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Susan Brown

Imprinting Appeal: Publisher's Imprints as Readers' Advisory Tool

by Susan Brown

*This article originally appeared in the April issue of RA News. Subscribe to RA News and any of our other newsletters.*

All good readers' advisors are speed readers. It's not that they are students of Evelyn Wood; it's just that they know how to read a book in ten minutes. This technique allows readers' advisors to broaden their knowledge base without attempting the impossible task of reading every book ever published from cover to cover. It involves examining the physical book -- the cover art, the jacket copy, the length of the chapters, etc. -- and determining what type of book it is and what its appeal factors might be. Is it a fast-paced thriller or a multi-layered historical novel? Does the book's appeal lie in its setting or its characters? A cursory but skillful appraisal of a book can help a readers' advisor expand their personal book inventory and put that book in the right reader's hands.

When using this technique, don't forget the title page. There you can find the information about the book's publisher and often the imprint under which it is published. An understanding of publishing imprints, especially more narrowly focused imprints, can be a valuable tool in a readers' advisory toolbox.

An imprint is essentially a subsidiary of a publishing house. An imprint may have formerly been a standalone publishing house that was purchased by a larger company. For example, Farrar Strauss Giroux was a publishing house founded in the 1940s. In the 1990s, a majority interest of the company was sold to Holzbrinck, which is now the parent company of MacMillan. Farrar Strauss Giroux is now considered an imprint of MacMillan.

An imprint may publish books in a certain niche or target them at a particular market. Farrar Strauss Giroux is known as a literary fiction imprint, featuring authors such as Denis Johnson, Amy Waldman, and Jamaica Kincaid. Tor is another imprint of MacMillan that publishes a wide range of science fiction and fantasy titles. In fact, Tor is an imprint so large that it has its own imprints -- Tor Orb for backlist, Tor Teen, and even Tor Kids.

Some imprints have a much more narrow focus, publishing books in a certain genre or subgenre. While a grasp of imprints in general can help you better understand the history and structure of the publishing industry, knowledge of these smaller imprints can help you understand genres you don't tend to read in, so that you can better serve readers who enjoy those genres.

What follows is a select list of imprints that have helped me better serve readers. The first two are favorites because they publish in areas where I tend to read, while the second two are helpful because they produce books in areas that lie outside of my personal preferences.

Soho Crime 

Soho Crime Black

The appeal of crime fiction for many is the action-packed plots and appealing series characters. For those crime fiction readers specifically enjoy foreign settings, rich cultural details, and a more literary style of writing, check out Soho Crime. According to the Soho Press web site, Soho Crime brings "culturally rich and atmospheric crime fiction set around the world to English language readers." They feature literary mysteries and thrillers, almost always as part of an ongoing series, set in a variety of countries and cultures.

A few notable series from Soho Crime include Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri series set in Laos, Cara Black's Aimee LeDuc series set in Paris, Stuart Neville's Belfast thrillers, and Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series, set in the comparably domestic setting of Bristol, England. Soho's books often have a distinctive cover look, so they are easy to find while browsing the shelves.

NYRB Classics" style="float: left; height: 200px; margin: 10px; width: 264px;" />Literary fiction lovers looking for something off the beaten path, whether classic or contemporary, will be delighted to discover the NYRB Classics, an imprint of New York Review Books. Rather than try to describe the books that NYRB Classics publishes, I'll defer to the delightful description on their web site:

The NYRB Classics series is designedly and determinedly exploratory and eclectic, a mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series  includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and   belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low,  unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.

Many of their titles are reprints of older books, but they can still delight modern readers. A few of my favorites to suggest to readers are J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, Thomas Tryon’s The Others, and Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. Like Soho Crime, NYRB Classics have distinctive cover designs.

Dafina Books

I read widely and try to read well outside of my genre comfort zone, but I will admit that I struggle with fantasy, inspirational, and contemporary African-American fiction. I do try to stay knowledgeable about these genres by perusing catalogs and reading reviews. One great resource I have found for information about contemporary African-American fiction is Dafina Books.

