Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Do You Notice Imprints?

Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who sent in suggestions for the blog, they should keep me busy for the next few months. You people are very smart and your suggestions similarly glisten with your prodigious collective wit and wisdom: the people have spoken, and the people want monkeys. Actually they want more inside dish.

A few things to keep in mind as you wonder why in the world I'm not blogging about my juicy horror stories: since this is not an anonymous blog I am thusly constrained by the fact that people know who I am, where I work, and even though I know karate I don't really fancy people coming into my office and testing my skills in revenge for a nasty blog post. Especially since I'm lying about knowing karate.

Oh, and one more thing -- there were some suggestions that I point out trends and things like that. While I'm happy to point out trends that I think are very funny, as I posted a few weeks back I don't really follow trends that closely, nor do I think you should. If you follow the trends too closely you're going to be behind the curve on the next trend. However, if you want to get a sense of the big new books that are going to be coming out in the future, Buzz Girl's blog is a great resource.

And now, in keeping with the week of feedback, here's this week's You Tell Me.

So, not sure if you've noticed, but publishing has a very curious system where the name of an "imprint" is listed on the jacket of the book, usually at the base of the spine (i.e. Nan A. Talese, Crown, Dutton, etc. etc.). This is not necessarily the company that published the book, it's called the "imprint." It may be the publisher or it may be a division within a publisher or it may be a division within a division of a publisher. And if this sounds confusing it took me my first two years in publishing just to sort all this out.

By way of example, the US division of Random House, the biggest publisher, is divided into groups (i.e. Doubleday Broadway, Crown, Random House Children's, Knopf, etc.). Within those groups are imprints. So, within Doubleday Broadway you have not only the Doubleday and Broadway imprints, but also Flying Dolphin, Nan A. Talese, Currency, and several others. Confused? Good!

Now, one of the main reasons these imprints exist is that each has its own unique character. For instance, the Nan A. Talese imprint (headed by none other than publishing icon and living legend Nan Talese), is known for its incredible literary merit. Harlequin has imprints divided by categories of romance. So when an agent is shopping a project, it helps to match the project with the right imprint, and similarly, booksellers can use imprints as a sort of shorthand to get a sense of which type of books will come from a publisher.

Well. Late last year the publisher Thomas Nelson dissolved its imprints!! Thomas Nelson CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt told PW, "The only ones who care about imprints are publishers, and they are expensive to maintain." Thomas Nelson is now reorganized as an imprint-free zone.

So here's the thing about imprints: in a world where it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a self-published book and a book from a commercial publisher, it seems like imprints really could function as a brand. If consumers were aware that they existed they could be a way of distinguishing between a book that carries the investment of a mainstream publisher and a self-published book. On the other hand, while it is sometimes helpful for me to know where to shop a book, maybe this is just an inside baseball thing.

You tell me -- do you notice an imprint when you are buying a book? Has the name on the spine (the imprint, not the author) ever influenced one of your book buying decisions?

Discuss!






45 comments:

Gerri said...

I usually do notice, and yes, it can make a difference. I'm more likely to pick up a Tor for fantasy, and, sad to say, avoid Baen simply because I don't enjoy military science fiction. Knowing the type of story each imprint specializes in does help me make choices. I know Luna will be doing light female-oriented fantasy. Roc will be darker female-oriented fantasy.

BTW, that also helps me as a writer, too, knowing which imprint likes what. Helps me target a bit better, and it helps me choose which agents to approach.

Anonymous said...

I read mainly historical fiction. And no, it's never influenced me. Maybe because, unlike fantasy, there's no one good imprint to go to for good Roman stories, or good Egyptian stories, or great Victorian era stories.

Anonymous said...

Never.

Gabriele C. said...

I usually don't even notice the publisher, let alone an imprint. I buy authors, and according to reviews (preferably on blogs where I know the blogger's taste), and sometimes blurb + browsing (the Amazon Search Inside feature is really helpful).

What I write can best be described as epic historical fiction with male MCs and quite some fighting, I don't think there are many agents for that anyway - I should probably contact the one who represents Bernard Cornwell. :)

Christopher M. Park said...

For genre fiction, yes I do notice the imprint, and yes it has had an influence on my decision to buy several books by authors I wasn't familiar with. For non-genre fiction, and especially for nonfiction, I've never noticed it whatsoever. For those, I couldn't even tell you who the publisher is on most of those.

