A guide to sometimes mysterious publishing terms. Compiled with the help of members of CLMP's email lists.


Agent-sold subscriptions Magazine
Backlist Press
Bind-in/Blow-incards/envelopes Magazine
BRC/BRE Magazine-Press
Circulation Magazine
Co-op ad Press
Co-op money Press
Coding/key coding/source coding Magazine
Comps Magazine
Conversion Magazine
Conversion rate Magazine
Copyediting Magazine-Press
Courtesy envelope Magazine-Press
Deferred Income Magazine
Direct mail package Magazine
Distributor Magazine-Press
Draw Magazine
Dual edition Press
Expire issue Magazine
Frontlist Press
List broker/list rental Magazine-Press
Midlist Press
Out of print Press
Paperback Press
Premium Magazine-Press
Proofreading Magazine-Press
Renewal rate Magazine
Renewal series Magazine
Reply coupon Magazine-Press
Sell-through rate Magazine
Single-copy sales Magazine
Soft offer Magazine
Split edition Press
Testing Magazine
Tracking Magazine
Universe Magazine
UPC Magazine-Press
White mail Magazine
Wholesaler Magazine-Press

Agent-sold subscriptions

Subscriptions sold to libraries and institutions through outside agendes such as Ebsco and Faxon. On an annual basis, publishers send these agencies brief editorial descriptions plus subscription information which the agencies publish in their catalogues at no cost. (Publishers can also pay for larger display ads). Librarians then purchase subscriptions through these catalogues using the agency a essentially as a middleman. Many commercial magazines offer 15%-20% subscription discounts in return for the convenience of the agency's services.


Books published previous to the current season that are still in print.

Some backlist books continue to sell in significant numbers years after publication, such as books that are used in classrooms. Others may sit in a warehouse for years, only to start selling again when the writer’s reputation grows. And yet others sit in a warehouse until remaindered, sold to the author at/or below cost, or are recycled, or "pulped." Many independent publishers have a commitment to keeping their books in print, while commercial publishers pulp books as a regular practice.

Traditionally, the strength of a publisher’s backlist is the indicator of both editorial and commercial success. The backlist records how well a press has developed a coherent program and philosophy for presenting books and authors to the public cumulatively, and it functions also as a descriptive publishing history of that press. In the past, the backlist served almost as an endowment for a publisher and signing an author was seen as a longterm investment. Today, commercial publishing is putting books out of print at a very fast rate, and their former backlists are often a rich source for independent publishers’ rediscoveries of high quality books to reprint. With the advent of eBooks and print-on-demand, this editorial strategy may no longer be an option for independent publishers. (AK)

See also: Frontlist, Out of print

Bind-in/Blow-in cards/envelopes

Subscription devices, usually standard size postcards, which are either inserted or bound into a magazine. The card/envelope should have a business reply mechanism and should allow individuals to charge-or be billed for-the subscription. Magazines that do not have the capacity to invoice should select envelopes which allow for the easy return of personal checks. Bind-ins/blow-ins are used predominantly to convert single-copy buyers into subscribers.


Business Reply Card/Envelope: A pre-addressed, prepaid, first-class mailing device that statistically improves the rates of return for renewals, direct mail and other direct response marketing efforts (because it makes replying easier). (Information on acquiring a BRE permit from the US Postal Service will be distributed at the workshop).


Usually a periodical's total paid readership (a combination of individual, institutional, and agent-sold subscriptions plus average single-copy sales—those copies actually sold, not the total sent to distributors).

See also: single-copy sales

Co-op ad

An advertisement paid for by several different sources. Can refer to a group ad from several different publishers, a group ad placed by a distributor on behalf of several publishers, or an ad bought jointly by a reading venue and a publisher.

See also: Co-op money

Co-op money

A fee requested by a reading venue to pay for publicity of a reading, e.g. advertisements in local newspapers, newsletters, or posters.

Co-op money also refers to fees charged publishers for inclusion in a retailer’s promotional efforts (special displays, catalogues, newsletters, etc.).

