Do I Need a Publisher’s Imprint for my Self-Publishing Company?
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I recently heard an indie author ask about publishing imprints, and if they needed one for their self-publishing. The easy answer is yes. The more involved answer is what you use and how many you have depends on what you write. In this episode, I explain what an imprint is and why you should have one. Your imprint is part of your branding. I include some discussion on your author brand and identity.
0:00 This week’s episode
0:30 Welcome to the Podcast
1:33 Do I need an imprint?
1:47 What is an imprint?
3:15 Imprints in traditional publishing
4:48 Colophons (aka Logos)
7:28 Why use an imprint?
11:23 How Indies can use imprints
12:22 Pen names…a type of imprint
14:39 Imprints and author branding
17:41 How to use an imprint
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Transcript – Episode 18
Hey, fellow indie authors, welcome to this week’s episode of the Indie Author Biz Guide podcast. I recently heard an indie author ask about publishing imprints and if they needed one for their self-publishing. The easy answer is yes, but the more involved and complicated answer is it depends. It depends on what you write. In this episode, I explain what a publisher imprint is and why you should have one.
Welcome to the indie Author Biz Guide podcast. I’m Tora Moon, genre bending fantasy and sci fi author, indie business author, and entrepreneur. Here we talk about the business of self-publishing, or as I prefer to call it, indie publishing. As an indie author, you have entered the wonderful world of entrepreneurship.
On this show, I guide you through the rocky waters of the indie publishing industry. I share business basics and principles you can apply to your author business, really, any business.
Other Indie authors share their experiences and expertise to give you insight in your career and build your business. You can download your free indie author business checklist, find additional resources, and the show notes at Indie Author Biz Guide dot com. And now, here’s today’s episode.
Do I need an imprint?
As an indie or self-published author, do you need a publisher imprint? The short answer is yes, but how many you have and what you have depends on what you write.
What is an imprint?
What is an imprint? Let’s get that out of the way first. Let’s do the definition of what an imprint is. Bowker, which is the registrar for ISBNs, defines an imprint as “a trade name or brand name used by a publisher to identify a line of books or a publishing arm within the organization. You may have multiple imprints. The imprints may be developed to market works to different buyer interests.”
So that’s the official definition of an imprint.
One of the key words in there is a trade name or brand name used by a publisher. When you set up your publishing company, you created an imprint, a trade name. And you did set one up, right? If you didn’t, go back and listen to episode two, which I talk about creating a publishing company.
When you create that publishing company, you are establishing a trade name. That is your publishing company’s name. You are also establishing a trade name with your author name. As in the authors, we already use publishing imprints without even realizing that we’re doing it.
Imprints in traditional publishing
Imprints in traditional publishing.
Large publishing houses use imprints to distinguish the various lines of books they publish. They do this all the time. The traditional publishing houses, which has now devolved down to what, four or five now, have your big corporation at the top, like Simon and Schuster. Underneath that umbrella of Simon and Schuster, they have several different subsidiaries that they use and they call imprints. Each imprint publishes a different type of book.
For instance, Simon Schuster, which we just talked about, has 35 imprints. They use this to segregate the different types of publishing they do, such as children’s books, adult fiction titles, and nonfiction. Their imprints include Atria, Pocket Books, and Touchstone. Penguin Random House, which at one point was just Penguin and then they merged with Random House, according to their website, they have 275 imprints. That is a lot of subsidiaries to manage. Their imprints include Knopf Doubleday, Ballantine Books, and Bantam Books. Amazon Publishing, which is completely different and separate from KDP print, Amazon has their own publishing company. They have several imprints. These include 47 North, Thomas and Mercer, Montlake Romance, and New Harvest.
Colophons (aka Logos)
One of the ways that the publishing companies use to distinguish their imprints is using a different logo or in the publishing industry they call it a colophon, which is the same thing–it’s a logo–and brand identity.
One of the imprints for Penguin Random House is Tarcher Penguin, and they do like nonfiction books such as Tapping into Wealth. And for those who are watching video, their colophon looks like that.
