authors pay for, but don't always get.

1. With a traditional publisher the quality of the product is apparent. It's their house style. (It is normally good, but not great.)

2. With with online self-publishing companies, the final product quality is often quite poor despite the high cost. (Again, read Google reviews).

3. With DIY publishing the author is in full control, and quality is dependent only on him/her.


Traditional publishers may or may not accept your manuscript for many reasons – the book might not fit the publisher's niche, or your book is too narrowly targeted, or it is on a topic that does not sell too much for this publisher, etc. The author, the book and the publisher must match. With self-publishing companies, there is little chance of rejection (except for illegal content).


These are monies paid by publishers to authors from the sale of their books.

1. For traditional publishers, this will normally be around 8% to 12% of the RRP, since they absorb all the upfront and marketing costs.

2. For self-publishing companies, this can be as low as 10% (if sold on Amazon) and 25% if sold on their own site. (This, after the author has paid a tonne of money for everything).

3. For DIY authors, royalty does not arise. 


RRP is the Recommended Retail Price

1. For traditional publishing, the selling price is determined by the publisher, based on market forces.

2. Self-publishing companies also set their own prices, but these can end up being too high for the local market.

3. DIYers set their own prices.


1. These are rights that can be sold on to third parties, like for movies, television, radio, translations, e-books, adaptations and so on. 
1. Traditional publishers would acquire these rights from authors when they take on the job. But authors will share proceeds from any sell-on. This is fair because the publishers would assume all publishing costs, and they have all the contacts anyway.

2. Online self-publishing companies do not acquire subsidiary rights.

3. Very few DIYers would know how to exploit subsidiary rights apart from dreaming of making movies based on their books.


These are costs incurred for publication.

1. In traditional houses, the publisher assumes all costs for this.

2. With self-publishing companies, this cost is entirely born by the author.

3. DIYers are under no illusions about who is paying for everything.


The perceived feeling of recognition and affirmation by authors as a result of their work being accepted by a 'big house’.


Pakka publishing solutions


A guide to book publishing

Pro-con-traditional publishing

Pro-con-self-pub online publishing providers

Pro-con-diy publishing

Pro-con-Pakka Assited DIY

Pakka editing services

Pakka ghostwriting

Glossary of publishing terms

Photo: Timber infested with woodworms; not ancient writing! (Image from Pixabay.)