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Self-Publishing Glossary

Self-Publishing Glossary: Learn publishing industry words

Everything new has its share of words and phrases you have to learn. Self-publishing is no exception. The terms in this self-publishing glossary are the most common ones you’ll come across as you self-publish your book.


The code with the ISBN, and sometimes a price, on the lower back of a print book is a barcode. The two major print on demand printers—Amazon and IngramSpark—provide the barcode, so you probably will not need to buy one.


In the U.S., ownership of your work technically exists when it is created (but I am not a copyright lawyer or any lawyer for that matter.) Your book can be officially registered and copyrighted. Visit to learn more. For other countries, research your country’s laws.


The author has an agreement with a distributor to get your print books to booksellers. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the major distributors in the U.S. and in some other countries. Ingram is automatically one of your distributors when you use IngramSpark. (See Print on Demand)


Some new to self-publishing are confused at this word. It can be someone at a traditional publishing house who is the direct contact with the author and/or the author’s agent. To add to the confusion, the editor at the traditional publishing house will have an editor who edits your book.

In self-publishing, this is a person you pay to edit–find grammar errors and other problems with your book.


Booksellers except Amazon use this ebook format.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number):

The 13-digit number you assign to your book. ISBN numbers are sold by Bowker in the U.S., but some countries provide them for free.

Self-Publishing Glossary


Ebooks, paperback, hardcover and audio are all book formats. This can also refer to the type of ebook, .mobi or .epub.


A book is formatted when it is taken from a manuscript, probably in Word, and turned into what looks like a book.


This is a shortened version of independent author and a synonym for self-published author. The music and film industry had indies long before publishing did.


A word or phrase that both describes your book and is searched for online. A book about cross-country bicycling might have keywords like bike, bicycling, road trip, cross-country, etc. You can test keywords in Amazon to see if they bring up books similar to yours.


The specific details associated with your book that you enter when you upload your ebook book for sale on a site such as Amazon or a print company like IngramSpark is metadata. That includes the format, price, publication date, description and more.


Amazon uses this ebook format.

Offset Printing:

The traditional type of printing where you order hundreds of books at one time from a book printer and store them until they are sold. This can still work well for those who will sell a large volume at the back of the room after speaking events. If that isn’t you, or at least not immediately, see Print on Demand.

Print on Demand (POD):

The exact number of books needed are printed; none are kept in inventory. This might be one copy or hundreds.


You are the publisher of your book. You can choose to create a publishing company name, if you’d like.


When you publish your print books through IngramSpark, you can choose whether or not to accept returns. Unlike most retailers, bookstores historically have had the right to return books that haven’t sold. This generally applies to books in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Please comment if you know of any self-publishing terms I missed! Thank you.

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