Self-Publishing Dictionary: A Beginner’s Guide

Authors tend to sum up their experiences regarding self-publishing somewhat like this: “I had no idea what I was getting into.” While completing a book is one of the best feelings a writer can experience, self-publishing can be quite scary. Even from the very beginning, you are showered with acronyms and abbreviations you have no idea about. If you’re one of those who simply don’t get the “lingo”, this article is for you! Our self-publishing dictionary is here to help with definitions of most common expressions in publishing and self-publishing.

self-publishing dictionary

Whether you think of publishing a book as a hobby or as a new profession, hopefully, you’ll find all the answers here. Did we miss anything? Obviously! Please add other expressions you’d love to read about to the comments.


3D cover: A 3-dimensional mockup of a cover or a bundle cover. It is usually used for marketing purposes.


Aggregator: Ebook aggregators are companies enabling authors and publishers to distribute and manage their books in all stores via one single platform. They are also often called distributors. Well known aggregator companies are PublishDrive (that’s us) and Draft2Digital.

Amazon: The retail giant reinvented publishing with the introduction of Kindle and KDP. Publishing on Amazon usually means making the ebook available in the Kindle Store and/or having the print copy listed there.

Apple Books: Apple’s digital bookstore. They accept books in all languages. It is available from the following countries.

Audiobook: An audio version of a book, professionally recorded by the author or a voice actor. Currently most audiobooks in distribution are in a digital format. Audiobooks can be abridged (shortened) or unabridged.

Author: Hopefully, that’s you


Back cover: The image at the back of a print book. It usually contains the blurb, ISBN and barcode.

Barcode: A unique identifier belonging to a specific edition of your book – it gets scanned when a book is sold in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Today, print ISBN’s and barcodes are often the same. For print books in bookstore distribution, it is a must. Ebooks don’t have barcodes.

Beta (reader): Your beta is usually a friend or other author who agrees to read your first “final manuscript.” They don’t usually proofread the book but often recommend structural changes.

BISAC: An internationally accepted and widely used standard of book categorization. It has wide categories like Fiction or Juvenile fiction, and has up to 4 levels of subcategories, e.g. Fiction / Romance / Historical. See also Categories.

Blurb: see Description.

Bundle: Also called a boxset or a boxed-set; two or more books (usually parts of a series or serial) grouped together. From the reader’s perspective, buying a bundle is often an economical choice: they are usually cheaper than buying the books individually. Bundles are often sold or advertised with 3D covers.


Canva: Easy to use and a free / low budget online picture editor. It is often used to create book covers. Need help using it?

Categories: Categories help publishers, librarians, booksellers and readers classify a book. Most countries have their own traditional category system, but BISAC is also a widely accepted way. The classification decides where your book will appear in the stores, and helps people find it when they’re simply browsing. Most ebook stores let you place your book in three categories.

Cliffhangers: When a book (or an episode) ends with a new or unsolved mystery, keeping the readers or watchers in suspension until the next installment. Often used to ‘hook in’ the consumer; to make sure that they’ll come back.

Contributor: Anyone who contributed to the creation of the book, like the author, cover designer, translator, editor, or proofreader. It is courtesy to list your contributors in the book, but only the author and translator (or editor) in the metadata field.

Copyright: The ownership of a text (or any Intellectual Property.) As a rule of thumb, a work is copyrighted to you in the moment of its creation, but rules vary on whether you need to get it registered.

Copyright page: A page, usually at the beginning or end of the book, displaying the name of the copyright holder, the year of copyright, and a copyright notice.

Cover: Usually referring to the front cover of a book. Need one?


Delivery cost: The costs of shipping the book from the warehouse or printer to the reader. In the digital world, Amazon charges the publisher for ebook delivery. For every fulfillment, they withhold a percentage of sales based on the size of the ebook file.

Description: Also called blurb or “back cover copy”. Traditionally a synopsis of the book. The role of the description is to get the reader’s attention and make them interested in buying and reading your book. They often contain keywords or references to similar popular books if allowed in the store.

