A Quick Lesson About Publishers, Imprints, CreateSpace, and Bowker

by | Feb 9, 2015

While getting ready to publish The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide a few weeks ago, I ran into an interesting situation that may affect more authors as your own publishing continues to mature past a first book.

I procured my ISBNs back in the 1980s for Globe Press Books, my first publishing venture. When that experiment had run its course, I continued to publish, but had to change the name of my publishing company since Globe had been a partnership that was subsequently dissolved.

That’s no problem for a publisher, because we can simply devise a new imprint for any separate publishing venture. These imprints usually refer to a specific line of books that address a similar readership or point of view.

Here’s an example of how publisher Pan Macmillan positions their Bluebird imprint:

Bluebird Macmillan Imprint

Imprints allow a publisher to establish a brand identity for a cohesive line of books some of which may be aimed at specific segments of the market.

Here’s a list of the imprints of the huge Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group:

Knopf Imprints

Of course conglomerates like Knopf Doubleday are not like you and me. Many of the names on this list have rich histories of their own in book publishing, and they were independent companies before being acquired and brought under one roof.

But the same principle applies. When I was publishing at Globe Press Books, for instance, I established a Fourth Way Books imprint for a specific audience interested in this niche topic.

CreateSpace and the Missing Publisher Name

CreateSpace has a wonderful interface for setting up your books, probably the best and easiest to use of all the ones I’ve seen, with lots of help available as you go through the setup tasks.

However, I found it odd that the “Publisher name” didn’t appear anywhere. Instead, when you indicate you’re going to be using your own ISBN and not one supplied by CreateSpace, you are presented with this dialog asking for the ISBN and your “Imprint Name.”

CreateSpace ISBN entry

If you click the little “What’s this?” link, here’s what CreateSpace has to say:

CreateSpace Imprint field

Now as we just saw, a Publisher Name is not an Imprint Name, they are different, and we’ve seen that one publisher can have many imprints. So it doesn’t really make sense that “… the publisher… is your imprint,” does it?

I Feel So Rejected

Sure enough, when my book went into their review process, it got rejected. I had entered the imprint I was using, in this case “Marin Bookworks.” But one of the things that goes on during the review is that CreateSpace will actually check your account at Bowker—who issues the ISBNs to publishers—to make sure (for security reasons) that your entry matches.

And mine didn’t. My publishing company was listed as “Joel Friedlander, publisher”. My Bowker record also showed the imprints I had used in years gone by, but not the name I was now publishing under.

I spoke to a Technical Services Manager at CreateSpace, and found out that whatever you enter on their title information setup under “Imprint Name” has to match either the Publisher Name or an imprint name in your Bowker record.

Well, I’ll just add Marin Bookworks as an imprint name, right?

When I went to look, there was no way for a user to create an imprint name. For a minute, I was stumped. Did it mean I would have to open another account at Bowker, with the added expense of new ISBNs? I didn’t want to do that.

Or would I have to change my publishing company’s name just to conform to this security check for CreateSpace? That didn’t make much sense.

In the end, I got in touch with a Senior Analyst at Bowker, who explained their own take on imprints:

“What is an Imprint? A trade name used by a publisher to identify a line of books or a publishing arm within the publishing organization. … An imprint is distinguished from a corporate name in that it does not represent an entity with a corporate life of its own.”

She affirmed that there was no way for a user to add an imprint. However, Bowker acts quickly on customer requests to adjust their record, and provides an email address for that purpose: [email protected] (Don’t forget to include one of your ISBNs so the bibliographers there can identify your record.)

That’s what I did to solve the mismatch that had my book suspended on the eve of publication. Bowker made the change within 24 hours and the book passed review at CreateSpace a few hours later.

Now, my publisher record at Bowker shows both my newly-changed publisher name and the other imprints I’ve used over the years:


Looking to the Future

I’ve been writing recently about how authors can continue to “evolve” in their publishing ventures, either by becoming more entrepreneurial, or by starting to publish the books of other authors, or by creating a cooperative publishing venture with other authors.

In all of those scenarios, the ability to create targeted imprints for specific lines of books can be a great strategic marketing tool to know about.

