Publishing Glossary: 15 Terms Book Advocates Should Know

A stack of books sitting on a table

The publishing industry has its own insider language, and as book advocates become more active in publishing spaces, they often encounter terms that they’re unfamiliar with. Here, we’ve rounded up 15 definitions for words NetGalley members are most likely to run into. This is the first installment in an ongoing series where we’ll take members behind the curtain to learn more about the publishing industry. Let us know below what you’d like to learn next!


A book publisher oversees all aspects of a book’s production and distribution. They acquire manuscripts from either agents or authors and then begin the process of preparing the book for publication to get it into the hands of readers. On NetGalley, you can explore publishers on the Browse Publishers page—just click through to learn more about them, view their books, and favorite them so you never miss a new release.


Trade Book Publishers
You’ve likely read books from a variety of trade publishers, even if you don’t know their names, because they publish the books most commonly seen in bookstores and highlighted by online retailers. They can come in various sizes and come with a variety of resources that enable the publicity and distribution of books.

You may have heard the term “the Big Five” in book circles, which refers to the largest trade publishers with the most control of the market: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. If you hear the phrase “traditional publishing,” these are the types of publishers being referenced.


Independent “Indie” Publisher
Indie publishers are generally small to mid-size companies and can also be known as a small press. They’re often strong fits for books that are experimental, innovative, unique, or niche. Their books can be distributed via a larger publisher—such as Quirk Books (which publishes “strikingly unconventional books” like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) does with Penguin Random House.


Many publishers are made up of imprints, which is an individual unit that typically focuses on a specific type of book. On NetGalley, when you visit the Browse Publishers page, you may see imprints (such as Sourcebooks Fire, which is the YA imprint of Sourcebooks) with their own pages.


Self-publishing is a continually growing industry with many unique paths for authors to take that allow them to hand-select everything from their cover to an editor. While ebooks continue to be a popular route for these authors, print-on-demand services allow for authors to have their books printed. Booksellers and librarians are fierce advocates when it comes to bringing these books directly into their stores and branches for their community to read.


You’ve likely noticed that NetGalley drew inspiration from this word in our company name! A galley (sometimes called an uncorrected proof) is the near-final version of a book before it is sent to production. It was originally created for editors and authors to review the text one last time before it was shared with readers, and today it’s used for promotional purposes and shared with reviewers, librarians, booksellers, teachers, and members of the media. Galleys can come in various formats (more on that below).

The term originated from the printing press, where type molds were laid in a metal tray known as a galley. The first copies would be printed, proofread, and the type molds rearranged as needed.


This is an acronym that stands for “advance reader copy” and is essentially another word for galley. ARCs are released pre-publication to select readers at the discretion of the publisher. Similar to galley, it’s a broad term used to encompass various formats (such as physical, e-books, and audiobooks).


Now we’re getting specific. A DRC is a “digital review copy.” Just like an ARC, it’s the advanced copy of a book but it comes in a digital reading format. Occasionally you’ll see early digital copies referred to as “eARCs,” but DRC is the more common industry term. All of the books that you read on NetGalley are DRCs!


This is a newer term that refers to audiobooks and stands for “advance listening copy.” Audiobooks take a significant amount of time to record and produce, so you’ll notice that ALCs are typically shared with early reviewers fairly close to a book’s publication date.


Publishers occasionally put an embargo on books. This means that advance copies may be extremely limited and that those who receive them are asked to hold their reviews until a specific date (usually publication day). This can help to build anticipation, or (particularly if the book includes something newsworthy) ensure that reviews are not released until the book is available for consumers to immediately purchase. Embargoes also strictly require booksellers and librarians to not make the book available on shelves until the publication date. While embargos aren’t common, it’s important to read all approval emails you receive from publishers on NetGalley to be sure they don’t have any requests around when readers can post reviews.


A publisher’s frontlist is their recently or newly published books. These are the titles that often have active marketing and publicity campaigns. You’re likely to see them in new release roundups or highlighted in bookstores. Many of the books that you see on NetGalley are frontlist titles.


Backlist includes a publisher’s previously published books and can include books both in and out of print. Backlist books can become frontlist again, such as with paperback releases or covers of movie adaptations. They are less likely to have active marketing and publicity campaigns attached to them, making reader word-of-mouth all the more valuable.


These are testimonials from authors or reviewers that are included on a book’s cover or dust jacket or in marketing materials. The goal is to provide an endorsement from a source that readers are familiar with and trust.

An author can ask a fellow author to blurb their book, or a publisher may ask an author for a blurb. Similar to NetGalley members receiving books and writing reviews, authors are not paid to create blurbs and will read a book they’re offered and then decide if they want to blurb it.

The term blurb comes from Gelett Burgess, a humorist who featured a woman he called Miss Belinda Blurb sharing praises of his book on one of his covers.


Comp titles
Also known as ​​comparable titles, these are books that help to establish expectations. A book’s comp titles are often similar in tone, writing style, or theme. They can be a shorthand way to express who might be interested in a book. Publishers use them in official book summaries (typically with lines such as “For fans of Lord of the Rings” or “Pride and Prejudice meets The Picture of Dorian Gray”) to pull in readers with similar tastes.

They can also give insight into a book’s projected trajectory. For example, librarians and booksellers can use comp titles to assess how popular a new book may be for their community. 


This acronym stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a unique 13-digit identifier made up of numbers specific to your country, publisher, book, and the book’s format. You can find ISBNs at the bottom of NetGalley title pages. They’re vital for booksellers and librarians, and can help reviewers when searching for a specific format of a book.


What industry phrases or roles would you like us to define next?

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

  1. Thank you, that was very useful! I have been referring to my NetGalley DRCs as ARCs for a long time now……..good to know the correct term.

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