Thursday, September 25, 2008

know your imprints!

I got via Jonathan Lyons this awesome series of posts by Sarah Weinman over at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. Sarah has basically gone and done all the research on all the major houses and put forth descriptions of all their imprints and what they do.

Call this your agent cheat sheet.

Part I: Macmillan
Part II: S&S
Part III: Hachette
Part IV: HarperCollins
Part V: Penguin Group
Part VI: Random House

(Be forewarned: this isn't everyone. There are a couple of huge houses missing, and this doesn't even try to cover distribution systems or unaffiliated indies. But this is a great intro to how we, in publishing, kind of see ourselves, and also, in Sarah's unsparing words, to just how ridiculous some of our interior systems are. Definitely worth reading, since knowing the biggies is a jumping-off point to understanding the whole thing. If anyone actually does.)

Before you thoroughly study these lists, though, try a little experiment (this, I think, is especially helpful for people who either want to be published or work in publishing). Ready?

1) Go to your bookshelf.

2) Pick out your 10 or 20 favorite books and put them in a rough order.

3) Turn them all spine out.

4) Notice any themes? Is there a particular imprint that occurs again and again?

I know there's a theme to my bookshelf. It's very funny. I realized by turning my books spine-out what three of my dream jobs would be... and also three of my dream imprints to have publish my book (you know, when I get around to writing one, har har).

Tell me! What are your top three?


Charles Gramlich said...

This should be handy. That turning the books out and looking for connections is a good idea. I'll try that.

clindsay said...

Her post on Random House imprints is surprisingly inaccurate, however. (Having worked there until recently, I spotted numerous errors).

Some of the other posts also contain errors.

I like Sarah's journalism normally, but I was surprised by how many mistakes are evident in these posts.

moonrat said...

Colleen--I fear I'm woefully ignorant about imprints in general (it's funny how little you see from the inside looking out). I'd be interested to hear your corrections.

Whirlochre said...

This is all very useful.

As for my spines, most of my favourites are old 70s Coronet paperbacks.

Call it my 'Snoopy' phase.

clindsay said...

Moonrat -

When I have a little more free time, I'll try to write something that makes sense. :-)

As much as anything in publishing CAN makes sense...


Kerry said...


lotsa paperbacks cuz I'm cheap.

Mary said...

I expected Tor to dominate my list, but turns out there were only a couple in my top 15. Instead, a large selection were DAW. The rest were scattered about various imprints. The only connection being a romantic subplot. No wonder romance plays a big part in my own fantasy.

writtenwyrdd said...

Cool stuff!

Sarah Weinman said...

Thanks, all, though I do want to reiterate one thing: I did not intend this series to be gospel or the final say, more what my impressions as someone who, having covered a small speck of the business and is interested in what imprints do mean vs. what they should mean. Ideally this would work a great deal better as a wiki-style page where multiple people can go in and edit and make this as accurate and as possible. So to all (hi, Colleen!) if you have corrections to make, send them my way - or better yet, let's get that wiki started...

moonrat said...

oh my gosh, a wiki would be GREAT. seriously, i dont have time, but someone else get that going!!!

Jolie said...

I can't articulate why you always hold my attention so well, but I had to rush straight to my bookshelf.

For the most part, the publishers/imprints are totally scattered. However, two of my favorite books (The Commitment by Dan Savage and More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss) are by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin. The books are totally different, though!

I also pulled out The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (Viking) to reread. It's been several years, and I don't remember a lot, but I remember liking the book.

Precie said...

Well, would you look at that! While there was a scattering, three publishers clearly rose to the fore in my stacks.

Vintage (Random House imprint)


Precie said...

Hey, this will help me sort through my TBR bookcase when I just can't figure out what to start next. Clearly, I'm Random House's Vintage b!tch.

And, oh yes, Random House-Knopf-Vintage would be my dream publisher. But to even dream of it feels presumptuous.

clindsay said...

WIKI! (say three times fast!)

Julianne Douglas said...

My books cover many of the houses, but there is quite a high percentage of Vintage in the mix.

