Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writing 101: What are romance publisher lines and imprints?

Kensington Brava Imprint

Romance novels come in all shapes, sizes and genre, as we have already discovered. Each romance publisher is unique in how they categorize or classify their books.

Genre, word count, theme, and whether the story is a category, single-title, or mainstream book, are just some of the factors that may contribute to what line or imprint a book is categorized.

What is an imprint? Generally, an imprint is a category of books defined by the publisher. The house may want to brand certain types of books by labeling with an imprint—the name under which the book is published. Publishing houses may have many different imprints.

What is a line? Typically, a line is a grouping of books with similar themes that exist under an imprint.

Both imprints and lines brand the book for the reader and the author. The reader knows what kind book they are getting; the author knows how to target her writing by slanting the book to a particular line or imprint.

Clear as mud? Let’s look at this Harlequin example. You may want to call up the actual Web page to follow along. I have provided a screen shot, below.

Across the top of the page you see all of Harlequin’s imprints. They are: Harlequin, Silhouette, Spice, MIRA, HQN, Kimani Press, Steeple Hill, Red Dress Ink, Luna, World Wide Library. Harlequin current has ten different imprints. What are the differences? To find that out, the reader and the author may have to do some exploration. By clicking on the links and perusing the books, you will see differences. For example, Spice books are labeled “steamy erotic fiction.” Steeple Hill books are “all about life, faith and getting it right.” An aspiring author would not want to confuse the two and send an erotic manuscript to a Steeple Hill editor.

Kimani Press romances are described as “sexy, entertaining love stories that keep it real with true-to-life African-American characters who turn up the heat and sizzle with passion.” Where as Red Dress Ink books are “sexy, funny stories that follow the struggles of dating, careers and romance in the big city!”

Are you beginning to see the differences?

Now, click on the Silhouette imprint, the second one from the left. The drop-down box should reveal several lines within that particular imprint. If you study those, you will see subtle differences in each of those lines. The writers guidelines will be more specific. If you click on each imprint across the page, you’ll see more lines. All relate back to the imprint above them but possess different slants within.

As an aspiring romance author, you want to study the varying lines and imprints of publishers (all publishers, we just used Harlequin as an example) so you can make a determination about where you book best fits. If you are a reader, you may already have discovered which lines or imprints are your favorite. Time and again, you’ll look for those brands because you trust the kind of book you are going to get.

Some authors choose to write their books for a particular line/imprint, and others write the book first and see where it might fit. There is no right or wrong way to do this, in my opinion, as it may depend totally on where you are in your writing career.

So here is your homework. Choose three romance publishing houses. Visit their Web sites and see if you can determine if they have, a) imprints, and b) lines within their imprints. Take a stroll and see what you find.

Up next: How do I set up my manuscript?

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