An imprint of Kensington Publishing Company, Dafina Books is one of the leading publishers of contemporary African-American fiction and nonfiction. Dafina is home to some perennial favorites, including Mary Monroe, Carl Weber, Kimberla Lawson Roby, and Mary B. Morrison. Dafina began in the 1990s by focusing on romance novels featuring African Americans, at the time an under-represented demographic in the landscape of romance publishing. The imprint has since developed a broader catalog, including inspirational fiction, suspense and thrillers, and even a young adult line. Their young adult line is notable in that it came about much like their original romance line -- to give voice to an under-represented demographic in the teen fiction scene.

Kensington Books has a few other notable imprints that will help readers' advisors become familiar with certain genres and will help readers find more great books to enjoy. In the post-Fifty Shades of Grey world, the demand for erotic fiction has grown, as have the number of questions about it at the readers' services desk. Both Brava and Aphrodisia, two Kensington imprints, can help readers' advisors become familiar with this newly popular genre and can help readers find more titles to enjoy. Brava publishes sensual romances from Lori Foster and others, while Aphrodisia publishes erotica from Sylvia Day, Kate Pearce, and more.

Red Dress Ink

Even if imprints are no longer active, they can still help you help readers. At the height of Chick Lit's popularity, Harlequin launched Red Dress Ink, which they described as "a women's fiction program that depicts young, single, mostly city-dwelling women coping with the pressures that accompany a career, the dating scene and all the other aspects of modern life in America." Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw would have identified with these books, as have many, many readers.

Although Chick Lit is not quite as popular as it once was, it still has an audience. And although Red Dress Ink ended its run a few years ago, books published under this imprint can still be great choices for readers looking for light reading, a little romance, and a lot of twenty-something angst and antics.

These are only a few of the many, many imprints out there in the publishing landscape. If you want to get a handle on urban fiction, check out Strebor Books, an imprint of Atria, which itself is an imprint of Simon and Schuster. For inspirational fiction, check out what Faith Words, an imprint of Hachette, or Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster have to offer. For almost every genre, you can find an imprint that publishes in it. To investigate imprints further, check out Early Word's handy Imprint Locator or this list from Palm Beach County Library.

Understanding imprints can also be useful for e-book discovery as well.The rise of e-books has proven to be a boon for new or self-published authors and a great challenge for readers' advisors. You can't meander into the stacks with a reader, engaging them in conversation while surrounded by the inspiration of the physical books. At the Lawrence (KS) Public Library, we offer e-books on three platforms, so digital browsing is not an easy undertaking. However, the number of digital imprints has exploded recently, and many of them are focused on particular genres and subgenres. Check out some of these e-original and digital-only imprints from three of the "Big Six" and see how they might help you help readers:

Random House -- Random House started with Loveswept, a digital imprint for romance and women's fiction, and has since added Alibi for mystery and suspense, Hydra for science fiction and fantasy, and Flirt, for readers of what's known as new adult fiction.

Penguin -- Everything old is new again. Penguin has resurrected the hardboiled imprint Guilt Edged Mysteries, which published pulp and noir in the 1940s and 1950s, as a digital imprint. Readers looking for fresh voices in this classic genre may enjoy titles from this imprint.

Harper Collins -- Romance readers were some of the first to embrace the e-book format, and the number of digital imprints focused on romance is evidence that this embrace continues. Avon Impulse -- an imprint of Avon, which in turn is an imprint of Harper Collins -- publishes new romance e-books every month. Because of its digital-only format, Avon Impulse can respond quickly to trends in romance writing and give readers more books more quickly.

There are many, many ways to get a reader to his or her next book. There are also many, many ways for readers' advisors to keep up with books being published. Being aware of publishing imprints is one more tool to add to the RA toolbox that can help both readers and readers' advisors. So the next time you have a chance to read a book in ten minutes, be sure to look for the imprint!

Susan Brown took her first library job to earn beer money while in college. After several years in academic and government libraries, she finally found her true calling behind the reference and reader's advisory desk at a public library. Before moving to Kansas, she worked at libraries in Virginia and North Carolina and has her M.L.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently the marketing director at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS and is passionate about readers' services, social media, and marketing and merchandising for public libraries. Susan blogs about practical marketing for public libraries at 658.8 – Practical Marketing for Public Libraries.