Your guide to the secret language of publishing deals

If you are on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen them.

The breathless announcement of a book deal, followed by a screenshot of the announcement in Publishers Marketplace. 

(A rather plain and unassuming screenshot, I might add).

In keeping with the traditions of the publishing world, actual advance numbers, of course, are not discussed.

But it turns out, there is this weird code language used in the publishing world to hint at the level of the author’s advance. 

“A nice deal” and “a significant deal” have actual dollar amounts attached to them. 

So if you are wondering what kind of offer your fellow children’s writer received, knowing the code might shed some light on the answer.

Here’s an example of a couple of book deals I found on Twitter. (Keep in mind that I am not familiar with any of these authors or books, they are just some announcements I happened to find while searching quickly).

This announcement for Jenna Grodzicki is “a nice deal.”

This announcement for Brittney Morris is for a “significant deal.”

These phrases actually correspond to broad categories of dollar amounts for the author’s publishing contracts. 

Here is a key to decipher what the phrases mean:

  • “nice deal” $1 – $49,000
  • “very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000
  • “good deal” $100,000 – $250,000
  • “significant deal” $251,000 – $499,000
  • “major deal” $500,000 and up

The most head-scratching category, of course, is “nice deal.” 

It’s kind of like categorizing age groups by breaking it down like this:

  • “Young person”: 0-29
  • “Bit older person”: 30 – 55
  • “Middle-aged”: 56 – 75
  • “Elderly”: 76 and up

If you are someone aged 25, you probably wouldn’t feel you should be in the same category as a newborn baby.

(Not exactly in the same category)

Yet that’s how the publishing gurus decided to break down the numbers. 

Of course, landing a traditional publishing contract of any kind is an accomplishment and a deal to celebrate. Even if it’s a no-advance contract, I would agree it’s still “a nice deal.” 

What about some of those others terms mentioned?


In the Brittney Morris example above, the announcement mentions a significant deal “at auction.” 

I’m pretty sure we all know that means she landed a good deal. Excuse me, I mean, in this case, “a significant deal.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like. When there is interest in a book from more than one publisher, an agent can arrange for an auction. Publishers call in their bids, and usually, the highest bid wins.

Having people competing for your book is a very good thing for the author and the agent!


Here’s an example of a deal announcement that involved a pre-empt:

In this case, Bloomsbury wanted the rights to Katie Zhao’s book so much, they made an offer that was good enough to prevent it from going to auction. The idea of a pre-empt is to get the agent and author to allow the publisher to leapfrog over the trouble of an auction and just sell the book to them. Obviously, it has to be a pretty sweet deal for an agent to give up the chance for a nice bidding war.


Sometimes, a publisher will request an exclusive from an author as part of their publishing contract. This means the author is required to give the publisher the first shot at publishing their next book before shopping it around to other publishing houses.

If the publisher declines to make an offer, then the author is free to try to find a different publisher.

So the next time you see a publishing deal announcement, you’ll be ready with your secret decoder ring!

A good resource for digging further into \ the language of publishing can be found on the website of Nathan Bradford. This former publishing agent and author has a nice, comprehensive glossary on his website. You can check it out here

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