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Not all books are worth the bounty

Posted By Jim Fletcher On 11/01/2012 @ 8:58 pm In Diversions,Front Page | No Comments

An imprint is an entity within a publishing house that publishes a certain niche. For example, under the company umbrella Charisma Media, there is “Charisma House” for general publishing and “Creation House,” a self-publishing/partnership imprint.

Different emphases, same house.

Several years ago, many large New York houses developed “conservative” imprints, like Crown Forum.

Hachette Book Group developed Center Street, where authors like Ted Dekker, Hugh Hewitt and Rand Paul found homes.

For a good long while, there has been real debate in publishing circles over the validity of having several imprints under one house. Thomas Nelson at one time had several, then made the decision to streamline. I think that was a good move.

A publishing house like WND Books has a strong track record in a certain type of book, so there isn’t a good reason to develop three or four imprints.

Baker Publishing Group, on the other hand, has several: Bethany House, Revell, BakerBooks, Baker Academic, Chosen and Brazos Press. Each fills a specific, niche agenda.

It was recently announced that the giant S&S Publishing Group has brought Free Press into the fold. Additionally, Atria Publishing Group added Howard Books. Interestingly, Howard Books began as a small/medium Christian publishing company … and then launched the “Hugs” series. I watched those books year after year build momentum until the announcement came that Howard had been bought out by S&S, as the company’s “Christian division [imprint].”

Howard now has titles by such authors as Charles Stanley and Karen Kingsbury. Atria is an imprint of S&S as well, but will now manage the Howard stable. Besides publishing folks like T.D. Jakes, Atria also has released “The Divinity of Dogs,” by Jennifer Skiff.

Go figure.

It’s always interesting to hear publishers spin their decisions.

From a Publishers Weekly article this week: “It’s a bit premature to eulogize an imprint that is, according to its parent company, still alive. Nonetheless, former Free Press staffers and others in the industry took to social media last week, offering what sounded like remembrances, when Simon & Schuster announced that the Free Press would be folded into the Simon & Schuster Publishing Group. The move, which is a result of restructuring at S&S, resulted in the imprint’s two highest ranking executives, publisher Martha K. Levin and editorial director Dominick Anfuso, being let go. Jonathan Karp, who oversees the group, told PW, when asked about FP, that ‘reports of our death are premature.’”

OK, buddy!

I’ve known publishers who had good reasons for either creating new imprints, or shutting down existing ones. I’ve known publishers who wouldn’t branch out and create a new imprint if you could guarantee them it would be solid gold. There’s merit in that thinking.

Too often, we abandon a project because a new, shiny one comes along. It’s the same way with imprints.

Let’s say a house has long-term success with fiction. For some reason, they decide to do a couple non-fiction titles, and they take off like nobody’s business. Next thing you know, at the Monday morning meeting, a junior-level editor reaches for a bagel and off-handedly comments that the new non-fiction books might warrant a whole new imprint.

We’re off to the races! Graphics, get me some new logo comps, stat! Editorial, come up with a proposed schedule for the next 18 months! Mach schnell!

Next thing you know, said publishing house is hip-deep in a type of book they are unfamiliar with – the two efforts notwithstanding – and the fiction imprint begins to suffer.

More than once, I’ve seen houses linger too long with defective new imprints, and it dang-near took them under. A few others recognize the folly and stop the bleeding quick. Hats off to those lone leaders who have the foresight to do what needs to be done.

Personally, I usually have an aversion to numerous imprints. To paraphrase Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester: Do one thing, do it very well, and then move on.

If you are a small or medium-sized house, resist the temptation to jump in with the few big boys who can juggle a half-dozen imprints. Just do what you do, and take satisfaction in the fact that you won’t have to one day issue spin statements to PW, with egg on your face.


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