Based on a percentage of net sales from a specified period (i.e., the previous 12 months), some publishers set aside "co-op pools" from which retailers can request support for new initiatives. (AW)

See also: Co-op ad

Coding/key coding/source coding

The practice of assigning alpha-numeric codes that allows you to identify the source of a new subscription or renewal. There are no set rules about how to set up source codes, but the logical approach tends to work best. For example, if you were placing an ad for your magazine in the Threepenny Review, you would assign a key/source code for use on the reply coupon so you can determine if the ad successfully drew subscribers to your magazine. Your code might best be set up by following this basic equation:

First position=source (direct mail, renewal, or in this case advertisement);
Second and third positions=date (month and year);
Fourth position=list, or in this case the magazine in which your ad appears.

So, your code might read A398TP. It's important to remember that once you choose a key code a format, you need to stick with it and you must keep a record of all the codes you've used. Of course you can add a position to track things like test offers, but the essential framework should not be altered unless you plan to overhaul your entire tracking system.

See also: direct mail package; reply coupon


Individuals who receive a publication regularly and free of charge such as reviewers, funders, and board members.


Has several meanings including: the first time renewal of a new, paid subscription and the reformation of a database for use with new software or at a new fulfillment house.

Conversion rate

Usually the percentage of first-time subscribers who renew for a second year/term. Can also describe a discounted rate offered to potential first-time renewers who initially subscribed at a reduced rate. (A conversion rate is normally offered to "soften the blow" of stepping up from a discounted to a full-price rate).

See also: renewal rate


Copyediting is a blanket term that describes several different levels of textual editing that happen before the text is typeset: mechanical, style, and substantive. Substantive editing, or major changes to the author’s wording and organization, is generally carried out by the editor. A copyeditor generally does mechanical editing--corrections to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The copyeditor also makes sure that the text conforms to the house style, that is, the particular publisher’s preference in issues such as serial commas or spelling out of numerals where there is an option. Even for smaller sized publishers, it makes sense to hire a professional copyeditor (or proofreader) since a fresh pair of eyes will often pick up typos that have become invisible to the editor.

See also: proofreading

Courtesy envelope

A pre-addressed, unpaid return envelope, usually with a "place stamp here" box included on upper right-hand corner. Normally used to encourage the return of invoices.

Deferred Income

The amount paid in advance by subscribers for issues not yet served. By law, a publisher owes this amount and must return it if requested or if the magazine ceases publication before all the issues are served.

Direct mail package

In commercial magazine publishing this refers to a direct marketing effort designed to solicit new readers and is normally comprised of a number of components including but not limited to: a brochure outlining editorial highlights and the offer and terms ("4 issues at our spedal half-price rate of $15"); a letter, usually from the editor-in-chief or publisher, which is typically 2-4 pages, anecdotal, inclusive ("We're writing to you because we know you care about literature") and persuasive; an order form which must include a source code,* offer and terms, coupon, methods of payment, return address, additional postage information (i.e. add $20 for airmail), etc.; an outer envelope (generally with a window, so the label on your order form can show through) often with teaser copy; and a business reply envelope.

*Source codes are normally printed on the mailing label and respondents return the portion of the order form containing the label. When you receive orders, you then have all the information you need about your new subscribers.

See also: Coding; BRE; Reply coupon


A company hired by a publisher to make the publisher’s books available to the trade (i.e. bookstores and wholesalers), often taking the place of a sales and fulfillment department for the publisher.

Like a wholesaler (whose responsibility is to the stores and libraries it serves), a distributor takes and fills orders but also (theoretically) creates a demand for titles by using sales representatives. In this respect, a distributor's primary responsibility is to the publisher.

Distributors either have staff sales representatives or commissioned sales reps that travel to bookstore accounts to sell publications. Distributors also sell to larger accounts, such as chain bookstores and wholesalers.

Distributors charge a percentage of sales revenues for their services; the general range is 20% to 40% of net sales (i.e., after discounts given to bookstores). They may demand other charges, such as fees for catalogue listing, trade show display, return processing, warehousing, and shipping/handling. They may offer marketing services (for a higher percentage or a fee). Payment terms can be as long as 120 days.

Distributors often ask for some kind of exclusivity in sales territory. You can often work out a deal where you are allowed to sell directly to Small Press Distribution, however. If there is a certain type of venue that you feel can be better reached by someone else (comic book stores, gift stores, etc.), by all means negotiate the freedom to sell to those directly in your contract.

