What Is A Publishing Imprint?

by | Sep 9, 2022

So you wrote a book, and now you want to publish it. First of all, congratulations, as this is a huge accomplishment! Having the desire to write a book is common, but putting in the hours until you create a final product takes a different level of commitment. 

But you did so, and now comes the question, if you want to publish traditionally, what’s the difference between a publisher and a publishing imprint? 

If you look at the Big 4 New York Publishers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan), you’ve likely noticed the imprints under them.  For instance, Del Rey is an imprint of Penguin Random House. Harper Business is an imprint of HarperCollins. 

So what is a publishing imprint, and what does this have to do with your book? In this article, we discuss: 

Let’s start with a definition and explanation, so you have a grasp of each before we move forward. 

What Is It?

A publishing imprint is a brand name used to publish a book. But that can differ from the actual company that published the book. For instance, HarperCollins has a myriad of imprints and use the imprints to publish different genres and market them accordingly. Think of a publisher as an umbrella over which all the imprints gather. 

Another example might help here: Let’s say the publishing house is Proctor & Gamble. They’re the big umbrella company.

But within Proctor & Gamble (or within that publishing house), you have an array of other brands (or other imprints). 

  • Gillette: razors
  • Luvs: baby diapers
  • Downey: fabric softener
  • Tide: laundry detergent
  •  Crest: toothpaste
  • …and the list goes on…

The publishing house is the overarching title (or name) that encompasses the smaller-scale imprints (specific for genres). With that in mind, let’s get into the history and background of imprints. 

History And Background 

The Big Five (now the Big Four with Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster) publishing houses started around the turn of the 20th century. At this point, many factors began to shift: 

  • Publishing houses merged
  • Trade paperbacks boosted in popularity
  • New ways to sell books came into being
  • Chain bookstores went global 

With merges come imprints. Penguin Random House boasts imprints such as:

  • Knopf Doubleday: An imprint with imprints all its own 
  • Crown Publishing: Focuses on bestselling fiction as well as narrative nonfiction
  • Viking Press: An imprint dedicated to all genres of both fiction and nonfiction

With the Big 5 turning into the Big 4, it shouldn’t be surprising just how many imprints there are to date. 

Examples Of Different Imprints 

There are a multitude of publishing imprints and getting your start in the traditional publishing world can come down to which imprint offers you a contract. In the traditional publishing sphere, it’s imperative to pitch your work to the correct imprint, or risk a rejection. 

Let’s say you pitch to Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Crown is known for specializing in bestselling fiction and narrative nonfiction in categories including biography, science, history, politics, and so on

If you wrote an adult’s biography, you pitched the right imprint. However, let’s say you want to publish with HarperCollins and pitch to their imprint, AvonBooks. This imprint focuses its publishing energy on various romance genres

But you wrote a biography. Chances are high that you’ll get a rejection letter, not necessarily due to your writing (it could be great!) but because this particular imprint does not publish your genre. 

Amulet Books is an imprint of Abrams Publishing. Amulet Books’ nonfiction focus is on young adult and middle-grade. So while your biography may fit the nonfiction genre, it does not belong in the young adult or middle grade nonfiction genre. 

With so many imprints to choose from, it may seem confusing to know where to start. Don’t let the plethora of options overwhelm you. Instead, consider just how many options are available to you for publishing your book.

If one imprint rejects your manuscript, another may be a better fit. There are so many options when it comes to publishing your book with an imprint. Take your time, do your research, and then pitch to various publishers.

Checklist When Pitching Imprints 

You now understand what an imprint is and how they came into existence. You have your completed manuscript and you’re ready to pitch. Now what? Follow this basic checklist when pitching to heighten your chances of receiving an offer:

  • Follow the imprint guidelines exactly 
  • Make sure the imprint publishes the genre you pitch 
  • Research their previous works to understand how yours fits 
  • Have a firm grasp on current publishing trends 

If an imprint does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, you can still pitch them but you will have a few extra steps:

  • Sign with an agent who represents your genre 
  • Network at writing conferences 
    • You may meet an acquiring editor who invites you to pitch 
    • You may meet other professionals who can get you in the door 

The above is a brief guide to pitching. Make sure you follow instructions exactly, follow industry etiquette, and present yourself well. First impressions are important to get right, especially when it comes to publishing your first manuscript. 

Moving Forward

Imprints are a great way to get your foot in the door at a larger publishing house. Once you pitch to an imprint and receive an offer, celebrate, then get back to work. 

Publishing is often a hurry up and wait industry, but there is always work to do while you wait for others to complete their tasks. 

If you receive an offer, get busy working on:

Whether you choose to traditionally publish with a publishing imprint or self-publish on your own, marketing is essential. 

When you publish with a smaller house or an imprint, they likely focus on less genres. However, that means they can also spend more time on those genres. If you write historical fiction and publish with an imprint who specializes in historical fiction, they are bound to be able to help you with the marketing. 

Keep these various points in mind as you write your book, choose the right imprints to pitch, publish, and start that next book. 

The writing journey is so fun because there are so many ways to succeed. Do your homework, write the best book you know how, and then reach out to those imprints. You never know which one will offer and just how successful they could help you become! 

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