Go pick up the book you’re currently reading, flip it on its side, and look at the base of the spine. There you’ll find a name and logo. It might read Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster, but it’s more likely to read something like Picador, Knopf, Bold Type Books, or Little Brown. These are called imprints.
What is an imprint? It’s the name a publishing company uses when they publish books. Imprints are like departments of a publishing company, and they’re responsible for a great deal of the books released today.
What is an imprint?
An imprint is a subsidiary of a publishing company, and it’s the name that appears on the book as its publisher.
Imprints typically specialize in subject matter, audience, or genre. For example, Plume is a paperback imprint of Penguin Random House that publishes LGBTQ titles.
A major publisher, like one of the “big five”—which are Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins—may have dozens of imprints. HarperCollins has more than 120, and some of those imprints have imprints of their own. Harlequin Enterprises own a number of imprints, including Graydon House Books, MIRA Books, and Spice.
Generally, it works this way: Publishers have divisions, and divisions have imprints.
Publisher > division > imprint
Penguin Random House is the publisher > Penguin Publishing Group is the division > Plume is the imprint
Sometimes imprints have their own imprints.
Publisher > division > imprint > imprint
HarperCollins is the publisher > which has an adult division > in which William Morrow is an imprint > and Avon is an imprint of that
Some publishing companies have eponymous imprints, and Simon & Schuster might publish books under the imprint, Simon & Schuster.
What’s the difference between a publisher and an imprint?
Generally, you can use “publisher” and “imprint” interchangeably.
If you were to ask an author who their publisher is, they will likely name the imprint, like St. Martin’s Press or Minotaur Books. Both are imprints of Macmillan, but it’s unlikely that the writer will say that their publisher is Macmillan.
Macmillan is the publishing company and St. Martin’s Press is the imprint.
Traditional book publishing companies aren’t the only business entities to have imprints. Barnes & Noble has its own imprints, one of which is Barnes & Noble Classics, and the magazine Monocle has Monocle Books.
Is a small press the same as an imprint?
An imprint is not the same as a small press. Hub City Press is a small, independent publishing house and is not an imprint of a larger publisher.
Small presses are also plentiful in today’s market, and they publish best-sellers and award-winning books. Graywolf Press, Europa Editions, Lookout Books, and Coffee House Press are all small presses, sometimes called “indie” presses.
Why do publishers have imprints?
Expertise: Publishers often create imprints to specialize in a specific subject matter or genre. For example, the Simon & Schuster imprint Simon451, named in honor of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, publishes only speculative fiction.
By grouping specialists in smaller organizations, publishers can concentrate knowledge and develop a team of experts who master the art of editing, publishing, and marketing to a specific audience.
Specialization also makes it easier for book agents to submit manuscripts to editors. If they know Wednesday Books, for example, specializes in romance titles, then they can forge relationships with editors at that imprint and connect them to great romance authors.
Marketing: Imprints are like brands. Some readers may follow an imprint they particularly like. For example, people interested in journalism, history, and social affairs may follow Hachette’s imprint, PublicAffairs. Fans of classic romance titles may keep an eye on what Harlequin Books or one of its many imprints is putting out. (Yes, imprints can have their own imprints! See “what is an imprint?” above.)
Booksellers may likewise lean toward purchasing books from specific imprints because they sell well in their particular store.
Acquisitions: Sometimes, imprints are the result of acquisitions. A publishing company might buy a small publisher it sees as valuable to expand its portfolio. That small publisher then becomes an imprint. HarperCollins acquired Ecco, which publishes literary and commercial fiction and some nonfiction titles, in 1999 and romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises in 2014.
An imprint doesn’t always survive an acquisition, and a publisher may choose to fold a new imprint into an existing one or dissolve it altogether. Simon & Schuster merged its children’s imprint Minstrel Books with Aladdin Paperbacks and retired the Minstrel name.
Functional specializations: Some imprints serve very specific practical purposes, like imprints that publish only audiobooks or ebooks. Simon & Schuster’s imprint Atria Unbound publishes Atria’s titles in ebook form. Atria itself is an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
How does an imprint work?
Imprints function as publishing houses, with acquisitions editors, accountants, and marketing teams, but depending on their size, they may share resources with other imprints owned by the same publishing company. For example, Macmillan (the publishing company) handles distribution for all of its imprints; those imprints don’t handle distribution operations on their own.
There are exceptions, but usually, the relationship looks like this:
- The imprint acquires and edits the book
- The imprint is responsible for book cover design, though sometimes imprints share design teams, often across a division
- The imprint usually markets the book to readers, but sometimes imprints share marketing teams, often across a division
- The larger publisher or division generally markets and sells the books to retailers
- The larger publisher generally handles the distribution logistics
Can indie authors set up a publishing imprint?
Yes, indie authors can create their own imprints! An imprint is the name under which a company publishes a book, so any writer with something great to publish can make an imprint. Here’s how.
How to create an imprint as an indie author
- Give it a mission
Every publishing imprint has a mission. What will yours be?
It could be as simple as, to publish my series of dark academia novels or, to publish the best steamy beach reads in ebook form. Or it could be broader, like to elevate underrepresented voices in thriller novels.
- Name your imprint
Give your imprint a name. You might name yours in homage to a classic genre trope, the title of your best series, or the name of a beloved character.
Let’s say you’re an author who writes LGBTQ fantasy romance, and you want to create an imprint for your books. Your imprint might be called Fae Fantasy or Friends2Lovers.
You can also use your pen name as your imprint name, as in Lydia Braxton Books.
- Give it a logo
Every great publishing imprint has a logo. Peruse the spines of your favorite books and you’ll find that imprint logos don’t have to be complicated or ornate. It might simply be a single letter. Try your hand at designing a logo yourself using a program like Canva, or hire a freelance designer.
- Market it
Make it easy for readers to learn about your imprint and its mission. Give your imprint its own website, or make a page on your author website.
When it’s time to market your new book, be sure to include the name of your imprint in your promotional materials. For example:
Beautiful Blades, the latest romance thriller from Lydia Braxton Books.
Once you’ve published multiple titles, you can market your imprint on its own and promote it to readers with a taste for your genre or niche. You might even consider publishing other authors’ work under your imprint so they can benefit from the brand name.
Examples of publishing imprints
Here are just some of the imprints belonging to the “big five” publishing houses.
|Little, Brown and Company||Back Bay Books
Little Brown Spark
Anthony Bourdain Books
Dey Street Books
Graydon House Books
Hanover Square Press
Park Row Books
|Adult Trade||Celadon Books
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Henry Holt & Company
St. Martin’s Press
St. Martin’s Essentials
St. Martin’s Griffin
Tor Publishing Group
|Children’s||Farrar, Straus & Giroux for Young Readers
Feiwel & Friends
Henry Holt for Young Readers
Roaring Brook Press
|Penguin Random House||Division||Imprint|
|Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group||Knopf
Nan A. Talese
|Penguin Publishing House||Avery
Family Tree Books
North Light Books
Popular Woodworking Books
Tiny Rep Books
Writer’s Digest Books
|Simon & Schuster||Division||Imprint|
|Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing||Adams Media
Avid Reader Press
Emily Bestler Books
Folger Shakespeare Library
Simon & Schuster
|Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing||Aladdin
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Beach Lane Books
Denene Millner Books
Margaret K. McElderry
Paula Wiseman Books