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The Language of Publishing: A, B, C

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The Language of Publishing

September 2012

by Linda Carlson


In a post on bookdesigner.com, where Joel Friedlander offers “Practical Advice to Help Self-Publishers Build Better Books,” he describes what things were like in publishing and printing “back in the bad old days,” when “everyone was a specialist.” As he notes, “If you wanted to get type set, you went to a typesetter, and when you wanted to print a book you had to actually go to the book printer. Although it seems like things would have been more difficult to accomplish, in some ways they were easier . . . because the system of production was clear, structured, hierarchical.”

If you’re an old-timer adjusting to the demands of digital publishing, you may be struggling to understand pixels vs. picas, line screens vs. dpi, and RGB vs. CMYK. If you’re a newcomer to publishing, you may be mystified by its vocabulary and fearful that disaster will strike if you confuse em spaces with en dashes, gutters with margins, or signatures with units. And all of us sometimes have to deal with an author or a customer who needs a translation of traditional publishing terms.

That’s why we’re beginning a series on the language of publishing—or, as Friedlander calls it, the mumbo-jumbo you need to understand when speaking to designers, book manufacturers, wholesalers, and POD specialists. We’ve included some of the terms Friedlander defines in his post on “The Language of the Book” as well as terms that industry specialists tell us are frequently misunderstood. This month we’re providing A–C; next month, D–F. And so on, although not every month, through Z.

For an advanced degree in everything from ascender to Velox, you’ll find more resources at the end of each installment of the series.


Terms that appear in blue within definitions are themselves defined elsewhere in the glossary, some in this installment and some in sections to come. If we miss (or misconstrue) a term, let us know via linda@ibpa-online.org. If you’d like us to add a term or terms, let us know that too. When the glossary is complete, it will be available as a single publication.


Acid free: Paper made in a neutral pH system to increase its longevity. A pH level from 0 to 7 is classified as acid, 7 to 14 as alkaline. Acid-free or neutral paper includes at least 2 percent calcium carbonate.

Acquisitions editor: In larger publishing operations, the staff member who finds viable book projects, recommends (and sometimes decides) which books to buy, and handles contract negotiations. In companies that publish such nonfiction as how-to and computer guides, the acquisitions editor may be responsible for finding authors for particular topics the company has determined are marketable.

Acquisitions or Collection Development: The library department to be contacted regarding purchase of a title.

Acrobat: The Adobe software used to create files in Portable Document Format (PDF). PDFs are opened with Adobe Reader, a different program. PDFs can be created with various levels of quality, the highest appropriate for printing and the lowest appropriate for Web sites and email. Book manufacturers may specify what level must be used.

Advance: A payment a publisher makes to an author prior to publication of a book, and usually prior to delivery of the manuscript. The advance is against earned royalties, which means the author will not receive an additional payment until the advance is “earned out.” If the advance is $500, for example, and the royalty per book is $1, the publisher must have net sales of 500 books before the author gets the first royalty payment.

Afterword: A comment in the end matter, usually written by someone other than the author. Similar to an epilog.

Against the grain: At a right angle to the direction of the fiber in a sheet of paper. Folding with (rather than against) the grain is recommended because it creates a better, flatter crease. When pages are printed so that a book is bound against the grain, they curl at least slightly.

Alteration: A change made in the text or images on galleys or page proofs. The cost of making “Author alterations” (AAs) may be charged to the author.

Appendix: Reference or additional material in the end matter.

Application files: Software—such as QuarkXpress, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and font files—used to create a book. Book manufacturers (aka printers) may ask that application files be submitted along with PDFs.

Apron: Extra blank space at the binding edge of a foldout, usually on a French fold, which allows an oversize page separate from a signature to be folded and tipped in (that is, glued in between the pages of a signature, or between signatures)  so that all the text or illustrations on the foldout can be seen. Maps and family trees are examples of images often created as foldouts, with an extra-wide margin on the binding edge.

