Get everything you need to publish your own book, starting with a publishing guide.

A Vocabulary Refresher
for Self-Publishing Authors

You’ve been researching how to publish a book, and you’ve made up your mind to be a self-published author. Now, your next step would be talking to one of our publishing consultants here at AuthorHouse. We’ve compiled a list of terms you might want to learn or brush up on so that your conversation flows smoothly.

What is a book?

In the modern sense, it’s one or all of three things: a bound set of paper sheets, a digital version of it to be read on a computer or mobile device, or a recording of it being read aloud, sometimes accompanied by music and sound effects. In the purest sense, it’s a collection of memories, knowledge, and information. With the rising popularity of audiobooks in recent years, we’ve actually come full circle: all we used to have were stories told in front of a fire, passed down from generation to generation.

The books we see on our shelves in all their dusty, varied rectangularity have come a long way, and it seems that they still have a long way to go. But where they are now is an interesting (and often confusing) place, so let’s explore print books, e-books, and audiobooks in this guide to book formats.

The evolution of the modern book

To understand why books are the way they are today, we’ll start by taking a look at how they evolved from tablets and scrolls to their modern, more compact form. But while communication tools of antiquity have spawned whole fields of study, we’ll skim them and begin around 800 BCE, when the first ancestor of the modern book emerged.


The evolution of the modern book

The world’s oldest oral traditions tell of volcanic eruptions in Australia, around 34,000 years ago. The world’s oldest known written document, the Kish tablet, wouldn’t show up until thirty millennia later in Mesopotamia, around 3350 BCE. And scholars agree that the history of the book wouldn’t start until more than a century later, with the Sumerian invention of written language developed from cuneiform. The Egyptian invention of papyrus would soon follow, helping humanity shift from clunky stone and clay tablets to scrolls. But the book as we know it, with its two halves connected on one side, wouldn’t start making its appearance until two millennia later.

The ancient Greeks and Romans wielded much influence throughout Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia from 800 BCE to the 7th century. During this time, the Greeks began using the wax tablet, a wooden tablet covered with a layer of wax and linked to a cover tablet. They would use a pointed stylus to mark the soft wax surface and a spatula-like implement on the opposite tip to erase markings and prepare the tablet for reuse.

From then on, the portability of written communication would only improve with the advent of the Roman codex (from the Latin word caudex or tree trunk, a reference to the codex’s similarity to the wax tablet) around the 1st century. The days of having to unfurl hefty, easily torn and cracked papyrus scrolls with both hands would soon be over. How exactly the codex came to be is lost to history, though. The Roman general Julius Caesar is thought to have folded his scrolls in an accordion-like shape, thus bringing the invention about. A Roman poet called Martial made the first written mention of the codex in a sales pitch for his books, which he touted as fit companions for long journeys thanks to their small parchment pages that could be held in one hand. By the 6th century, the Roman Empire had churned out enough codices filled with Christian gospels, commentaries, and esoteric wisdom to wipe out paganism and scrolls.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Europe moved into the Middle Ages, and monasteries arose. Monastic scribes would spend their lives preserving the literature of Greece and Rome through the creation of manuscripts. They would cut sheets of parchment, make their own ink, write the script, bind the pages, “illuminate” them with initials, borders, and miniature illustrations, and make a cover to protect the script. This mammoth undertaking was usually carried out in a special room called a scriptorium, which would have up to 40 scribes who all had other sacred duties to fulfill and could each produce only one book every 15 months or so. Because of this extensive and costly process, books and reading weren’t widespread during this period.

Of course, all that would drastically change yet again after a certain Johannes Gutenberg introduced the mechanical movable-type printing press to Europe in the early 15th century. His first print run of the Bible produced 200 copies in three years, which was considered quite a miracle then. In 1494, an Italian humanist, scholar, and educator named Aldus Manutius established the Aldine Press, wherein he dedicated his life to reproducing Greek texts in a smaller, more portable form he called the enchiridion (Greek for small manual or handbook). His decision to eliminate the scholarly commentary that publishers often included in books at the time made his books the prototype of the mass-market paperback.

Printing and mass production in the US

Printing and mass production in the US

For the very first book published in what would become the United States, we have Reverend Jose Glover to thank, even though he never actually completed his voyage from Surrey, England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. The Puritan clergyman had been keen to resettle in British America with his family and become a printer (the reason for which is unknown). In 1638, he set sail with his family and the materials he needed to establish a printing press in Boston, but he fell ill midway and died. Along with Stephen Daye, Sr., a locksmith Glover had hired, Glover’s wife Elizabeth went on to set up a print shop that would later become the Cambridge Press, and the first book they printed was The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, colloquially called The Bay Psalm Book. It was a newly written hymnal with Hebrew psalms translated into English by other Pilgrims who were dissatisfied with the hymnals they had brought from England. It was sold by Hezekiah Usher, the first known bookseller in British America, at a huge profit.

