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What is a Publishing Imprint?

If you’re interested in becoming an author, chances are you’ve encountered the term publishing imprints. You might be confused and wonder how that’s different from publishers. Worry not, fellow writer, for in this article, we’ll cover what is an imprint and how it affects you as an author.

What’s the difference between a publisher and an imprint?

Publishers or publishing houses are names and companies you might recognize, like Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, or HarperCollins. While they deal mainly in books, they also offer products covering different genres and media. They’d want similar books to stay under one banner, so creating subsidiaries that cover their different products makes sense. These are what we call publishing imprints.

Most imprints are created in one of the following ways:

  • A publisher acquires a smaller brand and allows them to operate under their own established name

  • A publisher creates a new imprint to handle a specific genre or type of publication that does not fit with their brand identity

  • A publisher partners with another company that needs to put out publications and decides to create an imprint to standardize their releases under that partnership

  • An author makes a self-publishing imprint to publish his own works or take on other self-published authors

Why do publishers use different imprints?

line of books on a table

Traditional publishers, especially the big ones, usually have multiple imprints For example, Simon & Schuster currently has 35 imprints, each with a different name, while Penguin Random House is home to more than 200 unique and creatively independent book imprints. Each one has its own unique brand identity and target audience. They are also usually handled by different groups of managers and editors. This allows each imprint to put out books under a unified company name that focuses on specific genres or publications. For example, most publishers put up several imprints that handle comic books, graphic novels, self-help books, academic journals, and other types of publications.

Most authors prefer to publish a book under an actual company. 

Examples of imprints

Here are some examples of the major publishers and their imprints to give you a more detailed look into how this works. We’ll focus on the Big 5 plus a bonus. This list will not be comprehensive, and we’ll miss out on other details from book publishers like Knopf, Harlequin Books, and Abrams Publishing. 

Penguin Randomhouse
The company was established in 2013 in a merger between Penguin, best known for publishing classic literature, and Randomhouse, the biggest general-interest publisher in the world. Both companies still exist as a division of Penguin Random House’s vast number of imprints. 
DAWScience fiction and fantasy literature
PenguinMass-market paperbacks and Penguin Classics
Bantam BooksChildren’s books, paperbacks, and hardcover reprints for different genres
Golden BooksPicture books, novelty books, and activity books for children and middle grade kids
Penguin Randomhouse Digital Publishing GroupDigital audiobooks and reference books
BBC BooksPublications related to BBC television and radio programming
Another company resulting in a merger between Harper & Row and William Collins, Sons in 1989. Like larger publishers, the company has many imprints. 
AmistadBlack fiction and nonfiction books
Avon booksRomance publisher featuring the top authors in the genre 
Harper BooksAward-winning literary fiction and nonfiction memoirs, narratives, thrillers, etc
Harper BusinessPublications and media about economics and business management
Harper VoyagerScience fiction and fantasy publications
Harper AudioAudiobooks for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books
Hatchette Book Group
Hachette is the largest publishing company in France and is one of the biggest publishers in the world. 
Basic Books GroupHistorical, scientific, political, and technical books
Hachette BooksBusiness, science, history, health, and wellness publications
Little, Brown, and CompanyClassic literary fiction books like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson’s works
Orbit BooksScience fiction and fantasy, commercial speculative fiction books
Running PressHumor, pop culture, lifestyle, mystical wellness, self-help, and inspiration books
Workman PublishingSelf-help books like cookbooks, parenting guides, books on gardening, travel and humor
Simon & Schuster
The company is one of the leading publishers in general interest books and media. Simon and Schuster’s reputation in the publishing industry commands respect and attention. They have Scribner as an imprint, and Stephen King is one of their authors. 
Keywords PressPublications written by internet personalities
Alladin PaperbacksPublisher of children’s books and 
Howard BooksChristian-centric publications and media
MTV Entertainment BooksYoung adult and pop-culture books 
Folger Shakespeare LibraryDedicated to publishing print and ebooks of William Shakespeare’s works
Beachlane BooksVisual picture books for young audiences
Macmillan Publishers
One of the most prominent publication houses that cover a wide range of genres and works
Farrar, Straus and GirouxAward-winning literary books
Henry Holt and CompanyFiction, biography, history, politics, science, psychology, and health publications
Flatiron BooksFocuses on a small number of quality-published titles 
Feiwel & FriendsInnovative fiction and nonfiction paperbacks and hardcovers for children
Macmillan LearningPublications for North American education
Scientific AmericanScience and technology journals and magazines with a focus on innovation and new discoveries
Pearson Education
Pearson focuses on producing educational books for schools, corporations, or directly to students. It is the top-earning publisher in 2022. 
Addison-Wesley Professional Computer and IT-related publications and media
Allyn & BaconHigher-education textbooks (social studies, humanities, education)
Cisco Press (Partnership with Cisco Systems)Manuals, guides, and certification resources for Cisco Networking and other Cisco products
IBM Press (Partnership with IBM)Internet marketing, internet technology, publications for IBM products
ProperoOnline study guides and courses for different colleges and universities
York NotesEnglish literature study guides

Do imprints matter to readers?

woman in gray crew neck t-shirt holding orange book

Some readers associate their preferred book type with specific publishers and imprints. They can also develop brand loyalty and keep an eye on their releases. I’m one of those people; I follow imprints of commercial fiction. 

But this isn’t always the case. In fact, I’m part of the minority here. And I am willing to bet my prized mug — coffee included — that you won’t be able to name your favorite books’ publishing imprint.

In any case, imprint publishing does not have much intrinsic value to the readers outside of recognition, genre alignment, and consistency.