ARC: Advance reader (or readers or reading) copy, a prepublication version of a book for use by booksellers and reviewers. ARCs may lack images and final copyediting. Today they’re often available in digital form or via print-on-demand.

Ascender: Ascenders are the parts of letters that rise above the height of lower-case letters, like the upward-extending parts of the lh, or t. Contrast with descenders, the parts that extend below the baseline, as in the “tail” of the letter yg, or p. When type is leaded tightly (for example, 9 point type on 9 points of space), the descenders of one line may overlap the ascenders of the next.

ASN: Advance ship notice, usually sent electronically in a standard format. It announces a pending delivery.



B2B: Business-to-business sales; by a publisher, for example, to a retailer or library, sometimes through a wholesaler or distributor.

B2C: Business-to-consumer sales by a business directly to an end user.

Backbone: Book spine.

Backlist: Older titles. Publishers that issue new titles twice annually may consider spring titles to be backlist when fall titles are issued. Other publishers consider titles frontlist for a year or longer, and some independent publishers prefer to keep all their titles evergreen.

Back matter: The parts of a book that appear after the main text; for instance, bibliography, index, and appendixes. Also called end matter.

Backorder: An order placed when a book is not available, to be fulfilled when it is in stock. Backorders often come in when a new title or a new reprint is on the way.

Backstory: What happened before a book’s story starts. Similar to a prequel. The term is also used to describe an author’s account of writing a particular book.

Bad break: A word broken incorrectly at the end of a line. Also refers to a line of text or a subhead that is placed on the page in a way that is unattractive or misleading. Types of bad breaks include the widow, when a short last line of a paragraph appears at the top of a column or page; the orphan, when a short first line of a paragraph appears at the end of a column or page; a subhead that appears at the bottom of a column or page; and a hyphen break at the end of the last line on a page. Starting a new line between or after initials in a name also creates a bad break.

Bar code: Most retailers and all wholesalers require that back covers of books carry a bar code for the ISBN in a prescribed size and color, usually black on white. Today many books also carry a QR code, the square code that smartphones and tablets can read and that usually leads to a source of additional information.

Baseline: The imaginary line on which type sits, although descenders extend below the baseline.

BEA: BookExpo America, the major U.S. publishing event, originally the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association. Held each year in late May/early June.

Bibliography: The by-author list of publications cited in, or relating to the topic of, a book. Part of the end matter.

Binding: Folding, trimming, and attaching pages of a book with adhesives, sewing, stitching, plastic or metal coils, metal prongs, or snaps. The bindery is also where perforating, embossing, die cutting, and other such specialty work is done. With digital printing, two different binding methods are possible. Inline binding, available only for paperbacks, involves a print engine that feeds the book block directly to a binding unit, a three-knife trimmer, and then a packing and boxing station. Offline binding equipment, which is separate from the press, usually involves a process similar to the manufacture of offset publications: books are printed before they go to the bindery, and binding can be perfect, saddle-stitched, mechanical, or casebound. Today many book manufacturers contract out case binding, which means your hardcover book will physically be moved from one plant to another. In most cases, library binding is done not by book manufacturers, but by specialty binderies. If you offer titles with library binding, you must order extra covers for this process. The term binding also means the edge of a book that is bound (binding edge).

BISAC Codes: The familiar term for the BISAC Subject Headings used to categorize books according to their subjects and to standardize the electronic transfer of subject information between publishers and booksellers. The complete BISAC Subject Headings list is free for book-by-book lookup at bisg.org.

Blad: Book layout and design. A printed sample used by sales reps to sell a title in advance of publication. It often features sections from the finished book, including cover artwork, page layouts, and images. Most commonly used today for children’s picture books.



