Helpful Publishing Vocabulary

This is a section of my blog that I will be adding to regularly.

Everybody knows what an ISBN is, right? Probably, but I came across some interesting facts other than it stands for International Standard Book Number. In the United States, a company called R.R. Bowker assigns them all. Each version of a book (hardcover, paperback, e-book, etc.) has a different ISBN, and for this service the publisher pays $125 per. They were first devised in the mid 1960s when W.H. Smith (London’s largest bookseller) wanted to computerize their warehouse. The 13 digit number (before 2007 they were only ten digits) is comprised of the following: all are prefixed by “978,” the next group of numbers is the country identifier, then the publisher identifier, then the title identifier, and last but not least the single “check digit” at the end. For which I have no idea it’s purpose.

When you create something original and fix it in some form that others can experience, your work is under copyright protection from the moment it is created. A book publisher will register your copyright with the Library of Congress, in your name, when they publish your book. It is of note that titles can NOT be copyrighted, which is why when you search for a title on Amazon you sometimes see many different books with the same title. When choosing your title, it’s fine to use one that has been used before but make sure it’s not one that has been published recently or has similar content. This will only confuse a potential book buyer.

GALLEY. (aka Bound Galley, Advance Readers Copy, ARC, Advance Readers Edition, ARE) – Goodness knows why this marketing tool has so darn many names! But even so, it is always the un-copyedited version of the work, bound to look like a trade paperback. It is used in a number of ways; by the sales team to get bookstores excited about a title, by the publicity department for reviews, and by all in-house staff to generate early buzz about a book. More commonly, they are now done as electronic versions. Artwork can be “no frills” or have the actual cover art, depending on timing.

Note: They can become very valuable, since all editorial changes have not yet been incorporated and some think that the narrative is one step closer to the writers’ original work.

SELL THROUGH. The percent of books that actually get purchased by the consumer, versus those that are still in a store or warehouse. There is a quantity of books that SELL IN to the stores and to various warehouses for distribution (Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Amazon), and then there is a quantity of books that SELL THROUGH to the reader.

RETURNS. These are the books that don’t SELL THROUGH. The book publishing industry accepts returns of unsold, undamaged books from booksellers and distributors. I think ours is the last industry to do this, or at least one of the last. The argument for this: if publishers don’t accept returns, booksellers will only stock books they are certain will sell, thereby never taking a “chance” on a new writer, thereby no new writers ever getting discovered.  It is a ridiculously costly set-up for the publishers but proves that the art itself wins out over the bottom line…it won’t thrive without that nest of returns in place. As an author, your initial royalty statements will reflect a “reserve against returns,” which is an amount of books the publisher doesn’t yet want to pay royalties on for fear they come back from the booksellers.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS.  As the two words imply, “subsidiary rights” refer to supplemental rights that the publisher holds, other than the right to publish the work as a book in the North American territory. They range from foreign rights (the right to publish a work in another country), movie rights, audio rights,book club, anthology, and textbook rights, and first and second serial rights. There is a “split” for selling these rights to a third party, which is most commonly 50% to both the author and the publisher. These rights are just one part of what an agent bargains for during a contract negotiation.

FIRST SERIAL AND SECOND SERIAL.  Both of these are subsidiary rights. “First serial” refers to the publication, usually in a magazine, of an excerpt of the book before publication, but after a deal is in place with a publisher, preferably very close to the publication date in order to generate interest in the topic. First serial rights are exclusive and can only be sold once.

“Second serial” also refers to the publication of an excerpt in a magazine, but after the publication date of the book. These can be sold many times and can vary in content.

First serial usually garners much more money for the author than second serial.

TRADE PAPERBACK – This refers to a paperback book for the general book buyer. They are essentially an exact replica, in pagination and size, as a hardcover book, they simply have a soft cover. When they were first introduced in the early 1980s, they were usually published about a year after the hardcover, at about half of the hardcover price. Today, it is common to find what the industry calls “Trade Paperback Originals,” meaning that the book is never published in hardcover. It was originally thought that reviewers would not take notice of a book if it wasn’t published in hardcover, a certain death. With the increased costs of printing, however, Trade Paperback Originals shed their red-headed-step-child reputation and are a great way to put a book in the marketplace at a lower price point.

MASS MARKET PAPERBACK– These are the smaller sized paperbacks (usually about 4.5” x 7”) that are produced in a larger quantity and have an even lower price point than trade paperbacks. Think of the books you often see at the airport magazine shops. In many cases, e-books are squeezing these books out of the market because they are the same price. But you can still read your Mass Market Paperback at take-off and landing so maybe they’ll stick around.