What is an imprint?
At my first (and only!) publishing job interview 10 years ago, the HR recruiter asked me if I was familiar with the concept of “imprints.” How fortuitous — I’d just spent all of 30 seconds glancing through the catalogs in the waiting area, so I said intelligently, “Oh yes — those are like departments,” despite having only the vaguest notion of what I was talking about.
Needless to say, imprints have a significance far beyond job interviews. Larger publishing houses — like Random House, the Penguin Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, etc. — are divided into departments called imprints. Sometimes, several imprints are affiliated in an official “group” like The Crown Publishing Group which includes the imprints Broadway Books, Clarkson Potter, Crown and many others. Sometimes imprints work together — like The Penguin Group’s mass market division that includes imprints like Ace, Berkley, Jove, Roc and many others — although the department doesn’t have an “official” name.
This is all pretty unimportant for the average reader who’s more concerned with reading a book rather than ruminating over who published it, but for those interested in book publishing — authors, literary agents, book bloggers, journalists — it’s valuable to know about the building blocks of publishing houses. (Book publicists — feel free to forward this post to anyone who might have questions about imprints.)
Imprints typically have a defining character or mission. For example, the objective of Viking, an imprint of The Penguin Group, is “To publish a strictly limited list of good nonfiction, such as biography, history and works on contemporary affairs, and distinguished fiction with some claim to permanent importance rather than ephemeral popular interest.” Many imprints publish only one type (or one format) of book — Crown Business (Random House) and Portfolio (The Penguin Group) publish business books for example, Fireside(Simon & Schuster) publishes (paperback) inspirational books and HarperPerennial(HarperCollins) publishes paperbacks. Other imprints like Penguin Books and Random House publish a variety of fiction and nonfiction titles.
Which brings me to one of the most confusing (yet one of the most important) distinctions to make in publishing: the difference between publishing houses and their eponymous imprints. So Random House the company has a division called The Random House Publishing Group which is itself broken down into several imprints including Ballantine and the Random House Trade Group (known as “Little Random). The Penguin Group (the company) has one imprint called The Penguin Press, that publishes hardcover fiction and nonfiction, and another imprint called Penguin Books, that publishes paperback fiction and nonfiction. (And to make matters even more confusing, Penguin Press titles are published as Penguin Books paperbacks.)
Several months ago, Sarah Weinman of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind broke down the imprints at all the major publishing houses: Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, The Penguin Group and Random House. (You should note, though, that her series was written before the reorganization at Random House, so the scene’s changed a bit since then.)
For bloggers and journalists attempting to get in touch with authors, make a note of a book’s imprint and contact that department, not the company as a whole. I can’t tell you how many people contact atrandompublicity[at]randomhouse.com or penguinpublicity[at]us.penguingroup.com not realizing that these addresses are *not* for their respective companies, but for specific departments within those companies. If you’re in the book reviewing / author interview business, you need to make it your business to know your imprints.
If you’re trying to locate contact information for imprints, I link to the Contact Us pages at several major publishing houses in this Media requesting review copies / trying to contact authors post. You can also find more information about review copies (and why you may not be receiving the ones you request).
What do you find most confusing about imprints? Ever tried to find contact information for an imprint but couldn’t?