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Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need To Know: Self-Publishing Glossary

Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need to Know: Self-Publishing Glossary

Like any industry, the publishing and self-publishing industries employ their own jargon. And the technologies of digital publishing have introduced a vast array of terms, expressions, and idioms into the English language over the past two decades. This week, the Alliance of Independent Authors AskALLi team brings you an excerpt from their Self-Publishing Glossary which is intended to assist authors who are self-publishing a book by providing an accurate and accessible set of definitions for the terms most often used in our sector.

Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need to Know: The Why

Publishing terminology can be confusing, even off-putting, for a new author in particular, but for the established author too. And for the services who have sprung up to help indie authors do their work. This glossary is an attempt to ease the way for all, defining the terms that arise while proceeding through the seven stages of the publishing process. It includes both technical and business terms and uses US spelling.

We also gloss the most popular self-publishing brand names, as they too can confuse. People use the word “Amazon” when they mean the Amazon online retail store, for example, but also when they mean KDP (Amazon’s e-book publishing platform for small publishers). Or the whole multinational conglomerate company. Or one of its other many divisions. “Apple” is equally confusing. Apple Books, which used to be iBooks, is a book catalogue and online store, as well as an e-book reading application, and also a content sales system delivering e-books to iOS devices such as the iPad and iPhone. In the glossary, brand names are capitalized to distinguish them from the other terms. 

One of our challenges in compiling this glossary is that publishing terms are not always used consistently by  different authors and experts in our field. The definitions offered here represent the meanings understood and shared by the majority of the global publishing and self-publishing community, and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), the professional association for self-publishing authors. 

Terms that have more than a single meaning have numbered definitions, beginning with the most common and proceeding to the more obscure. As a guiding principle, when in doubt, we have opted for over-defining.

The intent throughout is to define and explain terms in as plain language as possible. Some definitions are tentative as self-publishing is a relatively new field. Definitions will evolve as the field, and authors’ publishing and creative business knowledge and expertise, evolve.

Note that the below is just an excerpt of some of the terms in the glossary. If you would like the full glossary with all of the terms listed from A-Z, then you can get your own copy.

The glossary, like all ALLi books, is available for direct purchase in the Self-Publishing Advice Center bookshop in ebook, print and, where available, audio editions. ALLi members are entitled to a free download of this book and all ALLi publications, in ebook format. Log in to the member zone and navigate to Advice –> Short Guides

Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need to Know: The Five Most Controversial Terms

The one we need to understand better: Royalty

A royalty is a particular kind of payment only made to those who trade in intellectual property and copyright and an important source of income for authors since the Copyright Acts of the 18th century. A royalty is a percentage payment in return for the right to licence a copyright.  Royalties are main source of author income in trade-publishing but self-publishers get paid through profit income, income directly derived from selling a book for a higher price than it costs to make.

What the platforms like Amazon, Apple and Kobo pay out is not a royalty–no rights are exchanged. The author is still the rights holder and licencer. It’s a sales commision, a percentage of the payment price of each book. This is a distinction we’re in danger of losing (as Amazon and other platforms wrongly refer to their payments as royalties.

The one not to take lightly: Exclusivity

In publishing terms, exclusivity is an agreement or contract term that binds you solely to a single self-publishing service, trade publisher, or retailer. Should only be agreed in exchange for significant benefits.

The one that needs to move on: Vanity publishing (press)

Traditionally, this referred to any publishing service that charged a fee but now that authors are in buisness, and widely hiring publishing services, the term is used for exploitative services which trade on authors' dreams of publication, with excessively high fees, substandard service, and often the pretence that they are trade publishing houses. Yet excellent author services still find themselves tarred with the “vanity press” brush.

The one that people like to say to sound knowledgeable: Disintermediation

The removal of intermediaries from a supply chain or transaction sequence. In self-publishing, it refers to the removal of agents, publishers, wholesalers and others from writer-to-reader supply and transaction.

The most disrespectful: Slush pile
The derogatory term for the unsolicited manuscripts submitted by authors to traditional publishers for consideration. The term that best sums up the elitist and critical attitude of the traditional publishing industry towards authors. Hard to imagine any other business that would refer to its suppliers in this way

Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need to Know: ALLi Terminology

ALLi associate membership

Membership program for authors preparing their first book for self-publication. Also students of creative writing, multimedia, or publishing with an interest in author-publishing.


ALLi author membership

Membership program for authors who have published one or more books of 50,000+ words in length or equivalent, e.g. a number/series of shorter books, or children’s books.


ALLi authorpreneur member

Membership program for authors earning their living from self-publishing and associated business. This membership is assessed—authors need to show evidence of 50,000 book sales in the past two years and/or KU or business equivalent.


ALLi organization member

Membership program for other author organizations who want to avail of ALLi’s expertise in self-publishing.


ALLi partner member

Membership program for self-publishing services that agree to a code of standards and to being vetted for approval.


ALLi watchdog desk

ALLi service that monitors the practices of companies and individuals in the self-publishing services sector.



ALLi campaign that pledges to answer any self-publishing question that any individual or organization may have. Includes a podcast, email service, blog, and this book. See resources list for more.

social media: #askalli


Ethical Self-Publishing

ALLi campaign encouraging and educating about best practices in self-publishing. Includes a code of standards for indie authors and self-publishing services, showing their support for the principle of putting readers first. Authors display a website badge “I am an ethical author” and services agree to being vetted by the ALLi watchdog desk.