For me, non-genre fiction has to be really captivating for me to be interested. That comes from the book jacket and reading a little bit inside (usually I flip to a random page somewhere in the middle and see how the writing is there). For nonfiction, it's totally based on what I can find in the TOC, and how good the content looks for the chapters I am most interested in (I read/own a lot of programming books).

Genre fiction is different, because I care less about the ideas and more about the caliber of the writer. Within sci-fi and fantasy, almost any idea is interesting if done well. But that means the writer has to be a good storyteller, and they have to actually have good quality writing. If it's published by a major imprint, that's a good sign, and that helps get me motivated to actually crack open that book in the store and see what the interior quality looks like.

That doesn't always work, but it's a good rule of thumb, and usually there are way more books available than I have time to read or money to buy. So, when in doubt, I check my favorite imprints first. But this is just in those cases when I'm not looking for a specific author, which trumps all else.

Chris

Lauren said...

I notice imprints, but that came with the package of my overwhelming publishing industry geekery. When I notice a book's imprint, I try to guess who the author's editor is, then check the acknowledgements to see if I'm right. Bonus points if I can guess the agent, too. Did I mention geekery?

I do have uses for imprints beyond nerdiness, though. I check my favorite imprints' websites to see what they'll be releasing in the coming months. I like Riverhead Books for contemporary fiction, and Speak (Penguin) and PUSH (Scholastic) for YA fiction.

I have a friend, a middle school teacher, who's not a writer or nerd but who also keeps her eye on PUSH's new releases. I have another friend who's very much into Harlequin's Red Dress Ink imprint. She knows the logo, and if she sees it on a spine, she's likely to pull that book off a shelf and consider buying it. When I was a kid, the first chapter books I read were Beverly Cleary's Ramona books. They were under the Dell Yearling imprint, and whenever I saw another book at the bookstore that had the Yearling picture at the top, I would grab it, thinking that if it had that picture, it might be as good as Ramona! Imprints -- particularly well-branded ones -- can be sources of comfort if you happen to be the sort who gets overwhelmed in bookstores.

jessie said...

I notice imprints, but I work in the cataloging department of a library and am therefore paid to notice such things.

Anonymous said...

I can honsetly say that I've never noticed an imprint or publisher until after I've already read the book and enjoyed it. Then I may use the imprint to look for similar books, but usually the information falls out of my head and I end up picking books based on reviews or recommendations.

That said, it is good information to have when one is submitting.

julan

Annalee said...

I think publisher influences me more than imprint.

For instance, one of my buddies jokingly referrs to me as a Tor Wh*** because I'm more likely to pick up a book with that little mountain logo on the spine than I am to pick up one without (especially where SF is concerned). It's not that I've read every book that Tor's ever put out, but they've established a good track record with me. If I'm on the fence about a book, the Tor logo makes it more likely that I'll part with my cash.

But that doesn't really work for ginormous houses like Penguin or Random House, because on their own they're far too large to develop an individual 'flavor' the way that houses like Tor and Baen have. I feel like imprints, used correctly, can help them do that.

Nathan Bransford said...

Annalee-

I like Tor books as well. Interesting note: Tor is actually an imprint within Tom Doherty Associates LLC, which is a group within Holtzbrink, the larger company that also is the parent company of St. Martins, Palgrave MacMillan and others. It's really a full-time job just keeping these imprint/parent company relations straight.

Heather Janes said...

I usually don't notice publisher or imprint. Probably will now, though. Titles and/or author names are what catches my attention.

Kim Stagliano said...

Not really. When I started writing I did start paying to attention to who published the writers in my genre, but even then, I can't really categorize imprints. Reading Jeff Herman's book taught me a lot about how the imprints specialize though which only made the process more frightening to me! I will rely on my agent to figure out that part - which imprints work for my MS. Great question!

original bran fan said...

I notice author and title first, publisher second, and imprint within the publisher only as a curosity after I've already bought or borrowed the book.

I'm pretty sure non-writers do not care one bit. They have favorite authors, not favorite publishers. As far as imprints go? A non-writer would not be able to tell you what an imprint is nor why they should care. It doesn't change the reading experience so what does it matter?

When a good reader (not a writer)recommends a book to me, and I ask who published it, I get a blank stare. Try it yourself. You'll see.

Jennifer McK said...