Then you have Hay House and Llewellyn, which were both started as self-publishing companies. And Hay House was started by Louise Hay because she couldn’t get her book, You Can Heal Your Life, any publishers take that. So she started it as a publishing company. Now, in the self-help and spiritual realm, they are one of the largest publishers. And their, for those watching the video, their colophon or logo is that “H” that looks like a house.
Another large publishing company that started as a self publisher is Llewellyn. And if you’re into any of the witchy, wicca things, that’s what they publish. It’s been around for about 150 [120+) years now. So it’s a very old publishing company that started as a self-publishing company and they did like an almanac type thing. Their colophon or logo is a crescent moon.
One of the ways that you can use your colophon or logo is on the spine of your book.
For my publishing company, my logo is a seven pointed star inside a crescent moon for Lunar Alchemy.
Publishers put those on the spine so that readers can tell at a glance when they’re looking in a bookstore the publisher. Using your colophon or your logo helps distinguish your publishing company, your author brand. And if you don’t have one, no big deal. It’s something you can add later. Get a graphic designer to help you do one.
Why use an imprint?
One of the reasons publishers, including self publishers, will use an imprint is when you have a diverse type of books that you’re publishing. For instance, if you have fantasy and science fiction books that you publish, and you have business nonfiction books, and spirituality and self-help. One way to distinguish those books, because those are three completely separate genres and types of books, which means those readers are going to be different, in most cases. There may be some crossover, but not a whole lot.
What a publisher will do is put all of their fantasy and science fiction type books under Imprint A. Then they will group and publish all of their business nonfiction in Imprint B. And all of their spirituality self-help books they’ll put in Imprint C. And in these imprints, there’s going to be many authors and many books.
All of those will feed up into that imprint, and that imprint feeds up into the traditional publishing company itself.
One of the ways that you can visualize and think of what a publisher’s imprint is, is to think of an organizational chart. So for a traditional publishing company, you would have at the very top the corporation, that would be Simon and Schuster or Penguin Random House.
Underneath that, your next layer would be the individual imprints or subsidiaries. So one imprint would be their fantasy and science fiction division. Imprint B would be their business nonfiction. Imprint C is their spirituality and self-help division or imprint. And each one of those imprints would have a different name, like Atria or 47 North or Thomas and Mercer.
Publishing imprints aren’t quite as important today other than helping with branding. Most readers today look for the author, not the publisher, and we can thank indie publishing for this. When I’m looking for a fantasy and science fiction book, I don’t say, Oh, I’m going to search for a Tor or a Baen book. No, I’m going to search for like monsters and stuff, I’ll search for Larry Correia, who is a Baen author. A lot of the science fiction and fantasy is published by Tor, like one of my favorite authors was Anne McCaffrey, and she was a Tor author.
Most of the time, readers don’t care who publishes the book. They’re searching for that author. But the brand identity of that imprint tells them if this is a Tor book, it’s going to be a fantasy or science fiction book. It isn’t going to be a self-help book. If it is a Tarcher Penguin, it’s going to be a self-help or spirituality type book. Knopf has been known for high quality literature. Scholastic is known for children’s books. That’s their brand identity. So that’s how traditional publishers use publishing imprints.
How Indies can use imprints
How can indie publishers or self-publishers use imprints for their business?
If you’ve established a publishing company, you have an imprint. It’s your trade name or branding. My trade name would be Lunar Alchemy Publishing. If you write only one genre or one series, you may only need that one imprint. However, if you write in diverse categories or genres, you may want to consider an imprint.
Like I write fantasy and science fiction, business nonfiction, and spirituality self-help. Which is why I use those as examples. Right now I only have one imprint. If I chose to, I could split those all out into different imprints (which would probably be a good idea).
Pen names…a type of imprint
One of the ways that we commonly see indie authors using imprints without realizing they’re using an imprint is by using pen names. Your pen name is a type of imprint because it is a trade name. It is a type of branding that you as a publisher are doing, and you’re branding that type of book.