Distributor: Distributors are the middlemen between you (the author) and the readers. It is a broad term and includes stores like Amazon or Apple Books, library chains like OverDrive, and subscription services like Scribd) – but also aggregators like PublishDrive. In print distribution, your distributor is the company making sure that stores can always order your books.


Ebook: The digital format of a book, intended to be read on a device screen. Most ebooks in commercial distribution are in an epub or mobi format. Some ebooks are also distributed as PDF’s.

Ebook reader (ereader): Usually used to describe an e-ink device designed especially for reading ebooks. The expression “ebook reader” is also often used for ebook reader apps.

Editing: The art and craft of working with a manuscript. Editors work closely with your text: they look for grammar errors, inconsistencies and they might recommend substantial changes in your story line.

Embedding: Incorporating something within the epub file. Embedded elements (e.g. audiovisual material, images, the cover, or the font) are always downloaded and transferred with the book to the reader’s device. It is recommended to keep the file size of embedded elements low in order to keep the size of the final book low.

Embedded cover: For valid epub files, the front cover must be embedded in the epub file. The embedded cover will be downloaded with the book when bought and will be displayed on the reader’s digital bookshelf. It cannot be larger than four megapixels. For mobi files, the cover should not be embedded.

Enhanced ebook: Ebook file containing audio or visual material, or interactive elements. It is meant to be read on a smartphone, tablet or desktop.

Epub: The most common and widely accepted ebook format. It is readable on all kinds of devices (phones, tablets, ebook readers, computers) and all distributors accept them. Currently, two major versions are in circulation: epub2 and epub3. Epubs are often validated before distribution. Read more.

Exclusive distribution: Some services require exclusive distribution rights of your book or ebook. The most widely known distributor requiring exclusivity today is Amazon KDP Select. Books and ebooks in exclusive distribution cannot be sold anywhere else – this restriction usually comes with higher royalties or special marketing terms.


Fiction: A type of literary work. Fiction books usually tell an imaginary story that may or may not be based on reality. It is a broad category and it has many genres, e.g. literary fiction (high-brow fiction), mystery or romance. As a BISAC-category, fiction refers to adult fiction. For books directed towards children or teenagers, see juvenile fiction and young adult fiction. The opposite of fiction is non-fiction: a book cannot be categorized as both fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

Font: The type of character used to display the text. While many authors have a preference towards a specific font, ebook readers often have a default font that overwrites it. To make sure that your chosen font displays properly on all devices where it is possible, embed it.

Front matter: In a book, front matter is everything that comes before the main text of the book. It usually contains the title page, copyright page, table of contents, etc.


Genre: Your genre is basically the type of book you write, e.g. romance, mystery, self-help or cookbook. When a reader picks up a particular book, the cover, description and category helps them put the book in a certain genre. Following the rules of a certain genre is a great opportunity to make sure that your book reaches the right audience – your ideal readers. Genre is most obviously shown using categories. Currently most ebook stores, including Amazon, accept BISAC-categories, but it is not the only categorization.

Goodreads: Social network for books, authors and book lovers. Readers can mark the books they have read and want to read, write and read reviews, and interact with other book lovers and authors. It is owned by Amazon.

Google Books: One of Google’s cultural projects: they aim to make every book ever written available in their catalog in a searchable form. The Google Books project involves scanning public domain books and making the text of books available on Google Play Books searchable through Google. For copyright protection, the percentage of freely available, searchable and copyable content is restricted.

Google Play Books: Google’s ebook distribution service. The Play Books app comes pre-installed on all Android devices. Ebooks published on Google Play Books become searchable on Google Books as well. It accepts every language, and is available in the following countries.


iBooks: Previous name of Apple Books.

Ideal reader: The person you picture in front of you when writing your book. For marketing reasons, it is important to have an ideal reader. Are they old or young? Male or female? Middle class or working class? The more you know of them, the more likely you are to reach them – and sell more books.

Interactive ebook: Enhanced ebook.

Imprint: Publisher name under which your books will appear in the stores. For example, Penguin Random House has separate imprints they use to publish books, including Penguin Classics, Firebird, Puffin, or Dorling Kindersley.

