I’ve been asked more than once lately how imprints function within publishing houses. Are they independent publishers or one entity within a house, and how should writers know at which houses and at which imprints you can submit to simultaneously?
Last things first: Luckily writers don’t need to know because it’s damn confusing and there are days when I need to call Jacky and Kim and ask for a refresher. If I submit to Crown, can I still submit to Ballantine? What about NAL Heat and Berkley Heat or Pocket and Atria? Well, it is my job to keep it all straight, and while I’m not going to give you the entire breakdown of every publishing house, I am going to explain it a little.
Before we begin, what is an imprint? An imprint is essentially the line under which a book is published. Imprints are usually formed as a way for a publishing house to distinguish the types of books published under that line. Let’s use Berkley (my first job in publishing) as an example. Berkley is a publishing house under the Penguin USA umbrella. Berkley has several imprints—Berkley, Jove, Berkley Prime Crime, Sensation, Heat, Jam, Caliber, and others that I can’t remember. Berkley and Jove are essentially top-name authors and books that will garner special attention—bestsellers or books that might not fall under the other imprints. Prime Crime is the mystery imprint, primarily cozy mysteries in Berkley’s case. Sensation is romance, Heat is erotic romance, Jam is YA, and Caliber is military oriented. If you submit to one Berkley imprint you have submitted to them all. Berkley is one house with many imprints. Penguin is the overall corporation.
However, it is possible to submit to Berkley Heat and NAL Heat at the same time. While both are houses within the Penguin conglomerate and both are under similar sounding imprints, they work separately. The trick here is that if you have submitted to two houses within the same conglomerate (whether it is Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.) and get an offer from one, you need to let the other house know that the offer is from a house within their own system. It’s unlikely they will compete against each other. In other words, if Berkley Heat offers first, often NAL Heat will drop out of the auction. Not always, but usually. After all, it doesn’t make sense for the publishing conglomerate to spend money competing against itself. If they are all really excited about the book, they might actually have a discussion about which house within the conglomerate the book would be better for and allow that house to take the lead in bidding.
To summarize (and confuse you further), you cannot usually submit to multiple imprints within a publishing house, but you can submit to multiple houses within the master publishing conglomerate.