There are two places in the self-publishing process where people get confused by the imprint and publisher name: When they are buying their own ISBNs (In the US and Australia, through Bowker) and when they are filling in their data on a publishing platform.
First, an imprint is different (or can be different) from your publisher name. When you are uploading your book to a publishing platform (KDP, Lulu, IngramSpark, etc.) you will be asked for the “Publisher Name.” The name you type in MUST EXACTLY MATCH the name that you used when you bought your ISBN. (For example, you might have typed in the full word “Incorporated” instead of “Inc.”)
What Is a Publishing Imprint?
An imprint is the publisher’s brand or trade name. A traditional publisher may have hundreds of imprints for various genres and product lines. Penguin Random House, for example, has over 250 imprints, including imprints under their Knopf Doubleday, Penguin, Penguin Random House Audio, Penguin Young Readers, Random House, Random House Children’s Books, and the hits go on.
Penguin is, of course, a huge publishing empire. What about you as a self-publisher? Should you have an imprint?
Many self-publishers don’t use an imprint or publisher name at all. They just use their author name as their publishing house, or, if they have a company, their company name. Using a company name makes you look more professional, but the truth is, the average reader doesn’t go over your imprint/publishing information looking to see who published your book. However, retailers, libraries, and the media do and there is still some bias against self-published books. Taking it one step further, using an imprint can make a distinction between “your publishing house” and your author name. Having a publisher name helps when it comes to marketing and publicity as well as creating brand awareness.
Do I Need to Set Up a Corporation?
The short answer is no, but you might want to. That’s a discussion to have with your CPA. If you choose to go with a fictitious name, Doing Business As (DBA) or a corporate structure, you need to file that with your state’s attorney general’s office. (You can do this easily online for minimal yearly fees.) A solid financial practice is to set up a separate bank account for your author earnings and if you want to use a DBA or corporate structure, you will need to have that paperwork in place before you can open a bank account for those royalties.
You Want Both Your Publisher and Imprint Names to be Unique
When choosing a name, you want to make sure no one else is using it to avoid confusion (at the least) and more important, to avoid any trademark infringements. It’s not clever to use a “big name” as part of your publisher or imprint name in order to make it seem like you’re published with a “real” publishing house. In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s shady and insecure. (How do you really feel, Barbara?) You’re also running the risk of trademark infringement. Just don’t go there.
You can check Amazon to see if anyone else is already using the name you’ve chosen. You can also check the Literary Market Place and/or the Federal Trademark Office. If someone else already has “your” name, and you are attached to it, you may be able to change it up by adding “Publishing,” “House,” or “Press” to it. Someone may have the name as an LLC and you may have it as a C corp. If you’ve registered a DBA or other corporate entity with your state’s attorney general’s office, your name has to be distinct from any other active business name… in your state. Publishing is international, so you want to check to make sure you’re not using someone else’s name. And… yes, of course, Most people don’t check and there are tons of duplicates out there. You want to be unique.
So How Does It All Fit Together?
What’s the order of things? According to IngramSpark, the “line of authority” is
Publisher Name > Imprint Name > Author Name
If you’ve bought ISBNs from Bowker, your publisher name is the name you entered into Bowker’s form when you bought your ISBNs. The publisher name is the legal entity that you are publishing under.
The imprint name doesn’t have any legal standing—it’s just a trade name (think branding). So, it could be your author name if you’re a sole proprietor/self-employed or it could be your corporation’s name. All three (publisher, imprint, author) could just be your name—that’s okay. Truth be told, if you’re just publishing under your name, you most likely will not use an imprint. But having a degree of separation, using an imprint or a publisher name, will make you look more professional.
And, just like the big publishing houses, if you write in different genres, you might use the same corporate entity as the publisher name and have different imprints for your different product lines, if you want to be fancy. NOW… if you’re doing something completely different from what you’re known for, you might want to use a pen name and a different imprint. This comes up more on the fiction side of things: someone who writes steamy romance might want to keep that pen name separate from their sweet romance or paranormal sci-fi so that they don’t “confuse” their targeted readers.
The copyright or imprint page is usually on the back of your title page. It gives all the information about the book: Publisher name, imprint name if you’re using one, copyright/year, ISBN, how to contact the publisher, where the book is printed, etc. You can Google “example of an imprint page” or open up a book that is similar to yours to see how it’s done. Many of the book formatting templates that you get (for example, a KDP template) will have that page set up and you just fill in the pertinent information. And, for fun examples, The Book Designer has two freebies for you.
Do You Need an Imprint or Publisher Name?
If you plan to write and self-publish more than one book in this lifetime (and if you’re a nonfiction author, think about companion workbooks, courses, journals, etc.) you should have a publisher name, either a DBA or a corporate structure. A small percentage of writers will put out numerous books (more than half a dozen, say) and if they end up writing in different genres, then they may opt to take on an imprint to differentiate that genre or line from their other books. And some authors end up as small publishing houses, helping friends or clients to publish their books. It all depends on what you want to do.
The beauty of being a writer and self-publisher is that you have flexibility. Having a publishing name separate from your author name helps you look more professional. It’s a small detail that can make you feel more professional, too.
Thinking about self-publishing your book but don’t know where to start? I can help. I wrote a fabulous(!) mini-course that walks you through the self-publishing process step-by-step, with lots of insider tips that will help your book look and be it’s best! Find out more here: Self-Publishing Mini-Course