When it is time to seek publication for your book manuscript, even if you are self-publishing, you will need to explain what your book is about. You will need condensed descriptions for your pitch or your submission packet. Out in the wide world, some of these terms are used interchangeably and can vary across industries. Writers new to publication are often confused, and as an editor I find myself explaining over and over which pieces of smaller writing for marketing purposes wear which label.

Book Publishing terminology

Editors and agents throw terms around like “blurb” and “synopsis” and expect writers to know what these are and how to use them. Read on for definitions writers must know.

1. Blurb:

The short paragraph or set of paragraphs, on average 150 words in length, that emphasizes the protagonist’s goal, motivation, conflict, and the stakes of the plot, hooking the reader to want to know more about the book and buy it. The blurb does not tell the story—it hooks the reader into wanting to know more about the plight of the characters.

Used for

  • query letter
  • book description on website sales page
  • back cover of paperback book
  • inside jacket cover of hardback book
  • press releases

To add confusion, publishers also use the term “blurb” to refer to an endorsement in the form of a short quote of a review:

“Absolutely riveting! Five stars!” – Joe Reviewer, Daily Times

These are useful on marketing materials and within the front matter of the printed book. Gathering endorsement blurbs is one reason authors send out advance reader copies (ARC) ahead of the official release of the book.

2. Elevator pitch:

This is the prose-writer’s version of the screenwriter’s “logline”; a single-sentence description of the story’s premise. The term comes from being able to pitch, or describe, your story to an agent/editor in the span of time it takes the elevator to move you and said trapped executive to another floor. Also very useful for telling everyone what your story is about when they ask—and they will! Definitely something you’ll need if you attend writers’ conferences.

3. Excerpt:

A short selection from the manuscript usually showing tension or highlighting character in some way, ending on a hook. The excerpt does not need to appear word-for-word the same as in the manuscript text; it can be condensed as needed to fit on a single page (250 words-ish). Good places to look for excerpts are at turning points of the plot or when the protagonist faces dire conflict either internal or external.

Used for:

  • web copy
  • teaser in front of print copy of published book
  • some contests

4. High Concept:

Usually a comparison or combination of well-known stories or tropes: “Batman meets Jane Austin” or “Red Dawn meets Back to the Future.” Go nuts—don’t be afraid for it to sound ridiculous if it gets the point across. How many TV episodes or movies have you watched where the premise is basically Groundhog Day or It’s a Wonderful Life and that’s what you think in your head as you watch? That’s high concept.

5. Query:

Often shorthand for “query letter,” the introduction of your book and you as an author that you send to agents and/or publishers when seeking publication. This may be printed and mailed the old fashioned way or sent electronically either through email or an online form provided by the submissions information page on the website of the agent or publishing house. A typical query package will be the query letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters of the work. Check submission guidelines before sending and send only the documents they ask for in the form they require.

6. Synopsis:

The retelling of the full story in short form. A synopsis shows the beginning, middle, climax, and end of the story, the major conflicts, and growth of the protagonist. Not a straight summary, the well-written synopsis highlights the plot and character arc while also showcasing the writer’s style and word choices. A synopsis is NOT a book jacket blurb. A book jacket blurb is NOT a synopsis.

The way to keep these two terms straight is to remember to whom you want to give away the ending and who you want to discover the ending by reading your full book. Think “Synopsis = spoiler alert!”

Used for

  • submission to agents and publishers (can be ½ page up to 6 pages in length; check submission guidelines for specifics). This shows whether the full book fits into the publisher’s marketing strategy.
  • marketing that the customer/end reader will not see, as the synopsis gives away the ending
  • submissions to awards and contests
  • Some authors choose to write a synopsis first to have a road map for drafting the manuscript

A Cover by Any Other Name

The industry has multiple terms for the outside of your book and what goes on it as well, and this can be confusing unless you’re in the know.

7. Book jacket:

The paper wrapping on the outside of hardcover books. Where on a paperback book the blurb (see above) goes on the back, on a book jacket the blurb generally goes on the front flap folded inside the front cover. An author biography and photo are often on the flap on the inside back of the book.

8. Cover art:

The images or graphics on the cover used to visually entice a reader to pick up the book. For an e-book this will only be the image as seen on the front of a paperback or hardcover; for the full wrap-around cover your artist will likely continue the image or graphics under the words on the spine and back.

9. Cover copy:

Usually the blurb but may also include author biography and photo, endorsement blurbs, award insignia and text—any words that belong on the outside of the book.

10. Cover flat:

A printed copy of the book cover, either for paperback or hardcover, still flat from the printer instead of folded around a book. The back material will be on the left, the spine in the center, and the front cover on the right.

These are just some of many new terms along the learning curve of publication. Your editor can help you with these items and more on your journey.

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