Over the past year we’ve been doing a series where we took you on a tour of the different departments that make up a publisher. At the beginning of this series we started with a very broad overview, highlighting the departments you would get an inside look at. We are now finished with that tour, and I highly recommend you take a read through it. The one last thing that helps make up a publishing company that we haven’t touched on quite yet is imprints

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is an imprint, anyway? An imprint is the trade name a publishing company uses to publish a particular work. An author who self-publishes runs into a minor issue with this, as an imprint is a requirement to acquire an ISBN with Bowker (very important!). If you haven’t gotten to this step in your self-publishing process, don’t freak out–an imprint isn’t a legal entity like a publishing house is, so you don’t need to register your imprint anywhere. You just need to come up with a name. Be careful choosing though because there are a lot of imprints out there–Penguin Random House alone has nearly 300! 

Essentially, imprints are used to divy up the kinds of books that a major publishing house is interested in publishing. This is helpful for a few reasons. First, publishers can use their various imprints as a way to establish different, yet cohesive brand identities. Simon and Schuster is not pigeonholed into one particular genre, but rather is able to publish virtually any genre under it’s different imprints. 

For example, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, publishes non-fiction books focused on health and wellness. So this includes things like cookbooks, self help books, psychology books, that kind of vibe. While Avery publishes nonfiction, you would not see them publish a book about the War of 1812. You would find that at a nonfiction imprint like Doubleday, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, itself an imprint of Penguin Random House (now you’re probably understanding how PRH has nearly 300 imprints). 

The second reason that imprints are helpful is that they help authors and editors alike establish where they belong within the publishing industry. When a literary agent is selling a book, they will have lists of different editors at lots of imprints who are likely to be interested in the manuscript because of the imprint’s backlist. Editors, designers, marketers, and others working for the imprint can also develop an expertise of the genre and its audience to further the success of the imprint and therefore the publishing house as a whole.

Sometimes authors themselves see a gap in the market and establish their own imprints. In 2008 author Colm Tóibín partnered with lit agent Peter Straus to create Tuskar Rock Press, publishing speculative fiction. Elena Lappin, an editor and author of What Language Do I Dream In, helped to establish an imprint of British publisher Pushkin Press. The imprint, called ONE, aptly publishes just one singular book a year. Celebrities, too, have established their own imprints. Lena Dunham spearheaded Lenny Books under Penguin Random House’s umbrella, while Gwyneth Paltrow lends her name to Goop Press, at Grand Central Publishing (a division of Hachette). And the queen herself, Oprah Winfrey*, heads up An Oprah Book, in partnership with Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan. 

The publishing world can be quite bubble-like, with the people inside worried about niche things that the average person would not know or care about. When it comes to imprints, authors can worry about signing with the ‘right’ one, which is frankly silly. While finding the right imprint fit for an author is important, in the long run it doesn’t mean that much for the book itself. A new murder mystery by Stephen King is going to sell, regardless of which imprint it came from. (For those interested, King publishes with Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Did that information change your life, or what?) 

So that’s a little about imprints, which I imagine as little clubs within the publishing industry, if that helps at all. We do hope this tour of the publishing industry has been informative, and please let us know in the comments if there’s an area you think we missed so we can cover it for you!

Also to answer one last question you might have, yes, I am sick of typing the word imprints now. 

*yes that is a reference to the Oprah/Meghan/Harry interview drama that recently went down, please tell us your thoughts on the subject @threehousespress on twitter, tysm