As a newbie to self-publishing, I had to learn the jargon of the industry. It was like studying a foreign language…bleed, front matter, genre! I came face to face with a whole new set of self-publishing terms and definitions.

I noticed a comment on a publishing website that echoed one writer’s frustration. “This is too complicated,” wrote the aspiring writer. “ I have to find another way.”


Don’t let the terminology frighten you!

Publishing has its own language. But with a few explanations and a picture or two, you can master the jargon and be well on your way to publishing your first book!

Book Cover

Once you decide on your publisher of choice, the first thing to look at is their templates or their guidelines for printing. I am going to use the 5.5” x 8.5” cover below to illustrate some of the terms. This picture includes the front cover, back cover, and the book’s spine all as one document.

Trim Size… The size of the book after it’s printed. In the schematic below, the trim size is 5.5” x 8.5,” one of the most popular sizes. The text document must be formatted in your software of choice to match this sizing. In Microsoft Word, you can set the parameters in the Page Setup. Then apply it to the entire document. I use InDesign when I format my book and can fix all of the parameters during the Document Setup phase.Book Cover Margins

Cover Copy…The words, bar code, ISBN #, or pictures on the front and back cover. Notice that the copy is contained within a 5” x8” area or “safe” zone on both the front and back cover. This ensures the text does not get cut off.

Bleed…The term refers to the extension outside the normal trim area. In this example, the bleed extends .125” on all four sides beyond the trim size.

If you are designing a cover, you will need to include the bleed area in your dimensions. Any graphic must include an extra margin to fit within the bleed. A slightly larger design gives the machinery a little flexibility when it trims a book to its final size.

Spine Width…This is narrow end of the book that is visible when the book sits on a shelf. The spine width depends upon the number of pages in your book. These dimensions are given by your publisher and are added to the overall design dimensions. A book with a hundred pages needs an extra 0.218 inches of width.

Many publishers offer an online template where you can build your cover by uploading your text and graphics. Createspace has Cover Creator to assist an author in completing their project. Cover Creator formats and sizes the cover automatically, so you can focus on the layout, design, and copy for your title. Check with your publisher of choice and possibly save yourself a considerable amount of time.

Book Interior

Front Matter…The material that comes at the beginning of a book. This includes the title page, colophon (technical information with publisher, copyright, date of publication), table of contents, preface, forward, dedication, prologue, or introduction. These pages have Roman numerals instead of page numbers.

Back matter…This is the material found at the end of the book. It includes the epilogue, appendix, glossary, bibliography, author’s page, and index.

Copy…The text written by the author that appears throughout the book.

Header…The area at the top of the page which has the book title or chapter title. These are often the same from page to page or change with each new chapter.

Footer…The text separated from the main body of copy which appears at the bottom of a printed page. This usually includes the page number.

Margin… The space between your text and the edge of your printed page. Book margins include the top, bottom, left, and right side of the page. A header or footer has added margin sizes. Your puMarginsblisher may offer a pre-designed template you can download. In MS Word you can set these in Page Setup and with InDesign in Document Setup.

Font…The design of the letters. Usually the font size for the text is a 10-12 pt. The two main classifications are the serif font (small line attached to the end of a stroke) and the sans serif font (one that does not have the extra stroke). For more information on fonts, check out my post All Fonts Are Not Created Equal!

Page Break…An electronic marker that distinguishes a new page for the publisher.

Line Spacing (Leading)…The vertical space between lines of text.

Kerning…The horizontal space between characters in a text.Kerning

Format… The process of designing a layout for the manuscript which creates book pages. MS Word, Open Office, and Pages are some of the common software used to format a book. InDesign by Adobe is professional formatting software.

Style Sheet… A document that describes spelling, grammar, punctuation standards for your book. Every publisher has their own preferences.

Print-ready…The final form of your book after editing, proofreading, and formatting. It is ready to print.


Genre… A class or book category that describes the subject matter. For example, science fiction, romance, self-help.

These a few of the terms which you will meet as you deal with publishers. If you encounter other foreign words in the process of publishing your book, try these sites for definitions:

Author House 

Book Logix

Self-publishing requires an education in the trade. Once you arrive at the publishing phase, check your readiness by reading my post Ready, Set, Publish: The 7 Steps of Preparation.


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