There are lots of words used in publishing that you may not be familiar with, so here’s a list of them with my explanations.
Author: Let’s start with the easiest…the person who writes the book!
Blurb: The writing on the back of the book that’s meant to entice you into reading it! Blurbs are often written by the editor of the book but many authors prefer to write their own. Mine are usually a collaboration, and you can find out how the blurb of Jelly was written by going to the section called The Making of Jelly. Writing a good blurb is a very different skill from writing a book!
Commission: where a publisher asks you to write a book for them. This happens before the book is actually written, so the publisher agrees with you what the book will be about, and you have a promise from them that they’ll publish it when it’s finished. (Assuming you don’t write a load of rubbish, that is.)
Contract: a legal agreement between the author and the publisher, setting out all kinds of things like deadlines, payment, royalty levels, what happens if the book goes ‘out of print’, what happens if you argue or die or can’t finish the book on time, what happens if the publisher goes out of business etc. It’s a very cheerful document (haha!) but absolutely necessary.
Copy Edit: The last round of editing before the book goes to proofs. This is carried out by a different editor than the one who’s been working with the author, because a fresh pair of eyes can spot all kinds of tiny errors and typos that others have missed. Even so, sometimes you can still find a typo or an error in a printed book!
Deadline: Date by which the author needs to hand in their work. Like a homework deadline. There will be several deadlines along the way, from ‘first draft’ to ‘copy edit response’. The publisher has their own deadlines to meet too, otherwise the book won’t hit the shops on time.
Design: The look of a book. Many publishers have their own Design Department. This means that even though they might ask a freelance artist to draw an image for a front cover, they’ll then add colours, author name, maybe extra images, and generally play around with the look of the picture until they’re satisfied with it. This applies to the back cover as well, and the spine of the book. Sometimes Design will also create chapter header images to use throughout the book.
Draft: a version of the book, in manuscript form. The first version you hand in to the editor will be the first draft. After you have reworked it from the editorial notes, you’ll hand in a second draft. Some authors only do two or three drafts with their editor. Others do six, seven, or even more! It depends how much work the editor feels is necessary in order for the book to be the best it can possibly be.
Editor and Copy Editor: The Editor is the person who works mostly closely with the author. The editor’s job is to help the author identify ways to make the book the strongest it can be. He or she will read your first draft and then pick it to pieces (in a very kind, constructive way), pointing out scenes that don’t work very well, or characters that don’t yet come to life. Then the author knows what to work on (because it’s very hard to look at your own work critically). The editor is the author’s partner on the manuscript, and I don’t know a single published author who doesn’t appreciate their editor. Every single one of my books has ended up better because of the editor who worked on it with me.
Editorial notes: These are the notes that the editor sends to the author after each draft. They might be brief, or they might run to pages and pages. Quite often they include a ‘marked-up manuscript’ too which basically means you get back your draft with comments and suggestions written all over it – just like an English teacher would do to your essay at school!
Foreign Rights: When a publisher enters into a contract with an author, they ‘buy’ the right to publish the book in the UK. Usually, they also have the rights to sell those English-version books in other countries. But lots of books are translated into other languages (mine have been variously translated into Polish, Hebrew, Swedish, Italian, French and Chinese, among others) and the publishers in those countries pay for the right to publish the book too. Sometimes the deal is done with the UK publisher; sometimes the author has a literary agent who handles the foreign rights. Foreign rights are good news for everyone, because books don’t make much of a profit in this country, so it means a bit more money (can be hundreds, can be thousands) and also that your book will be known in other countries too, which is very cool!
Freelance: This is when you can choose who you work for. You’re not employed by someone to do something regularly every day at certain times. Authors and illustrators are mostly freelance (although lots of them have ‘regular’ employed jobs too because writing and illustrating doesn’t pay much). Freelancers have to sort out their own tax too, unlike employed people (whose employers sort out the tax for them). So if you work for a local council and you get £100 in your pay packet, that’s yours to keep because it’s already been taxed. If I get £100, I have to pay £20 of it to the government – and I get into trouble if I don’t! So there are advantages and disadvantages to being freelance!
Front Cover: Pretty much THE most important and difficult thing to get right about a book. A great cover means that lots of people will be attracted to buying the book. A not-very-appealing cover might mean that a wonderful story might sink without trace. Publishers spend a LOT of time thinking about the front cover, and they also keep up with trends in covers (a few years ago, all covers on teenage books were very black and white because Twilight had done so well, everyone wanted their covers to look like it!)
Illustrator/artist: The person who draws the pictures inside the book (if it has any) and usually draws the image for the front/back cover too.
Layout: When the manuscript is put into a different computer program which makes it look exactly how it would appear on printed pages. Layouts are what the publisher sends to the printer. Layouts must be checked carefully for errors.
Manuscript: The author’s story, written in MS Word (usually).
Printer: The company that prints the physical books that then get sent to warehouses for distribution around the country (and sometimes abroad). Publishers have to book slots with printers because there’s only so many books a printer can print in one day. Printers use traditional printing presses that involve etching on steel plates, and also digital printing presses (like an enormous version of a home printer) which are more economical if you only want to print a few copies.
Proofs: The final version of the book, in PDF form. Final layouts, in other words. Sometimes a publisher will do a special print run before the book is officially published, and this is called ‘printed proofs’. You might come across a printed proof in a charity shop or school library. It’ll say ‘uncorrected proof’ on the cover and it’s sent out to reviewers so that there will be reviews on or before publication of the book. A printed proof is NOT the same as the final version!
Publishing house/Publisher: An organisation that reads, rejects and accepts manuscripts, and develops them into books to be published, including working with authors, illustrators, artists, sales reps etc. ‘Publication’ tends to mean acquiring a unique ISBN for each book (you’ll find these long numbers on the back covers by the bar code), paying for printing costs, organising distribution of the books across the country (sometimes across the world) and getting those books into shops and online sellers.
Publishing team: Although the author usually only works with an editor, there will be a number of other people at the publishing house who are also working on the book. Sales, marketing, foreign rights, design, publicity, and other editors will also be involved in making sure that not only does the book look good but that everyone knows about it! When I was working on the book Electrigirl with publisher Oxford University Press, my editor told me that fifteen people had been directly involved with the book. I only met five!
Sales team: These are the people who ensure that YOU, the reader, actually get to hear about or see the book. Sales teams are vital because they are responsible for persuading booksellers and book clubs to stock the book. I’ve met sales reps who work with Amazon, Waterstones, school book clubs and independent bookshops. They are all really hard-working people who spend most of their time driving around the country in a car full of catalogues and books!
Sample: This is an extract from a book that the publisher has made into a kind of mini-book or flyer for publicity purposes.
Strapline: Also known as a hookline or shoutline, this is the extra sentence on the front of the book that tells you a little something about what to expect. On A Library of Lemons, the strapline is “The bittersweet tale of a family lost in books”. On Jelly, the strapline is: “It’s better to laugh than to cry, right?” Straplines are often questions and they might be written by the editor or the author.
Synopsis: this is like a one-page summary of the book, before you’ve written the book itself. Publishers will sometimes commission a book based on this synopsis. I hate writing synopses because it feels like I have to make all the important decisions about the story before it’s written, and I like to be flexible during writing, but this is the way publishing works, so I have to do it! A synopsis is not like a blurb. You actually have to give away the ending in a synopsis.