A Primer in Publishing Geekspeak

Every industry has its shoptalk, and publishing is no exception. While I don’t think of my editorial work at Herald Press as very specialized—mostly I just help writers say what they mean—every so often I find myself sending an email full of acronyms and jargony-jargon. And I ask myself: when did my vocabulary become so full of publishing geekspeak?

Our chatter around here isn’t as specialized as, say, that of the medical profession. But we do have our codes and shorthand. Below is a list of some of the abbreviations and terms we at Herald Press and MennoMedia throw around in emails and meetings. Consider this your primer in publishing patois.

ARC. Stands for Advance Reader Copy. These used to be called galleys. They are what they sound like: pre-publication versions of a book that go out to reviewers and publications that we hope will offer advance reviews of a particular book before it is published. ARCs make it possible for reviews to come out about the time of a book’s publication rather than weeks or months later. We produce ARCs for some of our Herald Press books, and our ARCs look like final books in many ways: they have designed front covers and are bound and sized like the final version. But a footer runs across the front cover that says: “Advance Reader Copy: Not for Sale,” and the interiors may or may not have been designed, copyedited, and proofread.

Here is one example of how ARCs function: the ARC of Reconcile by John Paul Lederach, which will be released August 11, went out to reviewers on May 1. Publishers Weekly received our ARC and offered this lovely review.


BISAC code. This stands for Book Industry Systems Advisory Committee code. (I had to look that one up.) Every book we publish gets its own BISAC code (a number), and subject heading (a string of words). The Book Industry Study Group, the leading book trade association, offers this list of categories that publishers use to organize books according to topical content. Booksellers then use these codes to shelve books (in bricks and mortar stores) or to organize for searchability (on Internet sites). Picking the right BISAC code to categorize a particular book means asking ourselves as editors and marketers, “Where and how would readers search for a book like this?”

So if you want to try out your skills at BISAC coding, before reading on, try this: imagine that you’re me and that you need to assign a BISAC code to Ellie, Book 1 of the Ellie’s People series by Mary Christner Borntrager. Herald Press is re-releasing this series, which sold more than half a million copies before going out of print. The first book in the series, Ellie, releases August 15, 2014.

1. First, read about Ellie here.

2. Now go to this website, which contains a list of all the BISAC codes and subject headings.

3. Choose the BISAC code that best categorizes this book for booksellers. Wait to scroll down until you’ve chosen the code, since my choice will be revealed right after this book cover.


While many books have several possible BISAC codes that would fit, this one was pretty straightforward. Did you choose JUV033010 for JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian / General? We did.

CIP data. While we’re talking numbers: CIP data means Cataloging-in-Publication data, and we need it for every single book we publish. The U.S. Library of Congress and Library and Archives Canada supply this data for us, and sometimes it takes a little time . . . as in, months. So when I send a manuscript to a copyeditor, I send it to Dorothy Hartman, our administrative assistant, who submits the application for CIP data and expertly manages all the related communication and details. I always breathe a sigh of relief when Dorothy sends me the email with the CIP data, which I then pass on to our designers to drop onto the copyright page.

For example: Together in the Work of the Lord by Nathan E. Yoder, a history of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, officially releases on July 14. Our production schedule shows that Dorothy submitted the CIP application form on January 23. When you get your copy, look at the top of the copyright page and you’ll see a string of letters and numbers and specs that likely won’t make much sense. But now you know what it is. You know, in case anyone ever asks.


OBC. Stands for Outside Back Cover. We as editors and marketers and designers spend more time than you might guess on the back covers of our books. I’m talking a lot of time. How can we tell you as readers what this book is about? How can we make you want to pick it up and read it? What words and concepts best disclose the rich content that this book contains?

Of course, with many of us ordering books online, we don’t see the back cover of books before we buy them. But the OBC copy often appears as or is adapted to the book description, as on this website for our forthcoming book The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening by Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis. The Spacious Heart releases September 1, but you can read this book’s great OBC copy, written by my coworker Melodie Davis and tweaked by our marketers, on the “Description” tab.

Spacious Heart

Orphans and widows. These aren’t acronyms, but they’re terms that befuddle. These orphans and widows aren’t the children without parents and the women with deceased husbands whom James, in James 1:27, enjoins his readers to “care for . . . in their distress.” (Otherwise, my directions to our designers to “fix this orphan” or “eliminate this widow” would be disturbing indeed.) In publishing, orphans and widows are dangling lines at the top or bottom of a column in designed text. Orphans and widows create white space on a page and often make it less attractive to readers’ eyes even if we don’t know it. Our designers have all sorts of tools in their back pockets for fixing them.

There you have it: a short introduction to publishing lingo. Before you become a full-blown publishing geek, you’ll have to learn a few more, such as ISBNs and MSS and JPEGs and P&Ls and TOCs and PDFs and PI sheets.

Beyond learning some of the shorthand of our industry, however, I hope you’ve caught the careful attention that we give to each book that we publish. The making of a book requires tending to hundreds of details and processes and acronyms. We at MennoMedia are honored to take care of these so that you can pay attention to what matters: the actual words and images of our books, curricula, and periodicals. These, we pray, will further your faith in Christ and commitment to the community of believers and all of God’s children.

So now, if you ever get an email from me with the subject line “ARC OBC,” you’ll know what I mean.


ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.