The only time I pay attention to "imprints" (which is a term I just learned to day. Thanks) is when I'm researching a line to submit something to. Otherwise, I'm an author loyal reader.
I have to say that there are books that have a "brand"
Ellora's Cave black and gold covers grab my attention before anything else. Otherwise, I'm pretty author specific.

Demon Hunter said...

Nathan,
To be honest, I mostly look at the story itself. Of course, I also look at the house the book was published, but then again, I'm familiar with the imprints. I think the average reader could care less unless they are in the industry (writer, agent, editor). Most folks check out the covers, that's what pulls you in first, I think. Usually if I see an awful cover, I don't pick up the book.

Liz said...

When I was buying books for YA at the library, I did look for certain imprints. PUSH has been mentioned and there are others that would be an automatic selection and dumped into my B & T shopping cart. It was a quick and easy way to identify books of a similar vein.

As a reader, I rely less on imprints, and sad to say more on cover style and author.

The trade size books by certain authors, like Philippa Gregory, have a look that makes me want to grab it and run to the nearest check out lane. Same thing with dark covers showing a back..those are almost always paranormal. Don't have too many pink or pastel spines on my bookshelf.

However, in the course of perusing the book I always check out the imprint. I've got a lot of ACE Fantasy (Charlaine Harris), Harper Torch (Kim Harrison) and Warner Fantasy (Carrie Vaughn).

Anonymous said...

This was too good a question to pass.

I notice one imprint, Virago, because of the lovely bitten apple that's on the spine, and also because I know they publish excellent books.

So a title like Kissing the Witch and the apple is all I need, even if I've never heard of the author.

/Agnieszka

Ps. Great blog! :)

Don said...

I used to, and thinking about the question between seeing the headline in the RSS reader and actually reading the post, I realized that a big part of the difference has been the shift from buying in bookstores to buying on-line. I have to admit also to having some elitism in my imprints (e.g., I'd choose the Penguin edition of a book over any other paperback given the choice (say, for something by Dickens). It still matters in non-fiction fields (particularly for computer and math books), but in fictino, I'm much less focused on imprints than I was in my youth.

Nonny said...

I primarily read genre fiction, and I almost always notice. Different imprints have different "styles" of fiction they tend to publish. Like, I don't buy much from Baen because they publish primarily military science fiction and light fantasy, but I read Roc because they publish a lot of dark urban fantasy.

When it comes to genre romance, though, the imprints are necessary. Romance readers would be very pissed off if HQ, for instance, dissolved theirs.

dana p said...

I never notice imprints.

amy said...

I pay absolutely NO attention to imprint or publisher. I also don't tend to browse in bookstores at all. Almost everything I read (100 books/year) is a recommendation from a friend or a blog or a review. Or in the case of non-fiction, I search for the topic on amazon and browse there, relying heavily on reader reviews, which I prefer to industry reviews. Not only does the publisher not weigh into the decision at all, but I don't even know who the publisher is for any of my favorite books.

Anonymous said...

Never notice. Don't care. It's the content of the book, and sometimes the quality of production (if a coffee table book, obviously I want nice pics and sturdy binding), that matters to me. :)

Olga said...

i notice and recognize imprints, but they don't influence my choice of books.

Anonymous said...

Not until reading your blog today.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I was going to say, nope. Never notice.

But at one of my favorite book trading sites (go on and shoot me. I can't be any deader than a local store owner's made me over this subject), we trade Red Dress Ink books specifically. You sort of know what to expect with a Red Dress Ink book; it's a successful imprint in that regard.

Otherwise, nope. I don't pay attention to imprints.

Anonymous said...

I read a lot of literary fiction and some mystery/sci fi and I never, ever, ever pay attention to imprints, or even publishers. It's only the small presses that are (sometimes) associated in my mind with certain types of writing.

Anonymous said...

I search for ones that deal with my genre while keeping a beady eye on Chicken House whose director discovered JK Rowling.

Kyle said...

I'm more likely to pick up a Tor book for SF&F, just because some of my favorite authors have come from there. Other than that I don't notice.

Anonymous said...

Never...

...up until last summer, when I realised that I hated every book I'd ever read that was put out by Luna books.

Now, I just skip Luna books. Other than that, however, the answer is no. I don't care who put out the book; I only care whether it's a good book.

Word veri: gilkygu - I don't know what it is, but it sounds like you'd need to wash afterward.