Thanks for linking to Sarah's informative posts! Now when my agent tells me who she's submitting to, I might have a clue what she's talking about. :) And I'd love to hear what Colleen has to say about Random House.

clindsay said...

Hmm, okay - starting with the Random House post:

Random House, Inc. is the overall name of the US-based publishing parent company. It owns all the separate and distinct companies that fall under it, including the publishing group named after it (which is a separate entity). They share the sales department (which is new; they used to all have their own sales force), the HT department, the accounts payable and receivables departments, the distribution center and the convention services department. Everything else operates separately.

For instance, The Random House Publishing Group - which is comprised of what was once called Little Random (to separate the imprint from the parent company) and Ballantine. Technically, this is a separate company with imprints falling under it: Random House, RH Trade Paperback, Villard, Modern Library, Ballantine, Del Rey, Del Rey Manga, Fawcett (technically a dead imprint but the backlist exists and is being re-absorbed into other imprints), Ivy (same as above).

Little Random was a publishing group with a distinct and prestigious identity that also happened to run in the red almost every year. The reason for this was they had no backlist: no paperback imprint.

Ballantine was a RH-owned company that was merged into the larger Random House world when Berteslmann bought Random House, Inc. When Gina Centrello was brought in to run Ballantine after Linda Grey was let go, the company started doing very well commercially. They'd made a decision to start publishing hardcovers a few years previously so as not to become reliant upon other publishing groups to feed their backlist. Ironically, Ann Godoff at Little Random had no backlist; she ran a hardcover imprint whose backlist was funneled to Vintage, Three Rivers, Ballantine, etc. She wanted a paperback imprint of her own to stop this from happening. She finally started one about a year before her departure from Little Random.

One of the reasons floating around for her dismissal was that the imprint was making any money, but in all fairness to Ann, the paperback imprint hadn't existed long enough to earn out yet.

So, the axe fell and Ballantine was merged with Little Random, because it was hoped that Ballantine could pull Little Random out of the red.

When the announcement was made, there was a lot of bad press about Gina Centrello, press that was - in my humble opinion - quite unfair. She was being asked to do something that was almost impossible, and somehow she became the bad guy in the public eye. People thought she was responsible for Ann's being fired, which was completely untrue. It was all Peter.

Unfortunately, a number of things that Ballantine had going for it as a strictly commercial house didn't work when Little Random came aboard. A number of Ballantine employees were let go and replaced with Random House employees, many of whom didn't get commercial publishing at all and bad decisions were made. And Ballantine finally lost it's identity completely when it was decided that the new publishing group would bear the name "Random House Publishing Group". Even the Ballantine Reader's Circle - the first imprint in the country to create reader's guide for books and then bind them into the backs of the books - had it's name removed.

The fallout from those decisions has continued to hurt the new publishing group to this day.

Now, onto Bantam Dell: Really, it's safe to think of Bantam Dell as the mirror of Ballantine pre-Bertelsmann. Bantam Dell served the same function: a wholly commercial house

Knopf: Well, this is an interesting conundrum. The majority of Knopf titles have never made money. They rely on a few key authors for income. For instance, although they are known as the "literary" house, their biggest money makers are writers like Anne Rice. Also, took over Vintage and Anchor from other publishing groups, two strong paperback imprints that bring in a substantial revenue stream. (Doubleday is still angry about Anchor being taken away and dropped in Sonny's lap, by the way.)

Doubleday: Yes, I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw that the new Doubleday logo is just the old Ballantine logo cut in half. Weirdest branding decision ever. But you're incorrect about the Anchor thing as I mentioned above. Anchor was Doubleday's beloved child until corporate literally handed the whole line over to Knopf. Nobody to this day understands that decision.

A couple of publishing groups you didn't touch upon: Random House Kids (the most profitable group in Random House, Inc.); The Random House Information Group (travel, reference and - I think now - mass merch outlet stuff); The Random House Audio Group; and somewhere in there the new RH film group.

Hope some of that was helpful. I'll try to write a little more about some of the other publishing companies at another time.