Since then, the book trade flourished in North America as the public became increasingly educated. By the late 19th century, books were used not just for worship and scholarship but also for enjoyment. In 1860, the publishers Erastus and Irwin Beadle released quickly written, cheaply made paperbacks called dime novels. In 1919, publisher Emanuel Haldeman-Julius and his wife, Marcet, started releasing affordable, staple-bound, paperback pocketbooks they called Little Blue Books, which appealed to laborers, scholars, and the average citizen alike. However, Haldeman-Julius was persecuted by the government for including such subjects as socialism, atheism, and sexuality, and bookstores stopped carrying his pocketbooks. And because paperbacks were cheaply produced, they fell out of favor with the public for some time. While Simon and Schuster’s Pocket Books division experienced considerable success after releasing the first mass-market, pocket-sized books in the US in 1939, people gravitated more towards hardcover books, and paperback publishers started going out of business. It wasn’t until the American soldiers of World War II needed a pocketable pastime that the paperback Armed Services Editions were created through a government initiative and effectively brought the paperback back in vogue, where they remain to this day.

Audiobooks and digitization

Audiobooks and digitization

As for audiobooks and e-books, the latter emerged just at the dawn of the internet age, while the former came about much earlier. A precursor of the audiobook was the Bubble Book, first published by HarperCollins in 1917. It was a 6” × 7” print book that contained miniature records of the nursery rhymes that were printed on the pages. More than a decade later, the Pratt-Smoot Act was passed, providing federal funding for recorded books for the blind which used vinyl records. Soon after the invention of cassette tapes in 1962, books on cassette were distributed by the Library of Congress and a few other libraries. As audiobooks started to flourish, author Michael Hart created the first e-book when he typed up the Declaration of Independence into a computer in 1971. He then founded Project Gutenberg to create more electronic copies of books and other texts. Within the next five decades, book technology advanced by leaps and bounds. The Voyager Company released their Expanded Books series on floppy disks in 1991, including Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Douglas Adams’ The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice. After the release of the first CD in 1982, publishers started using them for both e-books and audiobooks. In 1998, the first dedicated eReaders, the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader, were launched. At the turn of the millennium, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins began selling digital versions of their publications. In 2003, Amazon’s online audiobook and podcast service Audible became the exclusive provider of audiobooks for Apple’s iTunes Music Store. In 2007, the world was given even more ways to consume e-books and audiobooks with Amazon’s launch of the Kindle e-book reader and Apple’s launch of the iPhone. In 2010, Apple launched the iPad along with iBooks and the iBookstore on iTunes. By 2012, e-book sales in the US had surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time, and audiobook sales surpassed hardcover sales four years later.

Today, it doesn’t take more than a click of the mouse or tap of the screen to download your next read onto your PC or smartphone. A far cry from stone tablets, and thankfully so.

If you’d like to learn about the history of self-publishing, take a look at this brief timeline in our self-publishing primer.

Print books

Now that we’ve caught up to the present, let’s tackle the two types of print books: hardcover and paperback.

Features of a hardcover

While it’s usually costlier to manufacture than its counterpart, a hardcover is more durable than a paperback, thanks to all the components of the book itself plus the dust jacket.

Main parts

Print Books Main Parts

  • Cover material: cardboard wrapped with paper or leatherette in a solid color, or laminated and printed text stock.
  • Endsheet: a sheet of paper glued to the inside cover, usually white and blank but can be solid-colored or printed on.
  • Flyleaf: the loose part of the endsheet that isn’t glued to the cover.
  • Headband and footband: special bands at the top and bottom of the spine that hide the glue and reinforce the spine.
  • Gutter: the space on the inner margin of pages, right next to the binding.
  • Signature block: a bundle of pages (typically in groups of 8, 16, or 32) that start as one large sheet of paper, and are folded and trimmed to make individual pages.
  • Spine: the outward-facing case of the binding.

Dust jacket

Dust jackets have their own little history: from animal skins used to wrap what were then simply scrolls, to jeweled wooden boxes, leather, velvet, and silk for the treasured books of the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. For a few decades, books would be protected with glassine, a smooth and glossy paper resistant to air, water, and grease. Then as the 20th century arrived, so did flap-style dust jackets, on which publishers started including illustrations and typography as time and technology advanced.

Today, dust jackets are made of thick laminated paper and typically formatted this way:

Print Books Dust Jacket

Features of a paperback

Of course, the main difference between the components of a hardcover and the components of a paperback is the cover, with a paperback using merely thick paper or paperboard. But paperbacks come with their own subcategories: mass-market and trade.

