Don't know your synopsis from your slush pile? Publishing, like any industry, has a lot of jargon. Here's our helpful guide to getting around it...

Acquisition: when a publisher ‘buys’ the right to publish a book from an author. The key meeting where publishing teams decide which books to buy is called ‘Acquisitions’

Advance: a sum of money paid to an author upfront when they sign a contract with a publisher. This will need to be ‘earned out’ (see below). An author’s advance is usually paid in four instalments – after signing a contract, after finishing your manuscript, after publishing in hardback and finally in paperback

Backlist title: a book which has been published in the past but is still in print

Bibliographic data: specific information about a book including title, author, publication date and price. This automatically feeds into various data systems including publishing catalogues and stock lists, and is passed on to the rest of the trade including customers

Blurb: the short quote or paragraph of text on the back of a book, giving the reader a flavour of what the book is about, as well as any other information or quotes from other authors/ press printed on the cover. Blurbs can also be used to pitch a book, and can also referred to as ‘cover copy’

Co-edition: edition of a book published simultaneously by more than one publisher, usually in different countries and in different languages

Copy-editing: the final editorial stage before the book is typeset. It is the copy-editor’s job to ensure that the text, and any illustrative material, is expressed clearly and accurately. The copy-editor will also check grammar and spelling, and will double-check facts such as dates, spellings of names, etc. In fiction, a copy-editor will look out for continuity and plot errors

Crossover fiction: a young adult book which has potential for an adult readership, or vice versa

Earn out: as part of their contract most authors will need to ‘earn out’ their advance before they start receiving royalties directly from book sales. This means that the payments they would have received from sales of their book (royalties) are equal to their advance

Format: the size of a book. Publishers use different formats  but the most common you will hear are ‘trade format’ and ‘B format’ which are the size of most small paperback novels

Front list title: a book published recently,  usually in the current year

Genre: the ‘category’ that your book falls into. Broadly, all books fall into three genres – fiction, non-fiction or children’s books but there are also sub-genres within these, for example business within non-fiction, or crime & thriller within fiction

House: Penguin Random House, and many other publishers, are made up of smaller companies which operate independently called ‘houses’. We are made up of nine publishing houses. Each one is in turn made up of several publishing imprints (see below)

ISBN number: the unique identifying number for a particular book. Each version of the book (e.g. paperback/ hardback/ e-book) will have a different ISBN

IP/ Intellectual Property: books are protected as intellectual property, a bit like a trademark or patent. Intellectual Property Rights are the protections granted to the creators of intellectual property (including authors) by the law

Imprint: the name of the publishing unit under which a book is published. Each publishing house will be made up of several different imprints, often specialising in particular genres or interest areas. At Penguin Random House we have over 50 imprints 

Jacket: another word for the book’s front cover. The key internal meeting where decisions are made about a book’s cover is decided is called ‘Jackets’

List: the books a specific publisher or imprint has available or coming up

Literary Agent: the individual responsible for managing an author’s career, including helping them to develop their work and selling their book to publishers by negotiating the best deal. Agents also facilitate the relationship between an author and their editor. In return, agents take a percentage of an author’s advance and royalties

Metadata: bibliographic data of every book (price, publication date, format) and the data we type into our systems to help optimise the chance of readers finding your book in online searches. This includes keywords – words that someone may type into search engines when looking for your book

Prelims: the first pages in the book before the text itself starts. These pages can include a list of other books by the author, title page, copyright page, and any dedications

Proof: a mocked-up copy of a book which publishers use to get people excited about a book before it’s been published.  Proofs can be very simple with blank covers but closer to publication they may look more like a ‘real’ book.  They are often sent to journalists and bloggers to review, as well as to retailers

Publication Date: often referred to as ‘pub date’, this is the date when a book can first be sold to the public. In reality often books will go on sale in a bookshop as soon as they arrive which can be a couple of days before pub date

Returns: books returned unsold from bookshops to publishers

Rights: this means the right to do something with intellectual property, including publishing a book. As part of an acquisition the publisher buys the ‘rights’ to publish that book in a particular market

Royalties: the amount of money paid to an author for each book sold. This will usually be a percentage of the sale price

Serialisation: selling extracts from a book to a newspaper or magazine

Slush pile: a stack of unsolicited manuscripts that have been sent to a literary agent or publisher for consideration and haven’t been read yet

Subsidiary rights: in addition to the right to publish for the UK market, publishers will often want to buy additional (subsidiary) rights. This could include translation rights, world rights (the right to publish the book in other markets around the world) or film and TV rights

Synopsis: an overview of what the book is about and what makes it special. A synopsis will usually be sent to editors, publicists and sales teams when a publisher is thinking about acquiring a book. A synopsis should be a little longer than the cover blurb and should include main plot, a summary of themes, a hint of an ending – and no more

Terms: percentage discount given to a bookseller from a book’s Recommended Retail Price

Unsolicited submissions: the manuscripts a publisher receives directly from a writer without asking for them, and without an agent. Most publishers, including Penguin Random House, will not read unsolicited submissions 

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