Book Imprints: Research your market as you write

If you are serious about getting your manuscript published, whether it is a literary novel, a true-crime book, or a genre romance, it is a good idea to find out who exactly might publish it. “But that is my agent’s job,” you might say. True. But it is also your job and your responsibility to your career as an author, to be well informed about publishing houses. Gather any knowledge you can about who’s publishing what — whether you have an agent or not.

Most publishing houses, especially big ones, are divided into “imprints,” which publish under a separate name, often in a specific genre. They usually have their own editors, though some editors acquire manuscripts for multiple imprints. Some are narrower in focus than others — books published under the imprint that shares the name of the house (Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.) usually cut a wide swath: fiction and nonfiction; literary and commercial. But each publishing house also has more specific imprints and regularly creates new ones. Random House, the world’s biggest publisher, lists no fewer than fifty-five U.S. imprints on its website.

purchasing books

Visit Random House’s website and those of other publishers. Even if you think it is not the place for your genre, you may be surprised. Most publishers list their imprints with brief descriptions and often a specific imprint does not fit the overall image of that publishing house. Houses create new imprints to follow book industry trends — following the success of such authors as Bill O areilly and Ann Coulter, several politically conservative imprints appeared, including Crown Forum at Random House, Sentinel at Penguin and Threshold at Simon & Schuster. Other imprints, such as Rayo at HarperCollins, are popping up to cater to the fast-growing market of Latin-American readers.

After you consult the publishers’ lists, bypass their marketing lingo and look at bookstores. Browse Amazon, or go into your local Barnes & Noble and head for the section where you think your book belongs. Browse the shelves, or scroll down the Amazon pages of books similar to yours and list the imprints you see. A few will appear over and over — the major publishers — and you will see a few others, perhaps smaller houses or new imprints. If you are in the mystery section, about one-fourth of theĀ book spine design will say “Berkley Prime Crime” — Penguin’s mass-market mystery imprint. Once you have an agent, if they are competent, they will know to submit your genre mystery series to an editor at Berkley who acquires for Prime Crime. But let’s back up: if you see a particular type of mystery filling the shelves (or missing from them), keep that in mind when devising your own series idea. But do not follow trends blindly: remember that the books now on the shelves were acquired as long ago as two years and the trend you see may already have passed.