Authors, however, are a different story.

How authors benefit from publishing imprints

Authors can benefit from publishing under an imprint. Here are some of them:

Brand recognition

We’ve already discussed how some readers recognize and follow imprints for their genre and book quality. Now, if you’re an author, you want to get your book out to your target audience as fast as possible. Getting published under an imprint is a great way to do just that. Think about it: a pre-established audience base that predictably consumes the type of content you write. Readers may also associate your work with quality without even reading it first if the imprint has a reputation for releasing great publications. They’ll probably think that since the publishing imprint took a chance on you, they should, too.

A tight focus on the genre

Since imprints tend to publish under a single genre, they hire expert editors and have access to specialized resources to give their authors an edge in terms of production. They know what their audience wants and can advise you on catering to your target market.

Different marketing and publishing strategies

Imprints can launch tailor-made marketing campaigns specifically targeted to their desired audience base. This gives authors a good chance to get noticed in the space they’re working on. The imprint can also get reviews from industry experts and other authors to further strengthen your book’s authority and legitimacy, which can help sell your book. 

Industry standards are met

Your work will be sent through rigorous editorial and design testing before publication, ensuring the best possible quality product. 

Access to local and international markets

Publishing imprints send their products out to many places. Booksellers — both the online and brick-and-mortar variety — have connections with various imprints. Being published by an imprint guarantees you placement in those stores and any other territory they cover. 

Can self-published authors set up their own publishing imprint?

pile of assorted-title books

You might find yourself shopping around for an imprint that will take you on if you want to go through a traditional publisher. Getting in through usual means makes it easier for you to get traditionally published, but companies and imprints don’t always accept unsolicited manuscripts. You can also decide to self-publish it without an imprint, although sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble display such details on their listings. It will appear as this: 

If this doesn’t bother you, then there’s nothing else to do. Have fun!

However — and this is a hard pill to swallow — most readers don’t trust independently published books. This mostly stems from the different processes in getting traditionally published vs. self-published. If your book has gone to a known publishing imprint, chances are your work has gone through rigorous editing and polishing with the aim of getting it nice and ready for widespread publication. The audience wouldn’t expect to read inconsistencies in work quality like grammar, punctuation, and formatting issues. Self-published books do not go have to go through these processes unless the author specifically chooses to get their work professionally edited and prepared for publication. This lack of checks and balances can lead to sloppy end products and embarrassing publications. 

But that’s not always the case

Indie authors and other self-published work are not as marginalized as they once were (with releases like The Martian by Andy Weir and Raven’s Shadow series by Anthony Ryan making waves as self-published works before getting snatched up by an imprint of Penguin Random House). Still, it’s clearly evident in both sales figures and anecdotal accounts that having no publisher can push potential readers into passing on your work. 

If you want to legitimize your book in this aspect but don’t want to get into traditional publishing, setting up an independent publishing imprint is an option for you. 

Set up your own publishing imprint

A publishing company may have advantages over smaller imprints, but a lot of self-published authors still prefer to put up their own. Here are the things to consider if you want to go down that route.

Get your name and logo in order

First on the list is choosing your imprint’s name. This will be the name that appears on the copyright page and under “publisher” on Amazon — effectively your brand name. You can go nuts with this one, although there is some advantage to choosing an imprint name that reflects your work or genre. Once you have a name, you need to check it against all available databases for similar imprints or businesses. This largely depends on which part of the US or the world you’re residing in, but some places have databases for businesses that you can use for cross-checking. Remember to go through SMEs (small to medium businesses), LLCs, corporations, trademarked names, and everything in between. 

Register as a business

Once you’re sure your imprint’s name is unique, you can now register your imprint to obtain a business license. Again, it varies from country to country, but the process should be similar to registering any other kind of business. If you live in the US, you might need to file a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) or Doing Business As (DBA), then go through the IRS to get the necessary certifications. Then go to your local government office to register your trade name as a business and get the license in order. You also need to get International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) to publish your books. 

Get your website and social media accounts ready

Congratulations! You are now a proud owner of a publishing imprint. The next step in getting your imprint off the ground is to create a landing page for your potential customers, as well as social media accounts. This will have to contain all necessary information about yourself and your book, as well as other things like where to buy your work or, if selling directly from the site, how to purchase it. Like registering for a business name, getting a website domain name should be a priority. You wouldn’t want to have to promote your website with a different name from your imprint. 

Get your stuff trademarked

Normally, this wouldn’t be a requirement, but trademarks work wonderfully as protection for your business name, logo, and other related things. Remember that your imprint name will appear in all of your current publications and new books, so protecting it from infringement can pay dividends, especially if you’re confident that your book and name are hot commodities. However, getting trademarked is expensive, with estimates going as high as $1,000. You need to balance this cost against the potential future returns and consider your current expendable resources. 

Marketing and promotion of your publishing imprint

Let’s say that you’ve done all of the above. Time to get the word out about your imprint and book. Leverage your website’s and social media’s full potential to get your business and book under as many eyes as possible. Connect to your readers by setting up comment discussions, newsletters, author mailing lists, and other digital marketing options. 

Closing thoughts

Being an independent author is getting easier as the internet grows in popularity. There are, however, a few challenges that you need to overcome in book publishing. Having an imprint established under your name or brand takes care of a few obstacles, but it requires significant planning and action. 

You don’t have to take the burden all by yourself, though. Leaders Press offers services that can assist with launching your book under a legitimate publisher. We can also help you with marketing, preparing a manuscript based on your idea, or getting your book ready for the publishing world. Click here to learn more about our service. 

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