Imprint vs. Publisher: First Time Self-Publisher Questions

imprint of a boot in sand
flickr credit: jenny downing

There are a lot of confusing things to straighten out about indie publishing when you first start out. I know. I’ve been trying to learn the ropes for the last year myself. And the game keeps changing. Keeping up is a never-ending job.

Setting yourself up as a publisher has many steps to it. Yes, that’s right, when you decide to go indie, you become a publisher. Funny how that comes as a surprise to so many, huh? I think as authors, we focus on the book and the writing and not the publishing, even when we decide we’re going to do it ourselves.

Today I want to address the question of creating an imprint.

What’s with these imprints?

An imprint, just to clarify, is simply the “brand” a publisher uses to publish a book. A publisher may have any number of imprints, each with its own reputation or tone to the books published. These divisions make it easier to classify and sell a book.

If you decide to self-publish, in the US, legally you do not need to form an imprint. You can use your name as the publisher of record. If you use an imprint, the imprint will be the publisher of record. Note this is different from a pen name.

The decision whether to form an imprint or simply publish under your own name is not necessarily an easy one. An imprint can up your legitimacy, since it gives the impression of an entire company behind your book. It does complicate the process a bit, though.

April Hamilton of The Indie Author Guide strongly recommends consulting a professional tax preparer and attorney to help you make this decision. She says each half-hour consultation should cost $50. You can also find low-cost clinics to get advice or Google “free legal help” or “free accounting help.” In other words, find a way, but don’t make this decision alone.

Your brand

This decision is something to consider today—not when you publish. Whether you incorporate, form your own imprint, use your own name, it’s all a brand. You will need to present a consistent author brand everywhere. Part of this is a visual thing. I get this part, because I am very visual. If I’m looking for a certain brand at the store, consciously or subconsciously, I’m looking for the logo. A picture. A combination of colors and text that tells me this is the brand or product I’m looking for. It’s faster than looking for a name.

When you create a brand, you decide the colors and text you’re going to use on everything. Brochures, newsletters, letterhead, blog headers, email signatures. Pretty soon you’ll be identifiable through that image. But if you later decide to create an imprint and want to change everything, you’ll have to create that recognition again. April Hamilton says, “A brand becomes a placeholder in the consciousness of the customer.” Build that image conscientiously, not haphazardly.

Make your decision whether or not create an imprint carefully and preferably with expert advice. The only definitive thing I can say is: Start today!

Will you—or did you—create an imprint when you publish or published your novel?



  1. Shoshanna Evers

    When I self-publish I put my own name as the publisher. I consider my name to be my brand, and it easily differentiates my traditionally pubbed work from my selfpub. I don’t think having an imprint adds legitimacy…if I haven’t heard of the publisher, I’ll assume it’s self published anyway. But if the cover, blurb, and sample all look professional, I don’t care who published the book 🙂 I just want to read a great story!

    • Hi Shana! I just lost my reply! :-p But I will say I agree that readers just want a good book. They don’t care who published the book. And if they don’t follow publishing at all, an imprint or a name isn’t likely to make a difference to them–although if they do notice, I think a name that appears to be a company, i.e., an imprint, may lend legitimacy. I also wonder if this effect will fade as more authors go indie. [sigh] Whatever else I said is lost in cyberspace…

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