Bleed: An image or text that extends (“bleeds”) over one or more edges of a page. Publishers asking printers for quotes on a book with cover or text bleeds must specify how many bleeds it will have; for example, “cover bleeds one side” or “cover bleeds four sides.” A full-bleed image extends (that is, bleeds) over all the edges so there is no unprinted gutter or margin. Most printers require that artwork extend at least an eighth of an inch (a quarter inch for digital printed or web press jobs) past the trim line to ensure the margin is completely covered with ink. Bleeds across gutters (i.e., between the two pages of a spread) are not available with digital printing. Because paper is wasted with bleeds, printers charge more for jobs with them. The term also describes ink that has spread into parts of the page where it should not.

Bleedthrough: When one side of a sheet is heavily inked, the paper may absorb so much ink that the type or images can be seen on the reverse side. More common with thin paper, bleedthrough should be corrected at the press check.

Blind embossing: A printing technique in which a bas-relief design is created without foil or ink.

Blind folio: A page number that is assigned to a page (such as the title page and other front matter pages) but not printed on it.

Block style: When all lines of a piece of text, including the first, are set flush left.

Blueline or Blues: The final one-color print-on-paper copy of a book or other publication before it goes to the press, and the last chance to fix anything that needs fixing. Printers sometimes charge extra for a blueline, which is made from film and light-sensitive paper. Any changes made at the blueline stage are expensive. Also called a silverprint, brownline, or Van Dyke. With digital reproduction, there is no film; instead, you can check the laser print.

Blurb: An endorsement, often by someone well known, used in the front matter, the cover, and promotional material.

Board book: Made with sturdy, cardboard-type pages and covers. Usually for young children, and limited in number of pages.

Boldface: Thicker, visually heavier or darker type. In desktop publishing programs such as InDesign, the stroke menu can be used to further increase the thickness of type.

Book block: The pages of a book after they have been printed and folded and gathered but before the cover is attached. With sheet-fed digital presses, the book block is a stack of single pages. With offset presses, either sheet-fed or web, the block is a stack of partial or full signatures.

Book designer: A graphic designer with specialized experience in book design and an understanding of book manufacturing.

Book doctor: A consultant who edits a manuscript in terms of basic structure and content. A book doctor may be hired by an author to get a manuscript ready for submission to a publisher, or by a publisher with a manuscript that needs significant work.

Book packager: Traditionally an individual or company that assembled the components of a book (including text, images, design, and possibly related materials, such as implements or materials used in the projects described in the book) and marketed the package to a publisher. Today often used to refer to businesses that assemble the components of a book (possibly on a work-for-hire basis) as well as related merchandise (such as a children’s toy) and produce the package for private labeling by an organization (a museum’s gift store, for example).

Book paper: A general term for papers most suitable for book manufacture.

Books in Print: The R.R. Bowker database to which publishers submit ISBNs for books in print and in production. See bowkerlink.com.

Bound galleys: Originally, pages of a book in almost final form that were bound together and distributed for reviews. Now usually replaced by bound page proofs. (See also ARC.)

Brightness: A technical measurement of the light reflected by paper, expressed in the United States by the 0 to 100 scale of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. A higher number means brighter paper.

Broadside: An illustration or table that is so wide it must be turned 90 degrees counterclockwise to fit on a page. The same as landscape orientation.

Bulking: The measurement of paper thickness expressed in terms of how many pages equal one inch, as in “360 ppi” (360 pages per inch). A lower PPI (high-bulk sheets) will create a thicker book; a higher PPI (low-bulk sheets) will create a thinner one. Book manufacturers use the PPI and the cover stock thickness to determine spine width, which determines what size type and image can be used on a book’s spine. Determining the bulk of a book is also done with a bulking dummy, made up of unprinted sheets of the specified paper folded in the signature size and signature number of the job.



Caliper: The thickness of a sheet of paper, in thousandths of an inch (points or mils).

Callout: A reference in text to a numbered figure or table (e.g., “see Figure 1”). During copyediting, callouts are inserted properly in text, and figures and tables are placed as close as possible to their callouts.