Even a single author, publishing her own books, might use an imprint if she decided to publish in a new genre, if it’s completely unrelated to her original one.

This historic practice of publishers is another tool you can add to your arsenal as a self-publisher.

How would you use an imprint in your own publishing business? See any need for one? I’d like to hear.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. John

    Hi Joel –

    I was glad to find this article. I just published with KDP and used an ISBN that I got from Bowker. I don’t have an imprint set up for myself yet so I listed Bowker as the imprint as directed in KDP. I was surprised to see that in my Amazon book details it now lists Bowker as the publisher. Does that present any potential problems for my self-published book?
    Thanks – John

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Hi, John,

      This article was about CreateSpace, which has been replaced by KDP. Please refer to this article https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2018/06/posting-on-kdp/#fn7 for updated information, where you’ll see that you should not use Bowker as your publisher name.

  2. Sharon

    Clark, that seems like a lot of potential confusion. I would inquire as to why a new ISBN is needed. If you are the publisher and you own the ISBNs (versus you purchased them from someone else–IngramSpark, whomever), you shouldn’t need a new ISBN for that outlet. I would investigate some more and try to get to the bottom of this issue first.

  3. Clark Shelton

    Hi Joel,

    Your site is a wonderful source for answers for new authors.

    I have published my first novel with POD by KDP with an ISBN issued by Bowker to my “publisher” NYM Books, which is a d/b/a for me. Now I wish to expand POD distribution with BNPress.com (because of headaches I am experiencing with Ingram Sparks). The setup with BNPress worked fine except when I went to fill in the ISBN, which was rejected. It’s the identical digital file for both the cover and interior but BNPress is requiring a new ISBN (their rules) even though Bowker does not.

    I have another ISBN that I can assign but was thinking creating an imprint for NYM Books for the POD through BNPress listing the imprint on the copyright page and possibly using a different EAN (possibly higher) with this new ISBN.

    Will this create any confusion for bookstores or libraries?


  4. DC Jones

    I have two questions: 1) I haven’t looked yet, but does Bowker allow you to assign ISBN’s to an added imprint or do you just add the imprint name in general not matter what ISBN’s are assigned to titles under that imprint? And 2) In the past I have published all works under the registered publishers name, however the book had the logo and imprint info in the cover and the copyright page stated the published by “imprint name,” a subdivision of “publishing name” – is that an acceptable work-around if I add those imprint names to Bowker or will I then need to change the copyright info to just the imprint name?

    D.C. Jones

    • Sharon

      DC, yes, you can. First, add your imprints in the section “My Account>My Profile Data>My Company at the bottom of the page. Then you can select it in the ISBN’s “Sales & Pricing” section. The copyright page should have the name of the imprint as a subdivision of the publishing company.

  5. Bob Whitely

    To clarify a couple things, Bowker freely allows you to make up Imprints, they are just not useable on Amazon. Only the name assigned to the Bowker account is considered the Imprint (read Publisher). I suppose I could ask them if they’d change QT Games to one of my 2 imprints, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. If you only had one, then that’s okay, like you did, Joel, but it is a patch at best and doesn’t work for those of us with multiple imprints, sadly. And you have to be careful because if you get checks to that imprint name and it’s not the name of your actual company, that’s illegal in places (I’d have to pay for a DBA to use it that way.)

  6. Bob Whitely

    Hi Joel. Thanks for your informative posts. I tried to do as you did. My company is QT Games (I make games and write fiction). I bought over 100 ISBNs to publish various books of mine, but when I tried to distinguish between 2 different book lines by using imprints, as you warned, Amazon wouldn’t allow it. I’m told there’s a place to include an imprint, but just not under Publisher (under the description? I already have it in my latest book that I’m about to release.)

    When I asked Bowker, they said I could create subdivisions – one for each imprint, but then said it wouldn’t work unless I was 3 companies with QT games as the Parent company. So, I’m dead in the water again, at least on Amazon. I assume/hope it works elsewhere, like on IngramSpark. As it is now, Amazon has caused confusion by not allowing publishers to show their true imprints and even changed the definition of imprint to mean publisher.