See also: Wholesaler


Usually refers to the number of copies taken by your distributor(s). Please keep in mind that you will almost certainly sell fewer copies than your distributor orders—therefore a "draw" should not be figured in your paid circulation tally.

See also: Sell-through rate

Dual edition

A split edition.

See also: Split edition

Expire issue

The last issue of a given subscription term. A fundamental of circulation record-keeping. Tracking expire information allows you to plan timely renewals, formulate accurate print-runs, as well as to project income and other operational essentials.


Books published in the current season. Commercial publishers often make the distinction between frontlist and midlist, frontlist being books that are featured in the front of the catalogue. Commercial frontlist books are those deemed as most salesworthy, and receive more publicity attention and budget than midlist books. Independent publishers, which usually publish fewer books per season, generally do not make a distinction between front- and midlist. (EW)

See also: Midlist; Backlist

List broker/list rental

A list broker is an agent that manages and rents subscriber and membership lists and usually works for a large list brokerage agency. Many magazines with lists of more than 5000 will rent names on the commercial market - whether or not the publication is considered "commercial." List rental is the term applied to purchasing another publication's subscriber list, or part thereof, for one-time use. Many of the best lists for literary magazines and independent presses are too small to be on the commercial market. You can often trade or rent lists directly from publishers.


Large publishers often distinguish between their leading titles—those current titles that receive the bulk of the publishers’ promotional efforts—and current or new titles for which the publishers expect lower sales volume and, accordingly, allocate less promotional push or advertising. The term "midlist author" refers to an author—often a writer of serious literary fiction—who has published to nominal sales success, but to whom a publisher is unlikely to devote the marketing dollars that would go to a possible bestseller. In recent years, some midlist authors have found it difficult to sell new projects to the commercial houses, and have turned to independent publishers with more satisfactory results. (EW)

See also: Frontlist

Out of print

An out of print (OP) title is one that will never be reprinted with the same ISBN. A book that will be replaced by a new edition is declared out of print.

More about this topic...


A paperbound book, also called "softcover." Paperbacks come in two types: trade and mass market. Trade paperbacks are the higher end model, printed on better quality paper and larger in size. A common trim size for trade paperbacks is 6" x 9". Mass market books are smaller, generally around 4" x 7", and are often printed on lower grade stock.

While large commercial trade presses usually release their books in hardcover first, independents increasingly go straight to paperback because they tie up less capital in inventory. However, going straight to paperback has its downsides: It is often harder to attract review attention for a paperback original; and you cut out the option of selling the right to reprint the book in paperback.


An added incentive to subscribe, renew, or donate. Always something concrete like a back issue, tote bag, or t-shirt.


Reading of text after typesetting but before printing. A compositor’s proofreader compares the typeset pages to the original manuscript—a smart practice even when an author supplies the manuscript on disk, since weird coding errors often occur. (One annoying thing about QuarkXpress is that it strips out formatting when you flow in text.) Editors and authors read for stray typographical errors and sometimes make more substantive changes.

Compositors generally charge a fee for "author’s alterations" for any editorial changes. However, in this age of desktop publishing, many publishers are setting their own pages, making it cheap and easy to produce round after round of page proofs. If you can’t do your own typesetting, see if you can make a deal with your typesetter that includes one round of corrections. Some typesetters are willing to give you the computer file with your page proofs so that you can enter the corrections yourself.

It is wise to give your authors only one crack at page proofs and give them a strict, tight deadline (a week should be enough); authors can get cold feet at the end and make disastrous last minute changes.

For the publisher who has typeset her own book, the first time changes will cost money is after the disk has been sent to the printer or service bureau to be made into film. When you make changes on the blueline proof (that aren’t correction of printer’s errors), you will be charged for a new piece of film on each page you make an author’s alteration (or AA). Therefore, make sure to mark any printer’s errors clearly with the letters "PE." In the digital age, broken type and weird blots are becoming a thing of the past, but check carefully for them anyway, as well as cropping problems and anything else that diverges from your vision of the book.

See also: copyediting

Renewal rate

The rate of subscribers renewing annually. For example, if you're a quarterly you would look to the ratio of renewing subscribers to your total number of expires over the four issues. If a total of 4000 subscribers were up for renewal in a 12 month period and 3000 renewal, your renewal rate would be 75%. When publishers talk about renewal rates, they will often separate first-time renewals(conversions) from long-term renewals because conversion rates are typically much, much lower. In a year of many marketing campaigns, conversion rates can truly skew renewal rates.

See also: conversion rate

Renewal series

A group of sequential letters, - with each letter in the sequence called an effort—encouraging paid subscribers to renew. Ideally, each series is comprised of four to seven efforts mailed at regular intervals, which vary depending on frequency. Typically, a renewal series will begin no later than three months prior to expire and include at least one post-expire effort. Coded response mechanisms and BREs are also essential component.

Reply coupon

A response mechanism for direct response promotions. Provides a summary of the offer ("4 issues for $24"), allows respondent to fill in name and address information, and lists payment options ("check enclosed, bill me later, Visa/Mastercard", etc.). Your return address information should also be clearly listed.

Sell-through rate

The percentage of magazines actually sold through retail outlets. For example, if your distributor sends various bookstores 100 magazines, and 20 are returned at the end of the selling cycles, your sell-through rate is 80%.

Single-copy sales

Those publications sold through retail outlets, either through a distributor or directly. Can also include bulk single copy sales to conferences and meetings.

See also: sell-through rate

Soft offer

A subscription offer that allows new or renewing subscribers to send no money up front. With soft offers, one issue will often be served, or "graced," prior to cancellation for non-payment. Also known as a "bill me" offer. (Use only if capable of accurate and comprehensive invoicing).

Split edition

Publication of both hardcover and paperback editions of a single book at the same time. Publishers often do a small run of hardcovers to sell to libraries. Also called "dual edition."

See also: Dual edition


The practice of comparing the results of one offer or "creative" against another. For example, in a direct mail effort you might offer your standard half-price subscription rate to 5000 Utne Reader subscribers and compare that offer with a slightly cheaper rate offered to another 5000 Utne readers. (It's advised to also offer your standard rate to a control group of 5000). Or, you could test a premium (perhaps a back issue) to one subset of renewals or test a more hard-hitting letter against your standard renewal. Testing is the best (if not the only) way to determine your most effective offers, copy, and design.


The practice of assigning codes to all marketing materials and determining the success of your efforts by looking at net responses and rates of return.

See also: coding


The sum total of a magazine's potential audience - usually devised by combining the paid circulations of similar magazines. The assumed universe for literary magazines is in the 750,000 - 1,000,000 range. This said, by marketing to this universe through traditional methods, a decent rate of return would be anything greater than 1%. Therefore, if you sent a subscription offer to your entire universe of 750,000 and your rate of return was 1%, theoretically you would gain 7500 new subscribers. So while a "potential readership" of 750,000 to 1,000,000 sounds impressive, the true potential gains from this universe are far more modest.

UPC Universal Product Code

A bar code that allows your publication to be identified and processed in the retail marketplace. No magazine should be without a UPC. Most distributors and retail managers won't even consider taking on a magazine without a UPC on the front cover. To order a UPC, call the UPC authorizing agent at (212) 996-6000 or the Uniform Code Council. Fees for the codes vary but should be no more than $50. UPCs can be printed directly on to a magazine cover, or preprinted labels can be purchased.

White mail

Orders for subscriptions with no known source (i.e. a letter or email requesting a subscription from an individual who has never subscribed in the past and makes no mention of why he/she is subscribing now). Considered an indicator of a magazine's word-of-mouth popularity or lack thereof.


A company that sells books to bookstores, libraries, and other types of retail outlets. Wholesalers do not actively create a demand for your books. If you have a distributor, your distributor will most likely be selling to the major wholesalers, such as Ingram and Baker and Taylor. All independent literary publishers should be carried by Small Press Distribution, the only not-for-profit book wholesaler, which carries literary titles only.

See also: Distributor

AK - Allan Kornblum, Coffee House Press
AW - Angela Weaser, Dalkey Archive Press
EW - Ed Williams, Scrivenery Press

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