I heard from Bart Patton that Paperback Writer has been serializing a Devil’s Dictionary for the publishing industry. Her version (which you should read before reading mine) is, as the proverb says, not half bad. Her entries only need a few small corrections.
Important note: bear in mind that these are definitions written in response to S. L. Viehl’s Devil’s Dictionary. They aren’t necessarily the opinions I’d have from scratch.
Advance: Short for “Advance against Hoped-for Royalties.” A sum paid by the publisher to the author in satisfaction of a debt, consisting of royalty payments, which has not yet and may never be incurred. If at some point in the far future this debt in royalties is actually incurred in full, the author will complain that the advance (which they’ve long since spent) was disgracefully stingy for such a successful book.
Advance Reading Copies: A prepublication edition of the book that is distinguishable from regular editions by having no price on the cover, and by costing the publisher more per copy than the reviewers will ever realize by selling them at the Strand or on eBay.
Agents: Even the best authors will eventually write themselves out and fall from favor. Even the best editors will lose their jobs to corporate mergers. But successful agents go on forever, and the really successful ones have lovely summer homes. Try to impress this on your children’s minds when they’re planning their future careers.
Backlist: (1.) If the author’s own works, a collection of unjustly overlooked masterpieces just waiting to be put back into print, where they will dazzle all that behold them. (2.) If written by persons other than the author, a moldering substratum of boring old titles the author has never read, will never read, and can see no reason for any publisher to unearth and artificially revive into a second, shambling, short-term zombie-like existence.
Celebrity: The only kind of non-mega-bestselling author the mass media thinks worthy of notice. Non-celebrity authors, observing this media attention, immediately conclude that publishing is all about celebrity books, and spin extravagant fantasies about the treatment they receive.
Copy Editor: If good, an angel who can second-guess an author about their own book and get it right. If bad, the literary equivalent of root canal performed without anesthesia on the healthy tooth next to the one that needed work.
Copyright: During the author’s lifetime, the author’s nearly inalienable legal right to ownership of his or her own work. Thanks to the new extended terms of copyright (brought into law via means that would make a sausage-maker turn pale), the legal right of the author’s second ex-wife’s grandchildren by her third marriage to display their ignorance, exercise their greed, and gratify their egos to such an extent that they make the author’s work impossible to publish, adapt for theatrical performance, or excerpt in works of literary criticism, thus guaranteeing its permanent posthumous obscurity.
Cover Art; Book Jacket: A small poster advertising the book to potential readers. Authors who have failed to take into account the fact that it has been bound to the outside of the book, rather than printed on an interior page, will often come to the mistaken conclusion that it is meant to illustrate the story, and be distressed by its inaccuracy.
Earn Out: To the author, proof that the publisher didn’t pay enough for the book.
E-book (electronic book): The publishing format that has the highest ratio of “time spent discussing it in meetings” to “copies sold.”* Authors fondly believe that tens of thousands of readers who’ve passed up the opportunity to buy attractive, inexpensive hardcopy editions of their works will nevertheless go to great effort to illegally download wonky, badly formatted e-texts of the same books in order to read them in Courier on their computer screens.
Managing Editor: In trade book publishing, the person in charge of production. Normally, there are multiple layers of insulation between the author’s behavior and the Managing Editor’s production decisions. That’s a good thing.
Mass Market: A smaller, cheaper edition of a hardcover novel that is nevertheless more difficult, expensive, and uncertain to publish.
Mid-list: What other authors are who sell as well as you do, but don’t have your inherent talent or obvious commercial promise.
Out of Print: When a book of yours is inarguably and permanently out of print at its current publisher, but you can’t get the rights back just by asking for them, that’s nature’s way of telling you to dump your agent, and look for a new publisher while you’re at it.
Packager: (1.) A person or firm which contracts with publishers to deliver finished (often camera-ready) books of high quality and great commercial appeal by a specified date. This is not to say—this is emphatically not to say—that the works they deliver meet any of those specifications. (2.) The class enemy of production departments, which get to clean up (badly, on a rush basis) the packager’s grossly incompetent mishandling of tasks the production department would far rather have taken care of themselves.
Prequel: A book cobbled together out of the worldbuilding and backstory notes that the author once upon a time had the sense to leave out of the series.
Print Run: The projected print run is what you hope for. The real print run is the number of copies you calculate will be needed based on the actual orders that are coming in.
Pub Date: The date naive authors start haunting the bookstores, hoping to see their book on the shelves.
Remainders: Proof that your publisher generously paid to print and distribute enough copies for them to be made available to every reader who might conceivably find them attractive; which, necessarily, means that there will be copies left over. As an alternative to being pulped, these are sometimes offered at reduced prices to readers who, if they enjoy the book, will be primed to buy your next one at normal retail prices.
Reviewer: A person who by virtue of their position must either disappoint their readers, or the authors they review. The ones who satisfy their readers keep their jobs.
Royalties: Percentage of the sales price earned by the author on sold copies. Most of this money is received by the authors years before their books earn it. If a book earns out and the author starts earning additional royalty payments, they will complain bitterly about how long it takes to receive them.
Self-publishing: How authors who are slow learners find out about marketing and distribution.
Small Press: A publishing house that’s only as good as the people running it. (This applies to publishing houses of any size.)
Trade Paperback: (1.) Cheaper than a hardcover; stays on the shelves longer and earns more per unit than a mass-market paperback. (2.) Technically, a softcover edition of any trim size that is whole-copy returnable, rather than being stripped for credit like a mass-market paperback.
Trade Publisher: A publisher of books that are sold via bookstores.
Vanity Press: A way of getting published that anyone can see is folly, unless the book in question is their own.