Camera-ready art or CRA: Material (that is, text with or without illustrations and photographs) ready to be imaged onto film. Until electronic preproduction, CRA for offset reproduction was prepared as pasteups or photostats. Today most camera-ready art is submitted electronically, often as PDFs.

Candlestick: Saddle-stitched or stapled binding. Often used for children’s paperbacks and magazines.

Caption: Text accompanying a photo or illustration.

Caret: The copyediting or proofreading mark that indicates the insertion point for additional text.

Casebound: Hardcover, hardbound.

Center spread: The facing pages in the center of a bound signature.

Channels: In publishing, channels refers to sales channels, which are usually trade (through distributors and wholesalers to bookstores and libraries, or direct to bookstores and libraries), and specialty (nonbook distributors and retailers such as gift reps and toy and health food stores). Other channels include direct—to end users through direct response mailings, Web sites, and author appearances or speeches.

Chapter book: A book for children who can read, usually longer than the 32 pages typical of picture books.


Character: A single letter, number, symbol, or blank space.

Character count: The number of characters in a defined area such as a line of text or a page.

Check copy: A folded and gathered (F&G) but unbound copy of a book sent by the book manufacturer to the publisher for approval prior to binding. F&Gs can be used in the bindery as guides for assembling books with any extra items such as color inserts or CDs.

Chokes and spreads: Called trapping in desktop publishing and other digital imaging systems, these create overlaps to avoid a gap around image detail when different ink colors are used. If title type is set in yellow, for example, trapping ensures that the background color slightly overlaps the yellow so that all the paper is covered even if separations are slightly misaligned on the press. When a darker color surrounds a lighter color, the term is spread (e.g., a red cover surrounding the yellow type of the title); the term is choke when a lighter color—say, a yellow cover—surrounds what’s in the middle (e.g., a red image).

Chromalin proofs: Proof copy, often of a cover, made with photosensitized clear plastic and processed in layers of color to simulate the final printed image.

Cibachrome: A full-color positive photographic print made from a transparency.

CIP: Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data; a bibliographic record prepared by the Library for a book before its publication. The CIP data should be included on the book’s copyright page. See “Cataloging in Publication Program,” loc.gov/publish/cip.

C/lc, c&lc, clc: Copyediting or proofreading abbreviations; the instruction to set the first letter of each word (excluding articles, conjunctions, and prepositions) as a cap (i.e., capital or upper-case letter) and the other letters in lower case.

Clip art: Stock illustrations (once sold on large sheets from which the desired image could be cut, or clipped; now sold online as digital files or individually on stock photography sites) that can be used instead of commissioned artwork. Some clip art is free; some must be purchased. Not all clip art is available in the high-resolution graphics files needed for good-quality reproduction, especially if it is scanned from vintage advertisements or books.

CMYK: Four inks—cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and black (key)—are used to build colors with four-color process printing. In digital printing, Pantone Matching System (PMS) ink colors are usually converted to CMYK. This can cause color variations between digitally printed jobs and offset jobs, where PMS colors can be matched. Because computer monitors display colors in RGB format (red/green/blue), it is impossible to accurately proof CMYK or PMS colors with a digital display or with prints made with a laser or inkjet printer. For CMYK, a designer should provide the book manufacturer with a printed example of the color to be matched. If PMS colors are specified, paper swatches should be provided with the comps.

Coating: Many new digital presses include coating as one step of the printing process. This protects the ink and reduces scuffing and fingerprinting. Because digital toners are not always compatible with coatings, many digitally printed book covers are laminated rather than UV-coated or varnished. Spot coatings target one part of a page, such as one color, one image, or the text. Flood coatings cover the entire page. Coatings can be gloss or matte (dull).

Coil bound: A binding that requires punching (drilling) holes in a book and inserting a metal or plastic coil to keep pages together. Coil bound is a process not available inline (that is, as part of the printing process on a sophisticated press or print-on-demand equipment such as the Espresso Book Machine). Booksellers are often reluctant to carry coil-bound books unless they are shrinkwrapped or otherwise packaged to reduce the chance of damage. Coil-bound books have another disadvantage: no spine to show title and author.

