Friday, October 05, 2007

Houses Divided

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.



Mark Terry said...

So I guess that sums up nicely why when the publishing industry consolidates--like when Bertelsmann became Random, Inc. here in the states--that it wasn't a good thing for authors and agents because the number of markets essentially shrank.

Whenever I read something like the fact that Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time" was rejected by 101 editors, I have to wonder what would happen today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Can an agent submit a project to more than one editor in an imprint? If it's not right for the editor you thought, but might something another editor is interested in? How is this handled?

bob said...

Very interesting, I admit I always thought each line acted by itself even though they fell under the umbrella and thinking that the various imprints sort of opened more doors instead of closing your chances.

Thank God for agents who get all this :o)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Jessica. I've been wondering: my novel had a nice turn-down at Random House Trade Paperbacks, part of the Random House Publishing Group. Can an agent still submit it to Knopf or Doubleday, for instance? I think so, but I'm not sure.

Matt Osborne said...

Let me see if I understand this correctly by trying an analogy. Publishing groups are like General Motors; publishing houses are like Buick, Pontiac, Cadillac, etc., all companies within GM; and imprints are like models of car, i.e. Chevrolet makes the Malibu and the Impala. Writers can submit to GM, to Buick AND Pontiac, but not to Malibu AND Impala.

Or am I just confusing myself more?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Sorry I didn't make myself clear. Usually the same editors within a house can buy for all imprints. Therefore if you've sent to one publishing house (within the conglomerate) you can't send to other editors within that house. You can however submit to different houses within a conglomerate.

And Matt. You nailed it. That's exactly how it works.


Anonymous said...

I would guess that this is all about market segmentation and specialty, but why would one company have two imprints that appear to compete with each other? Is a lot of this a matter of history as well as the lay of the market?

Anonymous said...

First time here, but I'm impressed by how friendly & helpful you are.
I've got a question that hopefully you haven't covered yet: is it O.K. to submit a self-published book for a query in lieu of the manuscript? I'm talking about one that hasn't been offered for sale by the author, since it seems to me a more convenient way of packaging and gives a stronger visual of what the actual product could look like.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of a couple of blog entries from the CEO of Thomas Nelson on imprints:

Anonymous said...

Sorry ... looks like the links didn't publish completely. You can find the entries at:

Search for imprints.

Heather Wardell said...

9:47PM anonymous:

I can't speak for Jessica, but I know I've read on several agent blogs that they do NOT want to see the manuscript in book format. This seems to be partly because they're used to reading standard sheets of paper, and partly because a book that appears to be self-published makes them think it's been for sale, even if you do say that it hasn't been.

Basically, it's best to follow the agent's rules and recommendations for submissions. If they wanted a formatted book, they'd ask, but I've never seen one ask.

Anonymous said...

Different houses seem to have different rules about that. For instance, when I did my auction, we found out that NAL and Berkley have a policy of not bidding against each other, but different Random House publishers can. However, I'm going to bet that someone else has been in a case where they say they CAN'T. Aamazing how the rules sometimes change. ;-)

Also, editors within a conglomerate can pass books between them.