Paperback Trade


You can think of a trade paperback as the more affordable version of the hardcover edition. It also has a number of other identifying features:

  • Almost the same size as the hardcover edition (typically 9” × 6”), and materials used are as durable.
  • May have French flaps (also known as gatefolds), which mimic the front and back flaps of a dust jacket.
  • Non-strippable. Retailers have the option of returning a book to the publisher for a credit or refund, but they would have to return the whole book with the cover intact.

Paperback Mass Market

Mass Market

Priced lower than the trade paperback, the mass-market paperback is what you would call a pocketbook. The other differences are:

  • Lighter and thinner material for the cover and pages = more prone to tearing and discoloration.
  • Strippable. Retailers can tear off just the front cover and return it to the distributor for full credit, but they would have to take care of destroying the rest of the book.


Let’s look at what differentiates e-books from other files and what we can expect from this book format.

The characteristics of an e-book

They may not have that heavenly book smell (a bouquet of chemicals that the paper releases as it gradually decomposes), but e-books can help you save money, space, and the environment. However, it’s more than something you can read on a digital device. So what is an e-book?

The characteristics of an e-book

The text isn’t editable.

You can’t edit a paperback that’s already out, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be able to edit an e-book, either. The process of e-book creation always includes a step that ensures no one can change the content without the author’s permission. But many e-books do allow for notes and highlights that won’t change the original file.

The text is reflowable.

A true e-book adjusts to the proportions of the screen that you’re viewing it on, so that all the line breaks, chapters, and images still look good no matter what you’re using to read. PDFs are an exception to this rule, though. While they can’t be edited, they aren’t reflowable, but many businesses still use them for the ease of downloading and distribution.

Formats and compatibility

Popular e-book formats

There are dozens of e-book formats to choose from, but we only have to tackle the pros and cons of the top five that are easiest to use and most commonly used.

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✓Simple, with basic fonts and font styles

✓Good for text-heavy books

✗Images and graphs aren’t supported





PDF (.pdf)

✓Easy to use and can be read on any device

✓Can maintain high-end designs

✗Can be difficult to read on a small screen

✗Can’t be sold in the iBookstore or Kindle Store





EPUB (.epub)

✓Most widely supported and can be read on most devices (except Kindles)

✓Fixed layout EPUBs can have sophisticated designs; suitable for children’s books, coffee table books, cookbooks, comics, graphic novels, technical manuals, etc.

✓Reflowable EPUBs have the widest distribution; suitable for fiction, nonfiction, and other books that don’t have a lot of images or graphics

✗File size can be large

✗Fixed layout EPUBs can have limited distribution

✗Fixed layout EPUBs don’t allow for font style and text size changes, and need zooming in and scrolling

✗Reflowable EPUBs don’t have interactivity apart from zoom, search, and highlight



YES (limited for reflowable)


MOBI (.mobi)

✓Simple, with plain text and lower file size

✗Exclusive for use on Kindle or devices with Kindle apps

✗Graphics aren’t supported





AZW (.azw)

✗Exclusive for use on Kindle or devices with Kindle apps






Simply put, digital rights management or DRM is a way for you to protect your copyright by controlling how readers share your e-book from user to user and device to device. A number of e-book formats have built-in DRM; otherwise, any sales outlet through which you make your e-book available can ask you to subscribe to their DRM policy. For example, if a reader bought a DRM-free EPUB version of your e-book, they could read it on a number of devices including the Apple devices. However, if they purchased that EPUB e-book via iBooks, Apple’s own DRM (FairPlay) would restrict them from reading that e-book on any other device.

DRM specifically allows you to:

  • Restrict readers from editing, saving, sharing, forwarding, or taking screenshots of your e-book;
  • Restrict readers from printing your e-book (or letting them print it a limited number of times);
  • Set an expiry date or a number of uses, after which readers can no longer access your e-book;
  • Only let readers access your e-book from certain IP addresses, locations, or devices (e.g., you could make your e-book available to US residents only); and
  • Watermark your e-book to indicate identity and ownership.

The current e-book landscape

2010 was going to be the year of the e-book revolution, but after a decade of false starts and cautious experiments, it’s been more of a long negotiation that has begun to show promise only recently. Readers can usually purchase e-books through retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play, as well as directly from a company’s or author’s website, and it was only at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that e-book subscription services truly took root in the hearts of the reading public.

After American music subscription services first popped up in 2002 with Napster, followed by video streaming in 2007 with Netflix, it took the US book industry more than a decade to follow suit; a startup called Oyster Books launched their $9.99/month e-book subscription service in 2013, document-sharing site Scribd started their own in the same year, and Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited the following year. Things seemed promising, with three of the Big Five publishing houses partnering with Oyster and Scribd to make backlist titles available on those two platforms, but Oyster soon shut down in 2016, leaving Scribd and Amazon to dominate the market for a few years. By 2019, the e-book bubble seemed to have burst.