Collate: Gather sections in sequence for binding.

Color bars: Printed bars of ink colors used to monitor a print image. These bars show the amount of ink to be applied by the press, the registration, and the densities across the press sheet.

Color fastness: The ability of dyed paper to maintain color when exposed to light or heat.

Color insert: To reduce the cost of printing high-quality photos in color, all the color photographs for a book can be printed in one or more signatures separately from the text (which is usually printed with black ink) and then inserted in the book, often in the center, at the bindery. Because of the high cost of high-quality color printing, some publishers order overruns of color inserts for use when a book is reprinted.

Color key: An overlay proof with just one color per sheet of acetate.

Color proofs: The first few sheets pulled off the press for the customer’s final approval before the entire job is printed. This press check is often done by the book designer or production manager.

Color separation: In a multicolor print job, each component color requires its own monochrome image. A film negative is made from each of these monochrome images for offset and letterpress printing. A two-color job requires two separations; a four-color job requires four if process color (see CMYK above) is being used. A multicolor job using several PMS inks but no full-color images would have a separation for each PMS color.

Column: Text arranged in a vertical segment, usually narrower than the width of the page. The space between columns is called a ditch.

Comb bound: A binding that uses a plastic springlike comb inserted through holes punched in the edges of book pages. It is not popular with bookstores because of the risk of damage to the plastic. See Coil bound.

Comps: Comprehensive layouts are the second visual step in the creative process, after thumbnails (rough miniature sketches). The comp of a book cover, interior design, ad, or other promotional piece is an early draft that shows color, fonts, and at least rough images. Low-resolution stock photos and greeked text are common. A comprehensive proof shows material as it will look when printed. Today comps are often presented electronically, as either JPEG or PDF files.

Condensed type: Typefaces with tall, narrow characters that allow more characters per line (in contrast to expanded type, which permits fewer characters per line). Desktop publishing programs such as InDesign allow designers to further reduce space between letters and between words.

Consignment sales: When distributors, wholesalers, and retailers do not pay publishers until books are sold to readers. Technically, the publisher retains legal ownership until a sale is final. In reality, however, if a distributor, wholesaler, or retailer goes bankrupt, the books in its possession are usually considered its assets and are liquidated to pay secured creditors. The exception occurs when a publisher has filed a Uniform Commercial Code financing statement for each title and each consignment customer. For details, see your state’s UCC regulations.

Continuous tone/Contone: Images with a range of tones from white to black that may have every shade of gray represented, as in traditional photography. In offset printing, continuous-tone images are converted (screened) to halftones for reproduction. Many digital color laser presses are contone printers. Limited in the levels of intensity they can produce, they use dithering techniques to create different colors and different shades of lightness and darkness. For example, dots of different red, cream, and white shades might be used to create a pattern that makes the eye think it is seeing pink. Similar to halftones.



Co-publishing: A venture in which two or more organizations, or an organization and an individual, share the development and/or production costs of publishing a book. For example, a museum underwrites some of the costs of a book about its collection published by a university press. Today the term is often used by publishers or book packagers who expect authors to bear some of the costs of producing a book.

Copyediting: Copy editors are responsible for style (for example, which abbreviations are used, how numbers are referred to, and which words are hyphenated), for consistency throughout a manuscript, and for some fact-checking. They also correct syntax, spelling, and punctuation.

Copy fitting: Designing text to fit into a predetermined amount of space or number of pages. It results in the specification of font and leading (e.g., Helvetica 11/13, meaning 11-point Helvetica type set on 13 points of space (a point is 1/72nd of an inch).

Copyright: The exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something such as a literary, musical, or artistic work. The extent of copyright protection and the enforcement of it differ among countries. For various reasons, it is wise to register copyrights with the Library of Congress, although that is not required. Book front matter should include a copyright notice with the copyright symbol or the word Copyright, the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright holder. Book titles cannot be copyrighted. For current copyright law, see “Copyright Basics,” copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf.