Publishing Terms Indie Authors Need to Know:

assisted publishing/assisted self-publishing

Umbrella term for all companies that provide personalized publishing services to authors for a fee. Some of these services bundle the seven processes of publishing into packages. Some offer hybrid publishing arrangements that adopt some of the practices of trade-publishing, including curation and physical bookstore distribution. Authors shopping in this sector need to exercise caution.

includes: hybrid publishing, partnership publishing, subsidized publishing

compare: author-publishing, indie author


author bio

A brief biography that may include a summary of books written, interests, and achievements.


author brand

A consistent message and representation of identity and image that helps readers to connect with authors and their books.

see: book brand


author collaboration

Authors formally working together, under a contract, to mutual benefit. Authors have always collaborated to write but author collaboration is a new and growing movement in publishing.

also: joint venture


author comps

see: comparables

author cooperative/collective

A group of authors who work together to leverage the skills of the group in order to advance members’ publishing efforts.


author platform

A structure that gives leverage and visibility to an author and their books. An author platform gives the ability to sell books and allows the right readers, and others, to discover and understand what the author does and what to expect from their books. An author platform has three components: who the author is, what they say, and who they can reach.



An email service that sends an automatic response to incoming emails, which helps to reduce the amount of manual replies required.



Entrepreneurial author–publisher who runs a successful business, by globally exploiting their own rights through a variety of formats and platforms.



An author who self-publishes for profit. May also publish other authors.

also: independent author, indie author, micro-publishers



Another term for independent self-publishing by authors.


Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI)

A vanity press operating under a variety of imprints and that warrants caution.


editorial review

A professional critic’s opinion of a book published online or in a periodical.

also: review



Short reviews of a book written by a well-known author, professional, or personality in a genre/niche. Endorsements can be placed on the front or back cover, or in the introductory pages of the book, and used for promotional purposes.

compare: blurb


end matter

see: back matter



Paper glued to the inside of a hardcover case, which also becomes the first (unprinted) interior page of the book. Standard endsheets are white, but they can be colored or printed.


endorsement quotes

Short reviews of a book written by a well-known author, professional, or personality in the author’s niche.



A section or chapter at the end of a book that comments on or draws conclusions about what has happened or been explained within the text.



A common e-book file format.



A publishing contract that binds an author solely to one self-publishing service, trade publisher, or retailer.

compare: go wide



A word or phrase immediately preceded by the # symbol. When you click a hashtag, you see other social media updates containing the same keyword or topic.



A professional-looking head-and-shoulders photograph used for promotional purposes.


hybrid author

A term sometimes used to describe an author who uses both trade-publishing and self-publishing services.

compare: hybrid publishing, indie author


hybrid publisher/hybrid publishing

A hybrid publisher provides a mix of trade-publishing and self-publishing services in the same contract. Hybrid publishers have very varied business models, methods of working with writers, and approaches to marketing and distribution but all curate the books they help to publish. Many also offer physical bookstore distribution. Although there are ethical and reputable hybrid publishers, there are many more substandard services that have turned to a hybrid publishing model, sometimes as a means of camouflaging exploitative vanity press operations.

compare: hybrid author, vanity service


marketing plan

Strategic plan that details the documents, activities, and deliverables needed to market an author and their books.


mass-market paperback

Smaller, less expensive version of a book that is usually printed well after the hardcover and trade paperback versions have been made available.


media kit

A package of key information to send to media or journalists, retailers, book bloggers, event planners, editors, or anyone who plans on writing about an author and their book. May include an author photo and bio, a book cover image, a full synopsis, a one-sentence description, book details, frequently asked questions, an excerpt, and reviews or media coverage.

also: press kit



Bibliographic information about a book including title, author’s name, book description, ISBN, publisher, genre category, publication date, and price. This automatically feeds into various data systems, including publishing catalogues and stock lists, and is passed on to the rest of the trade including customers. Includes data to optimize discoverability in online search, including keywords—words that someone may type into search engines when looking for a book.

see: bibliographic data, categories, keywords



A proprietary link-analysis algorithm developed by Google to assign a numerical score to each document in a set of hypertext documents based on the number of referring links. The algorithm also takes into account the rank of the referring page; thus a link from a high-ranking page counts more than a link from a low-ranking page.

see: algorithm


passive income

Income not directly tied to active work. Typical passive income sources are front-loaded with low-paid or unpaid active work, while the bulk of the income comes later. Interest, dividends, and royalties are prime examples of passive income.



A book permanently available for free from online retailers; a strategy used to increase visibility and gain new readers by giving away a book, often the first in a series. Also used by affiliate marketers or associated product promoters.



Agreement from a copyright holder that permits the reproduction or publication of copyrighted material. Also the process of securing agreements from a copyright holder.


profit income

Profit income is derived by selling a product (e.g. a book) for a higher price than it costs to make. Profit income is the main source of income for self-publishing authors, the amount left over after the costs of the seven processes of publishing a book, or the costs of producing another product, project or service, have been covered.

see: business models, royalties, commissions



The sixth process in the seven processes of publishing, being concentrated sales-driven activity behind a particular book for a particular period of time. Promotion takes one book and brings it to its target readers, with enticement to buy.

see: marketing, publishing



Devising a promotional campaign to appeal to a segment of readers based on their particular genre, niche, or interests.

see: customization, personalization, segmentation



Document that includes a default set of objects like headings, fonts, and images, used as a starting point when creating other documents. Useful when similar publications have to be frequently created.



Collection of related electronic pages (web pages), generally formatted in HTML and found at a single address where the server computer is identified by a given host name.


zero rating

British and Commonwealth tax term denoting goods or services that are taxable for VAT (value added tax), but with a tax rate of zero.


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