Tips from an Industry Insider | Distinguishing imprints within a publishing house

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‘Imprints … yeah … remind me what those are again.’

Strictly speaking, an imprint of a publisher is a trade name under which it publishes books. In a practical sense, imprints act as brands. Publishing houses also often create internal divisions or departments around imprints. Each division has its own publisher and editing team and there is often internal competition around acquisitions.

Imprints have defined identities; some are literary, others are commercial or focused on non-fiction. Sometimes, an imprint represents a specific genre from romance to science fiction and cookery.

Especially in romance, an imprint usually indicates a specific sub-genre of romance. Targeting the right imprint can be critical in getting a publishing deal. (If you’re an indie author, being able to define your target as clearly will help you find the right readers to propel you to success.)

Other times an imprint is merely an indicator of geography, especially in Australia where the local imprint, e.g. Hachette Australia may cover literary fiction, thrillers, romance, women’s fiction, history, biography, true crime, cookery, self-help, etc. Imprints can also indicate format: hardback, paperback, ebook, or audio.

Further, many originally independent publishers have been bought by larger publishing companies who have retained the name of the original publisher as an imprint to honour their history and contribution to the history of book publishing. Imprints can change focus or be discontinued to enable a publisher to keep up with changes in consumer demand.

For example, well known romance publisher Harlequin Australia (which is itself an imprint/division of HarperCollins Publishers Australia) has six imprints, which sometimes overlap, causing both internal competition and author opportunity. Their six imprints demonstrate the different types of imprints:

  • MIRA – full length works of fiction across the genres of historical fiction, contemporary and historical romance, and romantic suspense. Paperback and ebook.
  • HQ Fiction – full length fiction with a focus on great storytelling, empowerment and self-realisation across the genres of women’s fiction, suspense, domestic noir, historical epics and family saga. Paperback and ebook.
  • HQ Non-Fiction – women’s memoirs, women’s Australian and well-being titles. Paperback/hardback and sometimes in ebook as well.
  • HQ Young Adult – teen and young adult fiction set in contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and historical worlds. Paperback and ebook.
  • Mills & Boon – everything romance, usually shorter in length than MIRA titles. Paperback and ebook.
  • Escape Publishing – romance by Australian authors published worldwide in ebook format.

Mills & Boon started out as an independent, general fiction British publisher house in 1908 although their first book was, prophetically, a romance. In the 1930s the company began to concentrate specifically on romances. In 1971, it was bought by its North American distributor Harlequin Enterprises, owned by Torstar Corporation. It became known as Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB). Torstar sold Harlequin to another corporation News Corp, which made Harlequin a division of the publishing house they owned, HarperCollins. Over 100 years later, the name Mills & Boon survives as an imprint with a reputation for high quality romance publishing – as does Harlequin.

It’s easy to dismiss imprints as industry jargon, something only those in the industry need to understand. However, being aware of imprints and able to distinguish one from another can help you refine your pitch and better target a publisher for your book.

The submission process at most publishing houses is intense and competitive. For your book to make it all the way through to publication, you need to find a publisher or editor who will champion it through the process, someone who really loves it and will pitch and defend it against all comers, including other publishers, sales and marketing, product specialists, production managers and general management. The better your targeting, the better your chance of finding your perfect champion.

Publishing is an art, not a science, and driven by editors’ personal tastes. If you’ve ever had a rejection letter along the lines of ‘not for us’ or ‘the characters didn’t really resonate with me’ or ‘the characters didn’t seem believable, there is a good chance you just didn’t find the right reader for your story. Knowing more about imprints and being able to refine your proposal may help you overcome that hurdle. Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than getting an ‘I loved your heroine’ when a previous rejection said your characters were not believable.

Next month, I’ll provide a list of romance publishers and imprints along with their defining characteristics.

Laura Boon Russell

Laura is a bookaholic and tennis tragic. She became entangled in publishing after reading Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and ‘stealing’ The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss from her father’s bookshelves as a teenager. She has worked as a bookseller, sales rep, publicist and freelance editor. In 2006, Frontrunner Publishing released her DIY guide to publicity for small business, Make the Media Work for You. However, she is forever indebted to the RWA for giving her the courage and the tools to write the stories she wants to tell. The Wild Rose Press will publish her first romance in 2018.

Visit Laura’s website, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, or find her on Facebook and Goodreads.




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