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a number-one best-selling author, success and book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their impact.

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Publishing terms and slang you should know for your nonfiction book

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I'm a number-one best-selling author, success and book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their impact.

Hi, I'm Stacy

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

When I first entered the world of publishing, I felt like I was immersed in a new language. And it did have its own language, complete with confusing acronyms: TOC, ISBN, ARC.

Now, thirteen years later, I am well-versed in publishing terms—and guide new authors on their journeys to authorhood. But I remember all too well that feeling of verbal ineptitude. So, today, I’m sharing a list of terms to help you navigate the new language of publishing.

Note: If you have a term you’d like added, just drop a comment and I’ll likely modify this post. 

Manuscript terms (listed in order of appearance)

Title page: The first page of your manuscript; typically lists the title, author, and publisher.

Publication page: Also known as the copyright page or publishing details page, this page includes the copyright declaration, as well as lists other major contributors to the book, such as a writing partner/ghostwriter (if not credited on the cover), illustrator, editor, and other key individuals who supported the creation of the book. Also includes special notes important to publication, including permissions acquired or notes about the text (e.g., if you’ve changed some details to protect identities in the book), as well as the book’s ISBN and other publishing details, including the publisher’s address and website.

Dedication page: A few words or sentences dedicating the book to a person, group, or cause.

Table of contents (TOC): A detailed list of each major section of the manuscript, including page numbers.

*Foreword: Written by someone other than the author; helps establish the author’s expertise and explains why the reader should read the book.

*Preface/Introduction: Written by the author, usually explains how/why the book came into being and provides added context for the reader that does not fit within the core scope of the book.

*Afterword/Epilogue: Written by the author, provides additional storytelling or information that “completes” the work but does not fit within the core scope of the book.

*Appendix: Additional material, including resources and checklists, that doesn’t fit into the core scope of the book but provides additional value to the reader.

*Footnotes/Endnotes: References provided by the author for any data, including numbers, interviews, and other information obtained from other sources. Footnotes sit at the bottom of pages; endnotes are listed at the end of the manuscript. Most publishers follow Chicago Manual of Style of documenting footnotes and endnotes.

*Index: List of key terms, with a reference to the page number. Helpful in information-heavy books like how-to, cookbooks, etc.

Acknowledgments: A thank-you page to all the people involved in supporting you, as an author, and in getting the book out into the world.

About the author: Your bio, usually no more than 100 words and accompanied by a photo.

*Optional—not all manuscript DNA is the same. 

Publishing terms (listed alphabetically)

Advance reader’s copy (ARC): Also known as a galley proof or uncorrected proof, this is the copy your publisher (or you, if you’re self-publishing) provides to reviewers, media, and reader evangelists before the publication date. Industry standard is to send this out five months before the publication date.

Agent: Person responsible for connecting an author with a traditional publisher.

Blurb: Also known as back cover copy, this is a short synopsis of your book that goes on the book’s back cover, Amazon page, marketing materials, and anywhere else the book is advertised.

Beta readers: Early readers of your book, usually before it goes through final editing. A good beta reader group is made up of people in your target reader group and of trusted colleagues, friends, or mentors. I recommend asking about ten people to be beta readers, with an expectation of 50 percent completion (people are busy!).

Cover: The front of your book, which includes an eye-catching design, the book title and subtitle, your name, and sometimes a notable review, such as from a major media outlet or well-known individual.

E-book: The electronic version of your book, distributed in different file formats; EPUB (more universally accepted) and MOBI (for Kindle) are the most widely used formats.

Indie publishing: Also referred to as self-publishing, this type of publishing is where you begin your own publishing company, putting you in charge to oversee all the moving parts of the publishing process.

ISBN: Short for International Standard Book Number, this is a thirteen-digit product identifier used by anyone selling the book; think of it as your book’s sales tracking number. Publishers or self-publishing authors purchase an ISBN from Bowker. A unique ISBN is assigned to each format of your book, so a print copy and digital copy (e-book) will have different ISBN numbers.

Jacket: Protective paper covering of your book that includes all promotional content (cover, title, author, publisher, blurb).

Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN): Given for a specific work—instead of each edition of a work with an ISBN—the LCCN is a “a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections.” This unique identifier is used by librarians in a variety of institutions, including schools and public libraries. You can apply for a preassigned control number prior to book publication.

Manuscript (MS): Any written or typed document.

Partner/Hybrid publishing: In this type of publishing, you pay for a publisher to coordinate and handle all the details of bringing your manuscript to publishing; they also sometimes invest in the project through resources.

Pub date: A shortened version of “publication date”; the date your book is presented to the world!

Self-publishing: Sometimes referred to as indie publishing, this type of publishing is where you publish your book on your own, without the help of a publisher.

Spine: The left side of the book where the pages are attached to; includes the title, author’s name, and publisher.

Style guide: The book of writing rules editors follow to guide editorial decisions, such as whether to use the Oxford comma and when to spell numbers or use numerals. Most nonfiction publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style.

Traditional publishing: The type of publishing where the publisher assumes the financial risk, but the author may still need to invest in marketing and promotion. The author usually receives an advance but often doesn’t see any other payment (royalties). An agent is required for establishing this relationship.

Work in progress (WIP): Your manuscript is in the process of going through the steps of publication but hasn’t reached its completed state yet.

Marketing terms

Blog tour: Instead of going on a traditional book tour, traveling from place to place, you are a guest on other writers’ blogs to give your book more exposure; includes book reviews, interviews, and Q&As.

Launch campaign: A strategic approach to effectively introduce your book to your target audience, usually organized in multiple phases designed to attract readers and keep them as loyal followers.

Author platform: How you meaningfully engage with your readers and how visible you are to your target audience; includes elements like your website, social media, and even physical presence via interviews and speaking. The more you increase your visibility and engagement, the greater potential for your book to be successful.

Preorder promotion: A marketing strategy of getting readers to purchase your book before it’s released to increase book sales (and excitement about your book!).


Want me to add a definition to this list? Or do you have something to add yourself? Drop a comment below!

Comments +

  1. Russ Cheatham says:

    Stacy, I want you to be my agent! Why? Because your picture exudes energy and optimism. My first book Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story was a finalist in ARSC’s “Best Research in Rock, Rhythm & Blues and Soul” and was also nominated for ASCAP’s and BMI’s top music journalism. May I send you a query letter to brief you on my current literary project?

    • Stacy Ennis says:

      Congrats on your success, Russ! I appreciate the kind words too. I am not an agent but wish you all the best as you find the right representation for you work.

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