Independent author / indie author: Usually a self-published author who doesn’t have a contract with a publisher but manages his or her books independently. Many indie authors are hybrids: they publish both traditionally and independently.

Independent publisher / indie: A small publisher that is not part of the Big 5. They can be of various types and sizes: many indie authors eventually become indie publishers of others, producing a few titles a year; while others are huge. Indie publishers can grow both from the self-publishsing and traditional route.

ISBN: The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numeric commercial book identifier, and is a global standard in the print publishing industry. Its original role is to help publishers track their sales. However, there is no legal obligation for your ebook to have one: most stores will assign an identifier to your book. Read more.


Juvenile fiction / non-fiction: The BISAC-system makes targeting certain age groups easier. Juvenile fiction / non-fiction categories target kids 3-12 years old (the exact age group can be specified.) Putting the book in the right category helps parents and teachers select books that are suitable for this age group. Read more.


KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing): Amazon’s self-publishing program for both ebooks and paperbacks. They accept books in the following 40 languages.

KDP Select: Kindle Direct Publishing’s exclusive program.

Kindle: Amazon’s ebook reader. Often used as a general noun for all ebook readers (like Nutella for hazelnut spread).

Kindle Store: see Amazon.

KU (Kindle Unlimited): Amazon’s ebook subscription service. Your book can be part of KU if you go to Amazon exclusively, and don’t use other distributors. Read more.


Launch: The launch date is from when the book becomes publicly available. Book launches are usually celebrated with an event. Get some ideas.

Layout: The way a book is expected to look like to the readers. We distinguish between print layout and ebook layout. The main difference is that print layout is fixed (all books will look exactly the same), and ebook layout is (in most cases) responsive to the reader’s needs.

Literary fiction: A common fiction genre: “high-brow” literature is most often literary fiction. Use this BISAC-category if your fiction book doesn’t fit under any other fiction genre.


Marketing: The art and craft of selling something – in this case, a book. Marketing includes finding your ideal reader, setting up advertisements and in general creating some buzz around your book. Get some ideas.

Metadata: All information about a book. It includes the author(s), title, description, keywords and much more. Read more.

Mobi: Amazon’s traditional ebook format.


Non-fiction: A factual, non-literary work. Although it is the opposite of fiction, the BISAC-system does not have a non-fiction main category. Non-fiction works are separated under several BISAC-headings, e.g. COOKING or SELF-HELP. There is a non-fiction BISAC heading for juvenile and young adult categories. Please note that fiction & non-fiction are mutually exclusive: your book cannot have both.


OCR: Optical character recognition. If a book is scanned, OCR can turn the scanned PDF into a searchable document. While OCR’s are amazing and they could be used to prepare old, out of print public domain material for publication, these systems are not yet able to function without human supervision. All books digitized with OCR should be properly edited before publication.

OverDrive: USA-based library chain. It enables indie authors to reach library visitors with their ebooks.


Paperback / Soft cover: A book with a soft cover. It’s the most popular POD format of print books, and Amazon Print’s only supported format. Paperbacks are in general cheaper (to make and to buy) than hard covers. In traditional publishing, books often come out first as hardcover, and later as paperback.

POD (print on demand): Instead of printing thousands of books in advance, then worrying about storing and distributing them, books only get printed when somebody orders them. The per copy price is usually a bit higher, but most indie authors tend to prefer this option.


Scribd: An ebook and audiobook subscription service. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and get access to as many books and audiobooks as they like. Publishers get paid a percentage of the list price.

Series / Serials: A chain of connected books. They are often sold as a bundle.

Subscription service: Ebook subscription services are like Spotify or Netflix – but for books! Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and they can read a certain number of titles from the service’s catalog. Publishers get paid either a percentage of list price, or a percentage from a pool, based on the pages read. Subscription services include Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, Playster, and Perlego, to name a few.


Vanity publishing: Vanity presses are companies who offer to publish your book in exchange of a fee. They usually help with editing, the cover design, and distribution. There is a thin line between vanity presses and valid self-publishing companies and hybrid publishers.


Wide: Publishing outside Amazon, e.g. in Apple Books, Scribd, Google Playor OverDrive.

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