Diary of a Bookseller #9
In the last few days, we’ve had a number of local, self-published authors come into the store and ask us to carry their books. We have a whole procedure for doing so, but one of the first is assessing who their publisher is. Often, the authors themselves don’t know and it led me to think about how much of my day is spent talking about five major publishing houses: Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster; and to a lesser extent, the smaller houses like Abrams, Chronicle, Houghton Mifflin, Ingram Publisher Services, W. W. Norton, Scholastic, Workman, the list goes on and on. As the primary buyer for the store, I’ve gotten to know a bit about each of them, and thought maybe, you lovely fellow book lovers, might be curious about them as well!
On a side note – this is US market specific. The publishers have different imprints and distribution writes in other countries. Here I have not specified whether something is an imprint or a “client title,” I figured that was just going too deep into the nitty gritty of it all. Imprints are in bold in their respective publishers’ section. Each logo links to the respective website.
Apparently four years is the point when book buyers start become groupies not only of specific publishing house, but specific imprints of that publishing house. Which is so extra niche, that I’ve never met anyone who has the same feelings, short of people who actually work for the publishers. But I’m now at the point where I will read anything from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, particularly their MCD books. I even take my obsession with FSG one extra step – I’ll read anything Colin Dickerman, Executive Editor of the imprint, sends over to me at the bookstore where I work.
Macmillan has, however, been a favorite publisher of mine for a long time. I was the weird reader who almost always took note of where my books were coming from, I’ve always been writing, so I’ve almost always been dialed in to where books come from. Bloomsbury has some of my favorite YA fantasy books, specifically Sarah J. Maas. I’ve also enjoyed just about every book from their Tor fantasy and science fiction imprint, and also enjoy books from Henry Holt, which publishes everything from Leigh Bardugo to Elton John.
Penguin Random House used to be two separate publishing houses, Penguin and Random House (at the store we wanted the merged named to be Random Penguin House because it would be fun). Random House was formerly the largest publishing house in the US, and with the merger with Penguin, publish roughly 50% of books in print in the States. Needless to say, for most people, the percentage of books they read by publishing house is probably going to be about half PRH titles.
Penguin Books and Penguin Classics are the books with orange spines and a Penguin in the middle (like the logo) and for the classics, have the black section at the bottom of the front cover with the title in italic font in white. Many bookstores in the US and the UK have whole sections of the store dedicated to these two. I used to really love Viking books because I thought they were all somehow related to Vikings, but they’re solid and both fiction and nonfiction. Berkley is my favorite women’s fiction line and they started to do a lot of smart and witty rom coms as well as “bio fic” historical fiction (based on the lives of real people).
On the Random House side, Knopf and Doubleday are your heavier literary fiction and history books, and Crown and Broadway Books often include best selling nonfiction like Erik Larson. The fun side of Random House includes Quirk Books, a Philadelphia based publisher who does all of the fun Star Wars/Shakespeare mashups, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and pop horror with Grady Hendrix. Their YA lines include Philomel who publishes great historical fiction, Razorbill and Ember which are responsible for a decent cross section of the YA fantasy market.
Ah, Harper Collins, home of Ecco, publisher of Anthony Bourdain’s nonfiction and home of his, unfortunately short-lived, own imprint. As one would expect as the publisher of Anthony Bourdain, Ecco has a bit of an edge to its books and I love them dearly. Harper Collins is also home to the newest imprint I’ve become a big fan of, new in 2019, Harper Via, which features translated works from all around the world and is, to my knowledge, the only such imprint to print exclusively translations.
Also at Harper Collins is their P.S. line, also sometimes just known as Harper Paperbacks, but they tend to focus on commercial literary fiction. I have a few customers who, when presented with books on similar topics (Eliza Hamilton has been a recent fixture of historical fiction), will pick the book with Harper’s P.S. mark on it because it denotes something well-written and enjoyable.
Some of my favorite nonfiction also hails from Harper Collins – they seem to have the most celebrity authors from the lesser known sectors. They publish the Welcome to Nightvale books and Mythbusters stars among others. They also have a robust catalog of UK titles and are also responsible for introducing me to Jenny Colgan and many others!
Hachette, publishers with only 2 buying seasons instead of the usual 3. Which makes my life a bit more complicated as a buyer, but that’s neither here nor there. Hachette publishes a disproportionate number of bestselling thriller authors under their Grand Central imprint including Patterson, Baldacci, Lincoln & Child, and so, so many others. They also have the near exclusive rights to publish Disney related content with their Disney-Hyperion line, which is not limited to Disney content and includes favorites of mine like Elizabeth Wein. Hachette’s fantasy and science fiction line, Orbit, also does a great job and publishes some of my favorite grittier fantasy series.
Hachette is also home to the Rick Riordan empire, which now includes his own imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. In addition to his classics like Percy Jackson, it’s home to new authors who are writing about diverse characters. In a similar sense to James Patterson’s writing partnership, Rick Riordan is using his audience and platform to promote other authors.
In addition to their own imprints, Hachette is also responsible for distribution of Abrams (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Chronicle books, both of which tend to publisher quirky and fun gift books and items, as well as some children’s series and adult nonfiction.
Simon & Schuster distributes the fewest number of ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) and is probably the publisher I’ve read the least number of books from. While the company publishes both children and adult books, they’re much better known for their children’s books like Dork Diaries and Big Nate. They don’t have too many imprints or client publishers, but Andrews McMeel does a great deal of gifty books and items, as well as some of my favorite kids’ graphic novel series, Phoebe and Her Unicorn. Simon & Schuster also publishes some heavy hitting adult history authors like McCullough and beloved historical fiction author Philippa Gregory. While many of the other publishers tend to attract me with their overall lines’ reputation, I much more likely to find hidden gems in the Simon & Schuster catalog like my new favorite historical fiction, The Lost Queen, or my favorite book club book of last year, The Soul of an Octopus.
Next week I’ll be at the American Booksellers Association annual conference, Winter Institute, so I’ll do my best to do a Diary of a Bookseller post on Thursday while I’m there to give you all the inside scoop on what booksellers from around the country do when they get together and have fun!