Should You Publish with an Imprint?

Every self-published author is faced with this decision. First, here is a little background on the imprint choice; we’ll return to the question in a moment.

The paperback author can select a free ISBN from CreateSpace or pay $10 to $100 for an ISBN from CreateSpace to publish using an Imprint. Another option is to purchase an ISBN directly from R.R. Bowker (the price becomes more affordable per ISBN if buying a block of 10 or more).

The eBook author can leave the publisher field at KDP blank or enter an imprint there. Although some eReader services, like the Sony Reader, require an ISBN, you can get a free ISBN to use with your eBook if you publish through Smashwords (but you’re not supposed to use that ISBN for other eBook editions, like your Kindle edition).

Many authors publish both paperbacks and eBooks. Entering an imprint for the eBook while having the paperback publisher show as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform kind of defeats the purpose of using the imprint. For $10 at CreateSpace, the imprint names can match.

Back to the question: Should you publish with an imprint?

That depends; there are advantages and disadvantages both ways.

Benefits of having CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform listed as the publisher:

  • CreateSpace is a positive name among many indie authors and their family, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. There are so many indie authors that this number is very large.
  • People who like to support the self-publishing concept often buy CreateSpace books (or Kindle eBooks where the paperback lists CreateSpace as the publisher).
  • Readers who know your book is self-published are more likely to enjoy your book.

I entered CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform into the search field in Books at Amazon, and pulled up 300,000 titles. So many authors are content with this.

One of these authors is Amanda Hocking. She has been extremely successful; this label has worked for her.

Amanda Hocking’s Author Page

Benefits of using an imprint:

  • Some readers avoid self-published books.
  • The indie label can be a hurdle to get your book stocked in stores, reviewed by the media, etc.

If readers buy your book thinking it was published through a traditional publisher, but it looks very amateurish after they buy it, they are more likely to be frustrated with the experience. This places a premium on professional book design (cover, editing, formatting, writing, etc.) for the author who chooses an imprint. A traditionally published book, for example, has a very detailed copyright page, which most indie books lack. A simple feature like this could give the indie book away.

Note that bookstores and reviewers can clearly see that your book is print-on-demand from the printing number on the last page whether you use an imprint or not. There is a way around this. You can find another printer (i.e. not print-on-demand) to print a small number of copies of your book. The custom order will cost more money per book if you buy a small quantity, but the overall cost may be affordable if the quantity is really small (like 10 books). This way, like many publishers, print-on-demand (POD) will merely be one of your publishing channels. You can approach bookstores and reviewers more confidently with the non-POD edition of your book.

Indie authors who are clearly self-published have succeeded in getting their books stocked in bookstores. If your book looks professional and you have a professional approach, it is possible to overcome various publishing obstacles, including the CreateSpace label; but sometimes there is a flat ‘No!’ to CreateSpace and POD. On the other hand, if you go to the trouble to use an imprint and have some non-POD copies printed, but your book looks unprofessional (cover, copyright page, formatting, typos, etc.), all of this extra work may not open up any doors.

People can also search for your imprint online. If they don’t find a website for it, or if there are just a couple of books that use the imprint, this will reflect that the imprint isn’t a serious publisher. Most shoppers aren’t going to check out the imprint. (However, they probably won’t recognize the imprint; using an imprint certainly isn’t the same as publishing with a household name.) But a wise bookstore manager or serious reviewer might do a little research before investing in your book.

Of course, you must do some research on the imprint name. You can’t enter Amazon or the name of an actual publisher like Random House (or many other publishers you’ve never heard of).

The name you choose should sound authentic. It should fit the book nicely. (It will also show up in keyword searches, but if you just make the imprint name based on keywords, there is a good chance it won’t sound authentic or fit the book.)

Before you publish using your own imprint, consider these questions:

  • Will your cover look professional?
  • Will your front matter look professional?
  • Will your formatting be professional?
  • Will your editing look professional?
  • Will you be approaching bookstores, libraries, newspapers, etc.?
  • Will you be selling copies in person at presentations, signings, readings, etc.?
  • Will you make a website for your imprint?
  • Will you be publishing other titles with this imprint?
  • Do you expect a lot of support from the self-publishing community?

Personally, I’m proud to have my books wear the CreateSpace label. CreateSpace and KDP gave me my chance, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve also met several fantastic indie authors. I search for self-published books when I look for books to read, and I’m happy to support good indie books. I’m glad to be part of the self-publishing community. If you’re going to wear the self-publishing label, wear it proudly. 🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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10 comments on “Should You Publish with an Imprint?