  7. Best Book Publishers

    You have clarified so many confused minds in such detail and we must acknowledge you for this. I can totally alibi your statement that the publishing company name will not be listed as the publisher. I just hope that your word reaches to many ahead and everyone can benefit from your findings. Thank you!

  8. Nonfiction Book Publishers

    You have clarified so many confused minds in such detail and we must acknowledge you for this. I can totally alibi your statement that the publishing company name will not be listed as the publisher. I just hope that your word reaches to many ahead and everyone can benefit from your findings. Thank you!

  9. Melanie


    I am currently revising a self-published book. Is it going to be an issue if I change my imprint?

    Thank you in advance,

  10. Kerri

    Thank you for the useful information. My question is about establishing your claim to your imprint.

    For example, I have a sole proprietor pub company. Let’s call it “Good Books”. I have the ISBNs at Bowker. I wanted to do as you said and create an imprint for a more specialized genre. I filled in “Action Books” at Bowkers where it asks for “imprint”. Amazon’s CreateSpace (now KDP) had no problem with it.

    But… my question is: how do I legally establish the claim over my imprint? What prevent someone else from coming along and starting a company of his own called “Action Books”? It doesn’t sound like you have to do everything all over again (separate bank account under new name, etc) for every imprint. But do you need a DBA for each of them? Is there more to it than that?

    Any advice will be much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Sharon

      Kerri, I always recommend setting up a legal company entity (sole proprietorship, sub S, C, LLC, whatever is appropriate) for a publishing company. You can set up a separate dba/company for each imprint but if it were me, I would check with my attorney and accountant and find out how best to set one or more up for my particular situation.

  11. Sharon

    Laura, I recommend consulting with an intellectual property attorney immediately and getting a written agreement for you and your coauthor.

  12. Laura French

    I have a question about imprints that no one has been able to answer so far.
    I set up my own imprint under sole proprietorship and bought my own bowker ID numbers. I published two books so far. The third book coming out is written with a co-author and I was planning on publishing it with KDP Amazon with my imprint. My co-author is now concerned that I will “own” the book if we publish under my imprint. The copyright is registered 50-50 for us. I was told that I would not “own” that book as no agreement was made between us for that. What are your thoughts about publishing a book with a co-author under my imprint in terms of rights?

    • JT

      If the copyright is already registered with the copyright office, and there’s no contract she signed stipulating that she give up her half of the copyrights, then she has nothing to worry about – even if you tried to claim full ownership, she could prove via government records that she owns half. You could inform her of this to put her mind at ease. :)

      That said, you should probably Also do the following:

      1.) In the copyright information section of the title page or in some other clearly marked note in the front, you can state the copyright information as registered (to both of you, as of X year), which make it clearer that the copyright is still shared.

      2.) You may wish to have a simple contract. You’re the coauthor but you’re acting as Sole Publisher, yes? so TECHNICALLY she is giving you first printing rights or First North American rights, presumably in exchange for a fair cut of the profits. This will clearly delineate which rights she’s actually allowing you to have (namely, publishing the first edition and sharing in its prpfits), a d any other rights aren’t being given up.

      If you want to be able to allow someone else to do reprints or new variant releases in the future, you may also want a (separate maybe?) Contract delineating how the rights will be managed – including whether she or you have the option to deny a publication or adaptation etc that the other copyright owner wishes to allow, how any profits for the work are to be.split, and maybe what happens to the copyright if one party dies, vanishes out of contact with the other party, or becomes declared legally incompetent (mentally impaired)?

      I’m not a lawyer so I can’t advise you on specifics let alone wording – you should (JOINTLY! Together, so that everyone is on the same page) consult an attorney who handles intellectual property for that – but those are the things I would think to address to cover every possible scenario with fairness and clarity.

  13. Marla

    To make sure I understand: ABC Press LLC is my publishing company as a indie author/publisher and if I have 3 genres, each one can have a imprint. The only thing that is a legal business is the ABC Publishing LLC. The imprints only need to be registered with my state as a DBA and each imprint will have its own ISBN. Is this correct?

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Marla, you’ll have to check with your applicable government agency as to whether each imprint needs to be registered or not and I think it’s a good idea for each of your imprints to have its own set of ISBNs but it doesn’t have to.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *