Publishing Jargon-Buster: Ten Words Unpacked

In publishing, as in any other industry, we scatter our days with curious and unusual words which we take for granted. But even for us, new ones pop up to surprise us every now and then. Thinking of Blippar and Wibalin here—though I thought for a while that our books were bound with wibbling. Which made me laugh! Here to entertain and explain are ten bits of jargon, don’t use them all at once….

1) Blippar

Blippar is an augmented reality app that allows you to bring to life static images. As an example, we could use blipper as part of a marketing campaign to bring an advert “to life,” making it interactive or animated in some way for a more exciting reader experience. In this way, we can take a more traditional static marketing visual and move it a few stages further digitally. After viewing the animation, the user can then browse, buy or share via social media, completing the movement from the page to the online world.

2) Colophon

Publishing Jargon-BusterThis is a publisher’s emblem, used as an identifying device or branding on its books and other works. So Pan Macmillan has its own colophon, with individual imprints such as Tor also having their own identifying symbols. Ours is displayed on spines of our book pile here, and on the rather dapper fridge magnet displayed at the top of the post.

3) GSM

Grams per square metre: a term used to specify the weight of paper. As an example, a standard piece of A4 paper is 90gsm and a standard printed fiction book might be printed on 52-120gsm. An illustrated book might be printed on glossy “photographic” paper so the pictures show up well, on a heavier weight of paper than used for a standard novel.


International Standard Book Number. A unique, internationally utilized number code assigned to books for the purposes of identification and inventory control. For those interested, here is a brief history of the ISBN!

5) Kerning

In typography, this is the reduction of letter-spacing between certain character combinations in order to reduce the space between them, performed for aesthetic reasons. Sometimes, if you really need to get that shoutline on one line instead of two, on a book cover or marketing poster, you can shave a bit off the spaces between some of the words to help it fit that space.

6) Sherpa

A “sherpa” or sherpa proof is a high-quality colour proof. This is so named as it’s produced from a sherpa device, the purpose being to get a good indication of how the finished book cover will look before it goes to press, so amendments can be made if necessary. It’s a hard copy representation of the printed image, made from the same digital data which will be used to make the final printing plates. Wikipedia has more on proofing here. 

7) Signature

In printing terminology, this refers to a very large sheet of paper, printed with several pages, that upon folding and cutting will become a section or sections of a book. In publishing, books are often printed in signatures of sixteen, meaning sixteen pages were printed on one individual piece of paper when the book was printed. However, this does depend on the size of the printing press.

8) Super-matt

opens in a new windowPublishing Jargon-BusterA matt book cover finish that doesn’t lose any intensity of colour in the way a standard matt finish would. This is especially effective with black and dark covers. It also has a very different feel to a standard cover finish, best described as soft to touch, rubbery or even velvety! Our Charles Stross Merchant Princes omnibus editions have been printed with that gorgeous super-matt finish.

9) Verso

A left-hand page of an open book or manuscript (as opposed to a recto, or right-hand page). This is short for the original Latin phrase vers? foli?—on the turned leaf. We sometimes refer to content being on the verso or recto when talking about books, rather than on the left-hand or right-hand side. I’ve shown an example of the verso page, showing in an exciting extract from Gary Gibson’s Stealing Light in the picture.

10) Wibalin

Publishing Jargon-BusterWibalin® is a strong, durable covering material from which the boards of our hardback books are made. And you can see a whole range of colours and other suggested uses for that material here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our jargon buster. It’s been fun to think about words which we take for granted, but which our readers may not. To see more publishing info unpacked, have a look at our “Tor Tour” here, where we give details of our publishing day jobs. The example here is from Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road.

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Bella Pagan is a senior commissioning editor, working on out-of-this world SF, fantasy and urban fantasy (plus other subdivisions, factions and associated areas) for Tor UK. On twitter as @BellaPagan.



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