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What Is a Publishing Imprint?

by | May 31, 2024

Content Manager

Ara Koetts

Ara Koetts, a leading voice at Voxtury.com, specializes in AI content creation, blending technology with creativity. Her insights into AI's impact on storytelling and ethical considerations make her a pivotal figure for anyone exploring digital innovation. Ara's work is a guiding light in the dynamic world of content creation, inspiring confidence and curiosity in her readers.

What Is a Publishing Imprint

Have you ever wanted to buy a book that was said to be published under a specific publishing house, but once you got to the bookstore, a different name was on the cover? You most likely have, as it’s a common practice in the publishing world, and it does not mean that there are two books with the same title.

This is known as a publishing imprint.

What is an imprint, and why do publishing companies use it? That (and more) is what we will be talking about here.

Publishing Imprint – What Is It

So, what are imprints in publishing?

To put it simply, a publishing imprint is the trade name under which a publishing house publishes a book. Books are typically redirected to a specific imprint based on one of three things – the genre of the book, the target audience or the topic.

It’s important to note that the name of the publishing company and the imprint don’t have to be the same. Very often, the same company actually operates a number of different imprints – dozens, if not hundreds of them.

A great example of that is HarperCollins Publishers, which, as of now, has over 120 publishing imprints and assigns one to a book depending on the genre it belongs to. For instance, their romance books are published under Avon Books despite the fact that HarperCollins is the “main” publisher. So, if you pick any of the romance novels published by HarperCollins, the name included under “Publisher” will more than likely be Avon Books.

Another good example is Penguin Random House, which actually has over 300 publishing imprints and is continuously acquiring more.

Penguin is known for publishing literary works that have earned their status as classics by surviving the test of time. They have a very recognizable design, with black spines and paintings on the front, so you more than likely have seen them, if not in a bookstore, then at university. Maybe you even own one yourself, considering how common they are.

Despite being part of Penguin Random House’s collection, when you take a closer look at the cover, you won’t see that name anywhere – instead, Penguin Classics will be written, as that’s the publishing imprint that specialises in this specific genre of books.

Why Are Publishing Imprints Used

There are a few reasons why publishing imprints have become a staple in the book world, but the most obvious answer is marketing.

Focusing on a specific genre and/or audience makes devising an effective marketing strategy much easier than catering to a very diverse target audience that reacts to different types of advertising. With a smaller group of people you are trying to cater to, it is easier to see which marketing efforts are working and which ones not as much and might require a change.

The same goes for social media trends. Nowadays, a major part of advertising is preparing a social media campaign using popular trends. This is especially visible on TikTok, where brand accounts race with time to jump on a trend before the hype around it dies down – however, not all trends are created equal, and one that works, for example, for romance novels, might not be the best fit for crime thrillers.

When having different publishing imprints, and therefore most likely separate marketing teams, it becomes easier to assess how suitable the specific trend is for the readers you’re trying to reach and hop on it just in time than when you have to manage a number of different book categories and target audiences. Not to mention, more users will be inclined to follow a social media account if they focus on a specific genre of books.

It also allows them to pursue new business opportunities while not diluting the already established brand. For example, imagine that there’s a company that mainly focuses on publishing books for children and young adults. However, they discovered great potential in also offering romance books – publishing them under different publishing imprints allows them to experiment while distinguishing their main brand from the more narrow categories they’re exploring.

Sometimes, a publishing house will acquire a smaller publisher and integrate it into its network and operations. While, of course, they can just start re-publishing the books that were already published by the acquired publisher, what often happens is the name of the smaller publishing house becomes an imprint of the larger company, making it easier to preserve the legacy and the relationships they build overtime despite new ownership.

Finally, if you are a self-published author that uses their own imprint, you are adding a certain prestige to your publication. There are some people who will be more likely to read your book when they see a publisher’s name rather than it being labeled as published by Amazon or independently published. Additionally, when you have your own imprint, you can offer it to other authors so they too, can publish under it.

Why Understand Publishing Imprints as an Author

Woman choosing book from bookshelf

If you’re wondering if knowing about publishing imprints is important to you as an author, the answer is yes – and there are several reasons for that. However, the main one is that makes the pitching process easier and increases your chances of obtaining a positive response from a publisher.

Let’s say you’re writing a romance novel. You are trying to pitch to two literary agents, knowing that one of them works directly with a publishing imprint focusing on the romance genre while the other works for a more diverse company that puts out a number of genres, one of which is romance. While there’s no guarantee that it will be chosen, your chances are looking better with the one focusing on your specific genre.

Another reason why it’s good to familiarise yourself with publishing imprints and do your research is to avoid pitching to an imprint that does not publish books within your genre, as it’s very, and we mean very, unlikely that you will obtain a positive result.

Continuing with the romance novel example – you wouldn’t want to pitch it to a publishing imprint that only publishes crime thrillers or literary classics, would you? Technically, you can, but since they don’t carry your genre, the chances for a positive response are minimal.

The process of finding a book publisher is already time-consuming, so there’s no reason to add more to your plate if the chances for success are not looking good.

Can Self-Published Authors Have a Publishing Imprint?

This is a bit of a tricky question. Technically, yes, self-published authors can also create their own publishing imprint. However, to be able to use it, they need to buy a unique identifier known as an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for their book.

An ISBN is needed either way, as that’s what libraries, bookstores, online retailers, etc., use to order books. However, specifically when it comes to using a publishing imprint, you have to pay to acquire one – you cannot use the free one given to you by a distributor like Amazon, as in that case, instead of having your publishing imprint, your book will be listed as “independently published”.

As a self-published author who wants to have their own publishing imprint, it’s best to make that decision before the publishing process begins or in its initial stages.

How to Acquire a Publishing Imprint

The process is actually quite straightforward:

  1. Come up with a name – There’s a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing your publishing imprint, but there are a few rules you need to follow, with the most important one being you can only use names that are either not trademarked, or you own a trademark for. Some authors use their own name as a publishing imprint.
  2. Make sure your imprint is good to go – This involves doing research to ensure no one else, whether they’re just an individual or a publishing company, uses the publishing imprint you want to use. We would also recommend taking a look at the Federal trademark databases to ensure that there won’t be any trademark infringement.
  3. Register the imprint – This is optional. Self-published authors very often do not register their publishing imprints, but if you’re planning on using the same imprint on your future books, registering it, for example, by filing a DBA (doing business as), might be something you want to consider.

If you’re a traditionally published author, then the matter is a bit different, as your publishing company is the one that assigns you an imprint – you will most probably be added to one that focuses on your specific genre, but different companies might have different criteria for assigning publishing imprints.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, publishing imprints are not anything new in the publishing industry. They have been, are, and most likely will continue to be used by both publishing houses and self-published authors – for several reasons.

The main one for the publishers is that it allows publishers to expand and target new audiences and genres while distinguishing it from their “main” brand. Self-published authors, on the other hand, can add prestige to their publications without having to go through the traditional publishing route.

A publishing imprint could be considered a tool that helps make your book better and more credible to certain audiences, just like an online editing tool helps you make your copy more engaging and delete any typos. For that reason, it’s definitely work considering – the final decision, however, is up to you.


At Voxtury, we prioritize using high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to ensure our articles are accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. To learn more about our commitment to quality and how we fact-check our content, please visit our editorial process page.

  1. Wikipedia – Imprint (trade name)
  2. Medium – What’s the Difference Between an Imprint and Publisher Name?
  3. Masters in Marketing – What is an Imprint?
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