I had popped my head into my boss’s office to ask what I thought would be a simple question.
“Will Laura’s book be a paperback or a hardback?”
It was my first week of work at Avon Books, which was my very first job in publishing. I was 23 and breathlessly excited that I was being paid (not very much, but still paid) to work on books.
From the doorway of his office, I saw my new supervisor put down the manuscript he was reading and gesture for me to come sit down in his chat chair.
“I want you to listen very, very carefully,” he said to me, with a faux serious voice that was a signature of his humor. “I am about to christen you an official Book Industry Professional.” How exciting, I thought. I wanted so very much to be a B.I.P.!
“Repeat after me,” he instructed. “I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER use the word hardback again.”
I dutifully repeated the sentence.
“Okay,” he said, feigning relief. “I made the same mistake when I first moved to New York and got into the publishing business. Inside the industry, there are only two ways to refer to a book with a hard casing. You may call it a hardcover, or you may refer to it as the cloth edition. But you will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER call it a hardback—or they’ll know you’re an amateur.”
Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted to be was an amateur! It was a lesson I never forgot—and am grateful to be able to pass along to you. Today’s blog will help you become the publishing insider you want to be. (Or at least, pretend better.) I’m pulling back the curtain and giving you a vocab lesson from inside the book biz. Once you understand—and begin using—these five terms, you’ll be able to blend in with the best of the book industry, in NYC and beyond.
Hardcover. As discussed, the industry term of choice is “hardcover.” Every so often you might come across someone rocking it old-school and using the term “cloth,” which refers to the fact that hardcover books used to be bound with fabric. (Some still are, but these days most are bound with thick textured paper instead.) While booksellers still sometimes use the term “hardback,” know that within the hallowed walls of the NYC book publishing industry, use of that term will make you stick out like a sore, amateur thumb.
Manuscript. So…is that thing you’re writing a book or a manuscript? It’s a nuanced distinction, for sure, but one you’ll want to master. If you’re talking about the electronic file or the hardcopy document you’ve been working on, you’re probably talking about a manuscript. Inside the editorial department, almost all discussion is happening at the level of the manuscript. A “book” is either the finished product (“My books arrived today from the printer!”) or the idea of that finished product (“My wife is working on a book and I barely see her anymore!”). But when it comes to the pages you’re actually writing, or that your editor is marking up on your behalf, it’s a manuscript, baby. Remember that.
Front Matter/Back Matter. Matter, in this instance, could be replaced with the word “material.” Front matter is all the material that comes before page one of your book. This includes things like the title page, the half-title page, and the copyright page. Back matter, as you can likely deduce, is everything that comes after the last page of the book. Appendices, indexes, reading group guides and (sometimes, especially in genre fiction) advertisements for other books. Casually toss out one of these terms when talking to your editor, and you’ll sound like the pro you’ve always wanted to be.
TK. This is one of the strangest terms publishing professionals use every single day. It’s strange because, as far as I know, it is used in no other industry. Moreover, it’s a deliberately misspelled abbreviation—which is ironic, since it’s mostly editors who use it! But within the world of US book publishing, TK stands for “to come.” The abbreviation is used when there is information that is not yet present or available—but is on its way. For example, if you don’t yet have the dedication page ready for a manuscript, there may be a page reserved for the dedication that has nothing but “TK” written in the middle of it. I’ve found this to be an incredibly useful term in many areas of life, and would use it all the time—except that it’s only my publishing buddies who know what it means!
Stet. Once more, a publishing term that could—and dare I say, should—be adopted by the world at large. It’s so very useful! The term stet means “return to the original.” It’s used primarily by an author while reviewing her edited manuscript, to indicate that she does not like a change her editor has made. (Not that that’s ever happened to me!) These days, most editing is done electronically, so there is no real use for the term. But back when I entered the book business, and over the many decades prior, manuscripts were edited and reviewed by hand. If you didn’t like a suggestion your editor made, you’d simply write STET next to it. This indicated to the typesetter to ignore the editor’s handiwork and return the sentence to its previous state. Now—wouldn’t it be useful to tell your teenager to stet his bedroom? Or to stet the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner? I think it’s time to bring this term into everyday usage—don’t you?
So there you have it, my friends: a bit of publishing insider information from my world to yours! Go forth and use these terms to communicate your meaning—and your B.I.P. status—far and wide. Bonus points if you use one of these terms correctly in a comment on our Facebook page!