Writing and Publishing Glossary

Sometimes, when I’m talking to people who don’t spend as much time obsessing over writing and publishing as I do, I realise that I’m basically speaking another language. Here are a few terms you might not be familiar with, along with their definitions. I’ll update it as I think of more. In the meantime, if you think of anything I’ve missed, send me a message!

Agent – a literary agent works with authors to help sell the rights to their books, in return for a commission. They might work independently or for a large agency.

Big Five – the name given to the five biggest English-language publishing companies: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan.

Hybrid author – an author who has a mixture of self-published and traditionally-published books. Note that the term “hybrid publishing” is often also used disingenuously to describe vanity publishing, in an effort to disguise the vanity publisher as an acceptable “hybrid” of indie and traditional publishing.

Imprint – a kind of trade name used in the publishing industry. A single publisher might have several imprints and publish different types of book under each one. For instance, Amazon Publishing publishes Science Fiction under the name “47North” and Romance under “Montlake Romance”.

KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s self-publishing program.

Self-publishing – a method of publishing where authors make a book available for sale themselves, without the support of a traditional publishing house. Read more about the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing here. Also called indie publishing, although it’s worth noting that “indie publisher” could refer to a small press rather than an individual author.

Slush pile – the term given to the unsolicited manuscripts received by traditional publishers or agents.

Small press – a small publishing company. These will normally publish more than one author, although not necessarily. A particularly successful self-publisher might choose to start a small press just for their own books, for example.

Traditional publisher – a publishing company that buys the rights to a book from the author, invests in editing, design and marketing, and makes its money by selling copies of that book to readers.

Vanity publisher – a company that makes its money by selling publishing services to authors. They generally make very little effort to actually get books in front of readers, because they don’t need to. Not to be confused with either traditional or self-publishing! Read more here.