Cover art: The design for a paperback’s front, back, and spine, or for a hardcover’s dust cover, aka jacket.

Cover stock: A heavier paper used for paperback covers. The terms for cover-stock specifications are different from the terms for text-stock specifications; a 50# text stock is not the same as the 50# cover stock sold in office supply stores for postcards. An example of a cover-stock spec is 10 pt. C1S, with 10 pt. being the weight, and C1S being “coated one side.”

CreateSpace: The Amazon.com print-on-demand service that produces books using digital printing.

Creep: The distance margins shift when signatures are folded and gathered for insertion in a book’s cover. The amount of creep will vary depending on both the number and the thickness of the sheets and must be compensated for during layout and imposition. Because check copies (F&Gs) and bulking dummies are hand-folded, they may not accurately represent creep.

Crop: To reduce the size or change the dimensions of an illustration by removing part of one or more sides rather than reducing the size of the entire image.

Crop marks: Lines on the camera-ready art that show where cuts will be made for the final trim (see Bleed ).

Cross-reference: A term that refers the reader to related material within the same work.

CSR: Customer service representative. CSRs are sometimes employed by printers and publishers to replace salespeople as the liaison between the customer and the production staff, since they are in-house staff and can be more available for a customer’s queries than salespeople. CSRs do not typically have production experience and so must consult printing or bindery staff on technical questions.

CTP: Computer-to-plate, the prepress process used when everything is digital—that is, when pages are created and arranged on a computer and then made into a printing plate, which is what goes on the press to transfer the image to paper. By contrast, computer-to-film, the traditional process prior to digital files, requires that pasteups (aka mechanicals) be photographed and the negative used to create the plate. Because CTP eliminates one reproduction step, it increases the quality of the reproduction, and there is no chance that negative film will be damaged by dust spots.

Curl: Distortions in pages because of excess moisture or humidity.

Cutter dust: Paper dust resulting from cutting or trimming the paper. It can transfer to printing blankets, causing problems during a press run.

Cyan: Process blue ink.

For additional reading:

Book Industry Study Group Roadmap of Identifiersbisg.org/docs/Roadmap_of_Identifiers.pdf; and Roadmap of Organizationsbisg.org/docs/Roadmap_of_Organizations.pdf.

Publishing 101 by Bookmasters, bookmasters.com/authors.html.

Don’t Let Me Find You Bleeding in the Gutter: Understanding Book Terminology by Joel Friedlander, thebookdesigner.com/2011/06/dont-let-me-find-you-bleeding-in-the-gutter-understanding-book-terminology.

Neenah Paper’s Glossary of Paper Termsneenahpaper.com/resources/glossaryterms.

PBI Print Buyer Glossaryprintbuyersinternational.com/resources/print-buyer-glossary.


Linda Carlson started her career on a newspaper that set type with hot lead, and waxed yard-long galleys of copy for pasteup. Her first book, The Publicity and Promotion Handbook: A Complete Guide for Small Business, was proofed in 1981 with long galleys and then with page proofs. She loves the traditional language of printing, especially when playing Scrabble.


Our thanks to Kasper Aaberg, loveofgraphics.com, for permission to use the image of ascender, descender, and baseline.

Publishing Organizations

ABA, BIC, CCC and dozens of other key book industry associations are defined and described in the Book Industry Study Group’s Roadmap of Organizational Relationships, version 2.0 (bisg.org/what-we-do-18-33-roadmap-of-organizational-relationships.php), which is free at bisg.org.

Using the Roadmap’s links to Web sites, you can find various valuable resources. For example, the American Booksellers Association site has a directory of member stores, and, via the “education” tab, a list of regional bookseller trade shows; and the American Library Association site has, among other things, a fact sheet about 120,000 libraries of all kinds in the United States today.

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