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Authors with imprints

Word came down today that HarperCollins is giving Dennis Lahane (author of Mystic River) his own imprint. To quote the Washington Post: “Dennis Lehane Books will issue ‘a select’ number of literary fiction works each year that have ‘a dark urban edge.’ The author himself said in a statement that he was hoping to help ‘worthy writers’ in need of more attention.” This comes on the heels of Anthony Bourdain also getting at imprint at Harper to showcase authors of his choosing.

Now, it’s long been a truism of publishing that the only people who care about imprints are people in publishing. And while some knowledgeable consumers might expect a certain level of quality or type of book from an imprint, I think for most readers the only important things on the spine are the title and author. Yet Harper is clearly banking that readers like and accept Lahane and Bourdain as stamps of approval—if they dig a book enough to publish it, it’s got to be good, right?

What do you think of this strategy? Would seeing either of their names on a book convince you to take a look, much less buy a copy? Are “literary celebrity” imprints the wave of the future? Or is this just a myopic publishing stunt that won’t really mean much when it comes to the register? Discuss, discuss…

30 Responses to Authors with imprints

  1. James Fabris says:

    I don’t think it could hurt. People tend to buy based on associating one product with another product. You liked Mystic River, so you’ll buy another book that’s got that Dennis Lahane seal of approval. It is a bit like going to see a movie that was produced, but not directed, by Steven Spielberg. Another (less well-known) director did the work, but still it has “Steven Spielberg” prominently displayed in all the marketing.

  2. TryThis Again says:

    I would so go with a Yoko Ono imprint…also Geena Davis is doing interesting things lately, I’d like to see her have an imprint. I can think of plenty of people who’s imprint would be of interest to me.

    Just for fun – John, do you think you could do a followup blog entry, on the subject of “Authors with Armpits”? (Just joking.)

  3. Emily says:

    I have to wonder if the whole concept of “imprints” will crumble in the digital wave?

    This is an era of massive power shifts in EVERYTHING from publishing, to politics, to wealth production, to gender bending, to industrial energy sources [fossile fuels, green fuels, etc.].

    The HarperCollins imprint experiment might flounder or it might fly — but either way, it is definitatly a response to these shifting power bases.

  4. I guess it depends on how much autonomy HC gives the author whose name goes on the imprint, but my feeling is that the more sensibilities out there, rescuing manuscripts from oblivion, the better. If it’s just a gimmick, though, and Lehane is just leasing his name to HC while the usual suspects call the shots and make the big decisions, well then, it’s kind of like a glorified blurb and doesn’t mean a whole lot.

  5. Using the consumer part of my brain, I do not see the celebrity imprint making a big difference in deciding to buy a book from a new author.

    That being said, I agree with Emily that with all the changes taking place in this industry, now is the time to try new approaches. You can be sure that many people will be watching this venture and if it is successful, look for an avalanche to follow.

  6. Rowenna says:

    Interesting–this seems like a branding concept that consumers can understand, more so than the imprint system as it stands. It’s like Rachael Ray cookware or Paris Hilton perfume–people know the personality and like the personality’s work (or are at least intrigued by it…), so are open to buying things with the name on it. Clever. Does it actually mean anything, literary-wise? As in–will these writers actually have a hand in selecting the authors for the imprint, will they be as good at selecting as they are at writing…etc…Who knows? But it’s an interesting marketing strategy.

  7. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday – 13 October, 2011 « The Author Chronicles

  8. Generally, I don’t think readers care about imprints, but if HC is doing a “Dennis Lahane presents …” type of deal with his imprint then it could work. The film and television industries have been doing that for awhile, as mentioned above. It’s a consumer trust factor. “I like Peter Jackson, so if he’s producing District 9, I want to go see it.”

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