A Paperback Writer said...

I do notice imprints and publishers, but -- so far-- this has never influenced whether or not I buy the book with anything written in the last 50 years. HOWEVER, in public domain books, it does have an effect. I purposely seek out Oxford World Classics much of the time because I like the background info they generally include.

Janet said...

I rarely notice them at all, and it has never influenced a buying decision.

Now that I am becoming more aware of the nuts and bolts of publishing, I am starting to notice them occasionally. But still, I'm much more interested in the name of the author than that of the imprint.

Thomas Nelson is probably right; if imprints are expensive to maintain, they probably aren't worth it.

emilymissesgilda said...

YEs, especially when they are unshaved during summer tank top season. SO unattractive. And when they have that white icky stuff on from Secret around them? Grosserama. What? Imprints? Oh. NEvermind.

May said...

I do notice.

I just do. I'm more likely to buy Tor/Roc/Ace then Baen, for instance.

I'm also more likely to buy a Berkley Sensation or Signet Eclipse romance than a Brava one, for instance.

beth said...

I do. Since I won't publish with a self publisher, I don't tend to read books made with a self publisher. But I do look at who's published more than who the imprint is. In fact, sometimes I will look at an imprint, not know it, and check the publisher.

Richard F. said...

When looking for new books to read, I typically look at the author last. First I'll read the back of the book, then I'll look at the imprint, then any review blurbs and who they are from, then finally the author. As an aspiring author myself, I have to hope that new authors can write as good a story as a seasoned ones, but I can't help but put faith in imprints I know carry my prefered styles of book.

Roxan said...

I notice and don't pay any attention unless I know it is the imprint of a romance publisher, then I quickly run the other way. LOL

Dave said...

If I really want the book, if I adore the author's writing and want to get emotionally involved in the book, then I look at how it is bound and the imprint and all that stuff.

Otherwise, I only want a book not to fall apart in my hands.

Maya Reynolds said...

Since vanity presses have started paying to place their books in bookstores, I pay more attention than I once did. Burn me once and never again.

I am drawn first to the author's name, if I recognize it. If I don't recognize it, I look at the cover and title. Then I pick it up and flip to the description. If I'm still interested, I check the imprint and ONLY THEN do I read the first paragraph. If the book has passed all these quality checks :) I carry it around until I've assured myself that there is nothing else I would rather buy.

I take my book buying seriously.

David said...

I do notice imprints, but my reaction to them is usually depression:

"Oh, God, that used to be a fine, independent publisher, but now only its name survives as an imprint of the great monster that swallowed it decades ago! Sob."

Scott said...

I don't usually notice the imprint. The only time it matters to me is when I'm buying classics (a good chunk of my book purchases) and there multiple choices. I usually trust Penguin or Everyman's Library, so I'll pick something from one of those over a competitor.

But if I want to read a good story, I care most about the author and can be attracted to a good back cover blurb, and almost never base my choice on the imprint, which I don't usually notice.

Laurel Amberdine said...

I do notice imprints, but it wasn't deliberate. When I began to organize my books by publisher/imprint, because it, um... looked better that way, I noticed how certain kinds of books would clump together.

I also noticed how the quality of certain imprints changed over the years.

Personally, I wish I could search for books by editor. That would be telling.

I suppose search-by-agent would be interesting too. :)

j h woodyatt said...

I used to not care about imprints. Now that I've got enough real estate to house a proper book collection, I've noticed that some imprints are a lot more common in my library than others. That makes me visit the web sites for those imprints to learn what else is coming from those people.

Sean Lindsay said...

I think imprints work as brands if they stand for something. Hard Case Crime is an excellent example of this. It's a great way of targeting a dedicated group of readers (as long as the books are consistently good, and the focus doesn't wander), and making the ad dollar stretch further, but I suspect it limits the opportunities for any individual book to have breakout, mainstream success.

Anonymous said...

As a writer on the lookout for possible homes for my work, I'd have to say that I do, in fact, notice the imprint. The logo on the spine does not influence my buying decision, but I always, always look at it to see who is publishing what.

Anonymous said...

Six Year Old Post Gets Comment!
OP Flabbergasted!

Imprints were very important to me as a child wandering library stacks, as they readily identified books at my reading level. I would have been lost without my little puffin guides.

Same for kids today, I'm sure.
~V~

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