  1. My gratitude for Createspace and KDP is immeasurable. I am also a very proud indie author, but I think you may underestimate the general public on this one. Almost everyone I know is conscious of the big six (not just my author friends) and they also recognize their subsidiaries. I am so very glad that I can put something on my book that is not a penguin, an anchor with a fish wrapped around it, an anchor, double Bs, a puffin, a circled “S”, a greyhound dog, a cottage, or some other symbolic representation of something that, in part, belongs to someone else. When I first saw my cover artist’s logo, I thought that it might look a bit juvenile, but my husband said, “So what, its you!” It’s a boat. Its sailing, and it is us rowing our own boat, it is what we enjoy. Then I saw the black and white image and I thought, not bad. When I first inquired about the possibility of submitting my work to the Atlanta Journal for review, I received a nice letter back from the editor of entertainment, Suzanne Van Atten. She responded to a comment I made about my Aunt (who was Ms. Atlanta one year) having faith in the AJC reviews , so I don’t believe it was a generic letter, but her last sentence was heartbreaking, “If your work was published by a ‘major’ publishing house, we ‘might consider’ reviewing it.” Having one of those traditional publishers opens doors that might otherwise be closed. That is the only reason that I might want their imprint on my books (and I do expect to publish more with the same imprint, and they will be ours), if I get recognized by a traditional publisher who wants a contract and I can agree to their terms then fine, let them put their imprint on there. Listening in on forums for readers for some length of time, I learned that they (we) look at the “Look Inside”, the price, and the cover to determine if it is an indie author…some seek us out and some avoid us…but no reader, reviewer or book seller is going to be “fooled” by our imprint. Maybe it is a bit of vanity, but I am proud to be an indie author and proud to display my imprint logo. I worked (am working) hard for that privilege.

    • That’s a good point about using an imprint for the fun, creativity, and experience of making it. Indie authors have large numbers among themselves and family, many traditionally published authors are also self-publishing (sometimes with a pen name) in addition to traditionally publishing, a few established authors are turning to self-publishing, indie books make a large percentage of overall sales, and the top indie authors are breaking through. The world of publishing is certainly changing, and the image of self-publishing has the chance to evolve. The worst of the books won’t go away, but people are aware of those; what’s changing is the perception of the top indie books and the number of traditional authors seeking self-publishing, too. I see more and more benefits of self-publishing and increasing support for it. The top indie authors may be opening more doors soon; as they continue to publish hot sellers, more businesses will want to benefit from their success.

      • There are still old school attitudes, like that of Ms. Van Atten, that make things difficult. I understand that they have to have some way to weed the lawn. It does seem that there should exist some way to measure merit without it depending on the “major” publishing house measuring stick.

  2. Sir, to keep it simple: I’m only publishing one book, my memoirs, through Createspace. I bought my own ISBN and barcode through Bowker, a pretty penny, so do I need an imprint just for that one book, or if I need one, can I use a Createspace imprint since they are printing it anyway and how to get it? Which way is best from your point of view?

    • If you already bought an ISBN, you may as well just use it. You could just, as many authors do, use your last name for your imprint. You really didn’t need to buy an bar code, since CreateSpace would supply that for free.

      If you are only planning to publish one book, or if you planned to get most of your sales through plus people you interact with personally, I would take the free CreateSpace ISBN, which lists CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform as the publisher. This can actually help a little to attract an indie-supportive audience, as those who themselves are self-published authors or who are related to or know other self-published authors recognize this name.

      The imprint is more valuable when you’re trying to crack an audience that’s not indie-supportive, such as getting stocked in stores or genres that are less indie-friendly. I’ve published many books both ways, including in pen names, and overall I’ve had more success with the CreateSpace name. Good luck with your book.

  3. I’m getting more confused now. If I use my name, to make the imprint legal, I have to set things up as a complete business, with tax forms, titles, business accounts which will cost $1,500 to open, re-do my book cover again, and other stuff, which costs more time and money. Can Createspace be able to just add their imprint to it and solve everything quickly?

    • I’m not an attorney, so I can’t offer legal advice, but many authors simply use their last name with the imprint name and leave it as that. If they plan to sell in person, they may register as DBA and obtain an EIN. There are many threads about this on the CreateSpace community forum, or you can start a new one. For most new authors, I would recommend the free CreateSpace ISBN. Good luck with your book.

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