If you’ve got a pen name that writes thrillers and you also write children’s books, you could use a different pen name for that children’s book because the readers of those two usually don’t read the same thing. And having a different pen name or imprint establishes that these are two different categories of books.
And you, as the publisher, your publishing company, are publishing these two or three or however many different types of books that you write.
So an Indie author’s organizational chart, would look like: the top your publishing company, and that’s just one author. And underneath that, you would have your imprints for each of the categories you write. So taking mine, for example, it would have one imprint for fantasy and sci fi, one for business nonfiction, and one for spirituality and self-help.
I could set up a publishing imprint for each one of those. My spirituality and self-help I could call maybe Dancing with the Goddess. My fantasy and sci fi imprint, I could call Moonbeams and Starships. My business one, I could do what I’ve been doing, and call it Indie Business Guides. That right there is an imprint. I could go further and use a different pen name for each one of those categories.
It’s up to you whether you do an imprint and a pen name, or just one or the other.
Imprints and author branding
An imprint can help you think about the branding that you do for each genre that you write.
For instance, the covers for my nonfiction books are a bright, dark color, bold lettering and a, like clipart, illustrative graphic in the center. My fantasy books use photo manipulation covers with characters on the cover, and they have the title up at the top and my name at the bottom, and I’m using that name at the bottom as part of my branding on all of my books. All of my books, no matter what I publish, will have my name at the bottom of the book.
Your covers are one aspect of your branding. Another aspect is what you write.
For my fantasy and sci fi, part of my branding is genre bending fantasy and sci fi. Readers can expect with my books that there’s going to be some sort of mash up and mix up of different genres. Crossroads to Destiny is not only an urban fantasy, but it has supernatural thriller vibes to it because there’s a serial killer that they’re trying to catch. It has a little bit of mystery and a little bit of that thriller in there.
My legends of Lairheim series is epic fantasy with the wide sweeping battles and quests, and shapeshifters, and alien invasion. My books I am attracting those readers who like something different and unique. They don’t want the same old tropes. In my business books, my tone is authoritative but friendly. I want to share this information with you to help you with your business, and that’s my tone for those.
For my spirituality and self-help books, it’s a completely different tone. It’s we’re in this together and I’m guiding you through this spiritual path.
That’s one way of branding your books is what you write, the tone that you have. Some people write snarky. You can pretty much count any of their books, no matter what they write, there’s going to be some snark in there. I’m thinking of Lindsey Buroker here. Almost everything she writes has some of that little snark in there, and she has dragons, pretty much in all of her books. That’s part of her branding and that’s part of her imprint is her branding.
How to use an imprint
If you decide you need an imprint beyond a pen name, if you’re writing more than one genre or type of book, some things that you can do is to create a different name for that imprint, a logo or colophon, and different branding for each one of those.
If you purchased your ISBN, which I hope you have done, listen to episode eight on using your own ISBN, you don’t have to buy new ISBN numbers if you bought them under your publishing company. Each of those imprints are a division or a subsidiary of your publishing company. What you would do is go to Bowker, or your country’s registrar, and register those imprints under your publishing company name. And when you issue that ISBN, you would just indicate which imprint is publishing that book.
You would also include this information on your copyright page.
Your publishing company is your imprint. The trade name you use to brand, market, and sell your books. It’s up to you to decide if it’s right for your business to have more than one imprint or pen name. Like I said, it depends on what you write and what your business goals are. No one thing is right for everyone. All depends on you, your business. Every author’s business is different.
If you need help determining what your business goals and plans are for your author business, my author business coaching program may be what you need. One of the things that we will talk about in that program is what you’re writing and whether you need a different imprint, a different pen name because of what you write is so diverse. If that’s your case.
I hope this episode has cleared up what an publishers imprint is and how you can use that in your business and assure you you’ve already got one if you established a publishing company or a pen name, you’re good. And you really don’t have to use one if you don’t want to. And I hope to see you on the next episode.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Indie Author Biz Guide Podcast. I hope you found value in it. You can get your free business checklist, find more information, and any downloads mentioned, at Indie Author Biz Guide dot com forward slash podcast.
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Thank you and I hope you have an amazing day!