ABC’s of Publishing

As my first real post on this blog (which I intended to happen much sooner but was sidelined by an office move) I thought it would be nice to start with a little primer on words you might hear being tossed around as you get your feet wet in the vast ocean of publishing. So, here you have it, an A to almost-Z of terms to know:

Agency Agreement – When an agent offers you representation and agrees to work with you, they will likely ask you to sign a contract stipulating the terms of your relationship (including their commission rate). Note that a legit agent will never ask you for money upfront just to work with them – they don’t get paid until they’ve sold something for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about this agreement. The agent will be happy to answer them and it’s likely someone has asked before.

BEA – Short for Book Expo America. This is a publishing/book convention held annually at which publishers, agents, editors, authors, booksellers, and other industry professionals convene to talk book biz. In recent years, this event has opened to the public and has become much more of a reader-oriented event with signings, panels, etc. Fun! 

Copyright – The part of the U.S. (and international) law that enables you to claim ownership over the work you produce. Modern copyright protection in the U.S. is automatically renewed and typically lasts 70 years after author’s death. A publisher is typically responsible for registering their books with the U.S. copyright office. Those are the basics – the rest is a tangly, sometimes complicated legal web, but definitely something worth being savvy about.

D & A – Short for “Delivery and Acceptance.” This is language you’ll often find in a publishing contact re: an advance. Sometimes an advance payment will be due half on signing and half on D&A – or when the publisher accepts your final manuscript.

Editorial Letter – A letter you might receive from an agent or editor, detailing feedback on your manuscript. To be discussed openly and then used as your map for the revision process!

Frontlist – The “new” titles handled by a publisher or agency. Older titles = backlist.

Genre – Okay, we all know what genre is. Different categories of books – fantasy, romance, horror, etc.  But do you know what genre you’re writing in? Can you name 10 books published in your genre this year? I include this because it’s important to know what works in your genre and doesn’t. We see a lot of queries where people think they’re writing in one genre that they sort of kind of aren’t writing it. Weird, but it happens! Become an expert in your genre so that when you submit and edit, you know what you’re talking about. Also, PSA: YA is NOT a genre.

Hardcover – Hard binding, usually with a dust jacket. Many trade books are published first in this format. Though, some imprints publish paperback or e-originals. If you get to the contract stage, don’t be afraid to ask what format your publisher is planning on using for the debut. For example, they may have hardcover rights but plan to publish mass-market. It’s good info to know!

Imprint – Think of these as the baby publishers within bigger publishers. Example: Balzer and Bray is an imprint of HarperCollins Childrens Books. Imprints often have their own missions/personalities, publishing books re: certain genres, tones, or subjects. Some imprint identities are very defined and others are looser. It’s definitely helpful while writing to get to know the various imprints out there and think about what imprints you might envision your work at.

Jacket Copy –  The text on the jacket/back of the book with the premise and a little teasing that makes you want to buy it. Often this comes from an author’s original query!

K – Publishing/legal shorthand for contract, usually circled. It’s a K because © is already taken by copyright!

List Price – the price at which your book will be listed for sale. Royalties are sometimes based on list price.

MS – short for manuscript and of #MSWL fame. A nitpicky debate we have around the M&O office is whether it is technically correct in a query letter to refer to the work as a book or a manuscript (logic being it’s not a book until it’s published). I will refrain from stating my position but know this causes heated arguments around here! 😉

Option – A publishing contract may include an “option” clause, which essentially allows the publisher first dibs on an author’s next work (sometimes limited by genre, length, etc). The publisher will typically have a set amount of time by which they have to decide whether or not they want to publish that work as well. Agents typically like to avoid option clauses if possible because it allows authors more freedom, but depending on the situation it can be a good thing to have a pre-determined home for your book if the publisher is interested and comes up with a nice offer. So just depends! 

Platform – The position of an author to promote their book and appeal to various markets, especially referring to social media. Can be a big factor for debut authors in publishing these days, like it or not. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to have a huge platform (especially for fiction writers) but DEFINITELY doesn’t hurt. Plus it can be a great tool to get to know others in the industry and learn from them.  

Query Letter – DIFFERENT FROM A SYNOPSIS. This is the letter you write to an agent that very simply states what your book is about and why they might want to represent it. A good rule of thumb – does at least part of this letter read like what I might find on the back of a book? More query tips here.

Revise & Resubmit – What an agent might ask you for if they liked your project but felt it needed work. Usually will be asked for following an editorial letter or other feedback.

Simultaneous Submission – A submission going to multiple agents at one time. Totally fine unless you’ve promised exclusivity to one.

Term (re: contracts) – In contracts lingo, the amount of time that the contract is valid for. For most U.S. book contracts, this will be for the term of copyright, meaning that until the book enters the public domain or the rights are reverted, the contract is valid.

Unsolicited Queries – AKA “slush.” These are queries sent to agents and publishers without being requested and account for a majority of submissions. Note that many agencies do not respond to unsolicited queries in which they aren’t interested. Not because they are mean and want to ignore writers, but because if they responded to each they would do nothing else! Many agents  (including me and my colleagues at M&O) do respond individually to requested material, however, even if it’s a rejection.

Vanity Publishing – A type of self-publishing in which the author pays for a company to produce copies of their book. Unlike indie publishers and other routes of self-publishing, vanity publishers do not typically offer sales or marketing assistance. For authors looking to break out an indie book, vanity publishers often end up being not the best route. If you do go the self-pub route, it’s crucial to research whether or not your publisher will provide these services, as working with a vanity publisher will leave a lot of the grunt of sales work up to you to make returns on your investments of money and time .

World Building – An editorial term referring to how the setting/atmosphere of the story is created. All stories have world building, but it can be especially crucial in genres like sci-fi and fantasy.

X, Y, Z – Are really hard letters! Publishing as an industry should work on developing some vocab for these…if you have ideas comment with them!

Hope you guys found this little intro/glossary helpful. More posts coming soon!

 

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