Common Terms and Phrases in Publishing Contracts

What’s an Initial Delivery Date? What’s a rider? Our glossary reviews some common terms used in publishing contracts.

You did it! You conquered the hard part of writing a manuscript, and now you’ve snagged the attention of a publisher. But are you ready to read a book publishing contract?

In this blog series, we’ll cover some of the basic elements of a publishing contract, as well as questions we’ve received from authors in the past. We hope this helps you feel more prepared and knowledgeable when you’re at the table.

Note: This should not be taken as legal advice. As a publisher, we review our contracts with a publishing attorney, and we’d recommend consulting your own legal counsel if you have any questions.

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Acknowledgements: An author’s or publisher’s statement of thanks to others who contributed to or otherwise helped make the book come into being.

Advance: A payment made as an advance against royalties by a publisher to an author or illustrator when the author’s book is acquired by the publisher. The advance essentially pays a portion of an author’s royalties before they are accrued; accrued royalties must amount to the size of the advance before any royalties are paid.

Advance Reviewer Copy (ARC): A print or digital copy of the book used for beta readers, book reviewers, and other special requests. This version of the book is ready for final review, and so should accurately represent the final content and design of the book. Most publishers release ARCs ahead of final review with the note that some minor corrections may still need to be made.

Afterword: Closing remarks on the topic of the book or the process of writing the book. This material can be written by someone other than the author.

Appendix: Supplementary information at the end of a book, which can include tables and statistical information.

Author’s Biographical Statement/Biography: Personal information and accomplishments of the author, used at the end or beginning of a book, as well as in marketing materials.

Back Matter: All printed material that appears in the back of the book after the body copy. Back matter can include an afterword, an appendix, a bibliography, a colophon, a glossary, and an index.

Bibliography: A list of books or articles cited as resources by the author.

Copyright: The exclusive, legally-secured right to, among other things, reproduce and distribute works of original expression. Copyright exists automatically in an original work of authorship once it is fixed in a tangible medium, but a copyright owner can take steps to enhance the protections of copyright by registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Content Editing: Sometimes called substantive editing, content editing deals with the organization and presentation of existing content. It involves rewriting to improve style or eliminate ambiguity, reorganizing or tightening disorganized or loosely written sections, adjusting or recasting tables, and other remedial editing. A content editor reads and carefully edits the manuscript with an eye on the completeness, flow, and construction of ideas and stories, working paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter.

Copyediting: May also be called mechanical or line editing. Although content and line editing may sometimes overlap somewhat, copyediting looks at specific elements of consistency and mechanics of writing that makes it the “buck” where significant changes and queries for the author should conclude.


Developmental Editing: A higher-level form of editing that considers the structure and organization of a manuscript, as well as what content may need to be added, removed, or developed more.

Distributor: A company that warehouses, catalogs, markets, and sells books to bookstores, libraries, and wholesalers on behalf of a number of small publishers, consolidating those costs.

Effective Date: The date that a contract takes effect.

Final Delivery Date: The deadline by which the author must submit the updated manuscript. This updated manuscript includes edits designated by the publisher after reviewing the manuscript submitted by the Initial Delivery Date.

Foreword: An introduction to a book, usually written by someone other than the author of the book.

Front Matter: All of the pages in a book that appear before the body copy. Types of front matter include the title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents, foreword, preface, acknowledgment, and introduction.


Glossary: A list of terms and definitions particular to the subject of the book.

Grant of Rights: Usually the first section of a book publishing contract, a Grant of Rights details what rights an author is giving a publisher over their work, how the rights are conveyed, and how copyright will be handled. Read more in What is a Grant of Rights?

Independent Booksellers: Retail shops, not owned by large companies, selling books to the general public.

Index: An alphabetical listing of specific topics and key words in a book (especially names, places, and events) and the pages on which they are mentioned.

Initial Delivery Date: The deadline by which the author must submit the full manuscript of a book.

Introduction: A preliminary, explanatory section at the beginning of a book.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number): A worldwide, numbered identification system that provides a standard way for publishers to number their products without duplication by other publishers. This supplies the barcode you’ll have seen on the back cover of a book.


Layout: The overall design of a book’s pages, including the arrangement of text, illustrations, graphics, title, page numbers, and font/typeface usage.

Licensing of Rights/Subsidiary Rights: Some of the many different ways in which a book can be distributed include through book clubs, as foreign translations, through excerpts in newspapers and magazines, or as a movie adaptation. The rights to distribute a book in one of these or other extended forms are referred to as “subsidiary rights.” If the publisher licenses the subsidiary rights to another company to exploit them, the license proceeds are shared between the author and the publisher.

Line-Editing/Copy Editing: Line-by-line editing of a manuscript, concentrating on style, punctuation, spelling, grammar, flow, sequencing, clarity, consistency, and content errors.

List Price: The cover price of a book, also called the “retail” price.

Manuscript: An author’s written material before it is typeset and printed. MS and MSS are the shorthand designations for “manuscript” or “manuscripts.”


Preface: Introductory section of a book, usually written by the author. May contain information on why the book was written or how to use the book.

Proofreading: A final review of the manuscript, usually focused on cleaning up any typographical errors before the manuscript is added to layout.

Proofs: The complete pages of a book (digital or printed) for review before the book “goes to print,” in layout as they will appear in the book’s published form.

Publication Date: The date when the publisher announces that a particular product will be available. Typically, the publication date is set for a few days after the book’s arrival in stores to help ensure that marketing and publicity can begin on schedule.


Returns: Unsold copies of a book that are returned to publishers from booksellers. In most cases the bookseller is allowed to return any unsold books to the publisher for a complete refund.

Riders: An attachment, schedule, amendment, or other writing that is added to a document in order to modify it. The changes may be small or large, but in either case the primary purpose of the rider is to avoid rewriting or redrafting the document entirely.

Royalties: A percentage the author or illustrator receives out of the proceeds from the sale of each copy of the book.

Special Sales: Non-traditional sales in outlets that do not specialize in book retail (anything from gift stores to pet shops to organizations, etc.).

Structural Editing: Editing that focuses on the overall structure, organization, and typical elements of a manuscript. May be included in developmental editing.

Table of Contents: A listing of the topics covered in the book as arranged by chapter and/or section, including the corresponding page numbers.

Trade Bookseller: A bookseller which distributes books to the general public. Some trade booksellers include superstores, chain stores, independent booksellers, and online retailers.


Wholesaler: A company that buys books in large quantities from publishers at high discounts and sells them to bookstores and libraries at a mid-level discount.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on the How2Conquer blog.

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