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Publishing Terms Every Self-Publisher Should Know

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

If you intend to make a business out of self-publishing a book, be sure you understand the key elements to the book publishing process. Once you have an understanding of these basic publishing terms, you’ll be more prepared to succeed in this business we call the book business.

Barcode: A machine-readable image on the back of books to indicate ISBN and possibly the price. Barcodes are required by many retailers for print products that they carry.

Copyright: A form of intellectual property, copyright gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to that work’s publication, distribution, and adaptation for a certain time period.

Description: The brief description of the book will be communicated to distribution partners who wish to describe and market the book on their website(s) and to their customers, such as booksellers.

Digital Rights Management (DRM): A system or technology used to place limitations (in regards to access or copying) onto digital content (books, movies, music, etc). A publisher or author, not the retailer, determines the level of restrictions applied to it. This includes how many times content can be downloaded for a single purchase, and the number of devices (computers, readers, etc) to which the content can be transferred.

Distributor: A party that handles all fulfillment, credit, and collections on behalf of a publisher. In the case of the book industry, a distributor would sell to retailers and wholesalers.

E-Retailer: An online retailer that sells books, both physical and digital, and often other related merchandise to readers. E-retailers source their products from publishers, wholesalers, and distributors.

Edition: Version of a work. A new edition means that there have been a series of corrections and/or a new feature added (such as a preface, appendix, or additional content), or that the content has been revised.

EPUB: A format for digital books and publications. EPUB reflows content, so that text can be optimized for the display screen being used at the time.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number): A unique 13-digit number provided by your country’s ISBN agency and assigned by the publisher to identify a particular format, edition, and publisher of a book. ISBNs are used worldwide as a unique identifier for each book title/format combination.

.jpg or .jpeg: An image file format ideal for digital images with lots of colors, such as photographs and the cover image for your book.

Keywords: Single words or short phrases that describe your book and help improve search results.

Metadata: Details about your title that booksellers and buyers need to know. Metadata includes details specific to a particular form of the book (e.g. price, hardcover, paperback, publication date) as well as general information that may apply to all forms of your work (e.g. author, description, table of contents).

Offset Printing: Printing on a traditional printing press where many copies of a book are produced at one time.

On Sale Date: The date to determine when a book may be sold by retail partners.

Page Count: Page count is the total number of pages in the book, including blanks and front matter. The total number of pages must be evenly divisible by 2.

PDF: A file format developed by Adobe to allow the creation and sharing of documents that will look and print the same on any machine.

Print on Demand (POD): Printing, usually from a digital file to a digital printer. In this case, the physical book is only printed when it is ordered. The exact number of copies ordered is what is printed. No extra copies are kept on warehouse shelves.

Publication Date: The date on which a retail consumer or library may take possession of a product.

Publisher: The entity that owns the legal right to make the product available. 

Retailer: A store that sells books, and often other related merchandise, to readers. Retailers source their products from publishers, wholesalers, and distributors.

Returns: Historically, publishers grant booksellers the right to return unwanted and/or overstocked copies of books. These books are considered “returnable.” As books are returned, booksellers charge publishers for the cost (i.e. their purchase price) of any books returned and expect to be reimbursed. The cost of returned books is either deducted or netted against the proceeds of book sales of the publishers’ titles in the month returns are shipped to the publisher.

Status: Indicates the availability of the book. The book industry uses terms, such as forthcoming (going to be published in the future), active (available for purchase now), and publication cancelled (item will not be published now or in the future).

Subject: Subjects are used to categorize books. These categories briefly describe the content of a book. Retailers, distributors, and libraries require you to select at least one subject.

Suggested Retail Price: Publishers determine the suggested retail list price on all titles in all markets. If pricing is not submitted the title will appear as unavailable for sale in that market.

Title: The title information placed in this field will be used for all reporting and reseller catalog communications (where appropriate).

Trade: Refers to traditional bookselling channels including independent bookstores (e.g. a single store, a local group of stores) and chain bookstores (e.g. Barnes & Noble, Hastings, Books-a-Million).

Trade Discount: An amount or rate by which the catalog, list, or suggested retail price of an item is reduced when sold to a reseller. The trade discount reflects the reseller’s profit margin.

Wholesaler: A business that obtains books from publishers and their appointed distributors in order to fulfill orders for retailers and libraries. They offer non-exclusive distribution to publishers. Wholesalers will stock certain quantities of titles, but will usually not warehouse your entire inventory. Wholesalers meet customer requests for packaging books across a set of publishers and deliver the goods quickly to meet retailer or library needs.

Now that you're more familiar with these publishing terms, you're more ready to self-publish a book! 


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IngramSpark® is an award-winning independent publishing platform, offering indie authors and publishers the ability to create professional print books and ebooks. Access to IngramSpark's global distribution network allows you to self-publish a book and make it available to 40,000+ retailers and libraries—both in stores and online. To learn more about how you can share your story with the world, visit