Then along came 2020. By May, e-book sales and loans were soaring, not just because of quarantine boredom but also due to various charitable initiatives by retailers and libraries. After a sharp drop at the onset of the pandemic, sales across all book formats picked up by June, rose well into December, and has been holding steady ever since.

Today, readers have better, more reliable options for consuming e-books. The Big Five still don’t offer frontlist titles on e-book subscription services, but readers could always borrow from their local library through digital library fulfillment services.

We offer free e-book conversion to our authors to help them reach as many potential readers as possible. Learn more about how we handle e-books.


Just like e-books, audiobooks have been around for a while but rose in popularity fairly recently. Let’s take a look at what makes an audiobook; which formats, devices, and software are commonly used to consume them; and what we can expect from this book format.

The characteristics of an audiobook

In this era of multitasking, everyone’s reliance on technology that can play digital audio—whether it’s a smartphone, smart speaker, or car entertainment system—has been changing the way we perform basic tasks like reading.

An audiobook lets readers listen to a recording of the text of a book rather than read it. Not only can readers manage their time better, build literary skills, enjoy books despite disabilities, and cope with depression and anxiety; but authors like you also forgo stock storage, stand out online, reach a new and wider audience, and get the chance to earn a higher profit margin.

The characteristics of an audiobook

A good audiobook isn’t simply any old recording of your book, though. To be a proper one, an audiobook has to have:

  • Voice acting
    The narrator needs to be able to voice both male and female characters, vary their speech to let the listener distinguish between characters, and portray accents without giving in to stereotypes
  • Seamless editing
    The audiobook must sound as if it were recorded in one go, without irregular gaps between words, sentences, and chapters or variation in pitch and volume. It must also be clean, without any unnecessary background noise.
  • Authentic reading
    The narrator must commit to reading the book in a sincere way and adjust their tone according to the mood of the text.

Formats and compatibility

Audiobook formats have two categories: lossless compressed audio formats and lossy compressed audio formats. Lossless refers to a method of audio file creation that reduces file size without compromising the quality. However, the resulting file size can still be very large. On the other hand, lossy greatly reduces file size, but sacrifices some of the original quality. The top formats—MP3, AA/AAX, M4A/M4B, AAC, and WMA—fall under lossy compressed.

Devices and software needed

To acquire an audiobook, a listener only has to download it from a website or app and then use their phone, computer, or tablet to play it. The top sources for audiobooks include:

  • Apple Books
  • Nook Audiobooks
  • Google Play Books
  • Kobo


Publishers, retailers, and streaming services can also use DRM to control how listeners use an audiobook. They could ensure that the audiobook is playable only on a specific app, or they could limit the number of times the audiobook can be used before it has to be paid for again.

The current audiobook landscape

According to the Audio Publishers Association, the US audiobook industry has been enjoying double-digit revenue growth for eight years. There’s also an upward trend in consumer listening behavior, with listeners aged 18 and up listening to an average of 8.1 books in 2020, up from 6.8 in 2019. Mystery, thriller, and suspense were deemed the most popular genres.

Even before 2020, audiobooks had been rising in popularity along with podcasts, which has led publishers to create dedicated teams and build in-house studios to produce creative, increasingly ambitious listening experiences. While subscription services used to provide only either audiobooks or podcasts, Amazon recently added podcasts to audiobook-centric Audible, and music-and-podcast-centric Spotify released exclusive audiobooks with high production value a few months later, catalyzing another change to the audiobook model that will be interesting to watch in the next few years.

Learn how we can convert your book into audiobook format with professional narration by a voice-over actor.

Which format is right for you?

When you self-publish, you can control how you produce and distribute your book. You could set the number of copies that you print, or you could go fully paperless with either an e-book or audiobook. Or you could do both print and digital!

When it comes to choosing the right format for your book, you can think about it in two ways:

Who will be using it? If you’re writing for children, do you want them to be able to flip through your book, or do you want parents to be able to store multiple books in one device for easy access or turn on text-to-speech, or leave the audiobook on while they do chores? If you’re writing about a highly technical topic, do you want readers to be able to use the search function on an ereader for easy reference? Do you want readers to appreciate images and designs? Do you want to create an atmosphere through voice, music, and sound effects?

Where are you distributing it? Do you have a website or social media page where you can provide a download link? Do you plan to use online retailers? Do you prefer giving or sending physical copies?

Just think of the strengths of each format and how they can enhance your readers’ experience, as well as the challenges each format poses and how you’ll have to work around those. And do keep in mind that whichever format you choose, AuthorHouse can give you the guidance and support you need.

If you’d like to learn more about what we do and how we can help you publish your book, contact us today at 833.262.8899.