A Quick Guide to Common Publishing Jargon

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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It was my first week as a Macmillan intern and I was so excited to have finally landed the job that would begin my career in publishing.


I nervously introduced myself to my team and met everyone I would be working with, but when I began sitting in on meetings and going through orientation resources, I realized I only understood a portion of the things I was hearing. I struggled to catch and juggle acronyms and words like “CBT,” “frontlist,” and “attrition,” and found myself fumbling with these unfamiliar phrases. My meetings with my manager would be filled with me going through my list of questions as I began to build a personal dictionary. 

So, if you’ve ever been stumped by a word someone has used or felt like there was just so much you didn’t understand, know you’re not alone. Publishing, like any industry, uses a lot of field-specific jargon and no one expects you to know it all. But, my hope is that this short list of common publishing phrases might be of use to you. Know it’s not exhaustive, and I’m sure there are specific phrases that will be used with your team but no one will ever think less of you for asking them to clarify what they mean. Good luck on your publishing journey, and take comfort that we’re all in this together!

I’d also like to take a moment to thank Molly Pyles, Lizette Faraji, and Caitlin O'Beirne for their contributions to this list and for just being wonderful. 


Acquisition - A term used when a publisher buys the rights to a book from an author.

Advance - The money an author is paid upfront when they sign a contract with a publisher.

Advanced Readers Copies/Galley (ARCs) - A pre-published book given to librarians, educators, influencers, bloggers, etc. by a publisher to facilitate buzz around the book before its official release.

Agent - A liaison between a writer and editor or publisher who advocates for his or her client (writer). Agents usually take a 10-15% commission from the advance and royalties.

Attrition - Term that basically means lost business. Someone, who was once publishing with us, is no longer.

Auction - Publishers sometimes bid for the acquisition of a book manuscript that has excellent sales prospects. The bids are for the amount of the author's advance, advertising and promotional expenses, royalty percentages, and more. Auctions are conducted by agents.

Backlist - A publisher's list of its books that were not published during the current season, but that are still in print.

Blurb - The short quote or paragraph on the back cover of a book that allows the reader to get an idea of what it’s about.

Bound galleys - Prepublication edition of book or final galley proofs, also known as "bound proofs."

Canonical Fragment Identifier (CFIs) - Links within an ebook for specific parts like sections and chapters.

Comp - Comparable or competitive titles—usually included in a book proposal.

Imprint - Name applied to a publisher's specific line of books.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) - The specific number given to a particular book.

Foreign rights - Translation or reprint rights to be sold in other countries and territories.

Frontlist - A publisher's list of books that are new to the current season. Also known as “new titles.”

Jira - A project management tool used for planning, tracking, and supporting software projects.

Mass market - Non-specialized books of wide appeal directed toward a large audience.

Metadata - Backend information for ebooks that include their title, edition, ISBN, etc. that works as an id used to create/define connections between versions or other resources. If there is a new version added to an ebook, it could change the metadata and thus mess up connections already established using the link to the old version.

Middle Grade (MG) - Genre that targets the 8 to 12 year-old age group.

Narrative nonfiction - A narrative presentation of actual events. Also called creative nonfiction.

POD - Print on demand.

Publisher’s Weekly - An American weekly trade news source. https://www.publishersweekly.com/

Serial rights - The right for a newspaper or publication to publish sections of a manuscript.

Subsidiary rights - All rights other than book publishing rights included in a book publishing contract, such as paperback rights, book club rights, movie rights, and more.

Translation rights - Subsidiary rights for books to be translated and sold in another language.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - Guidelines that are a part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium – a.k.a. the main international standards organization for the Internet. https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/

Young Adult (YA) - Genre that targets any age from 12-18, but nearly half of its readers are older than this.


Grace Bartel
University of Delaware

A Media Editorial Intern at Macmillan Learning, Grace is an English graduate student at the University of Delaware. More interestingly, she’s an avid dog mom, reader, writer, hiker, and video game lover who spends the majority of her free time willingly lost in fantastical stories.