(tree ganked from The Field Museum Library)
Sometimes when I tell people that First Second is an imprint of Macmillan USA, I get blank looks — and that's about the time that I remember that not everyone spends all of their time decoding publishing family trees (that's right! That tree at the top of the page? It's a metaphor).
So there are some publishers that are publishers, right? Like Oni Press — pretty much everything they do (edit, market, and design books, but also permissions, subsidiary rights, some sales, etc.) is done by people they have in house. And all their books are published as Oni Press books.
But then you've got larger publishers, like Harper Collins. They publish a whole lot of books — and many of them are markedly different from each other in audience age, subject, tone, format, presentation, etc. (Here's a list of Harper imprints, fyi.) So instead of just being like, 'well, all the books we're publishing are by Harper anyways, we'll just give everyone editing things for us one single person to be editorial director in charge of them all,' they said, 'hey, probably the people who want to spend all their time editing bibles will have something different going on than the people who are editing romance novels. Maybe we should make those two different sub-companies!' And they did — Harper Bibles and Avon (I'll leave to you guess which is which.)
Another reason to make a distinction like this is the history. Big companies frequently acquire smaller companies. But the reason that they've acquired the smaller company isn't just that they want to work with people on the staff, or the authors — it's the ideology. So keeping that infrastructure in place within the smaller company maintains the sensibility that was initially attractive to them.
So if you look at the structure of a large publishing company, it really does end up looking a whole lot like the tree up top — companies and sub-companies all around.
That's what an imprint is — one of the smaller companies that's under the umbrella of a larger one.
Practically, what does this mean for First Second?
We're part of one of the large NY publishing companies called Macmillan. There are a number of other companies that are part of them, too — like Tor, St. Martin's, FSG, Henry Holt, Scientific American, Palgrave, Picador, Nature, etc. etc. etc. Macmillan is responsible for:
The rent on our building. We work in the flatiron building; it's entirely populated by Macmillan staff. No one at First Second is responsible for paying the rent every month, making the lights go on, making sure there's toilet paper in the bathrooms, etc. That's all handled centrally.
Mail! We've got a mailroom in the building, and our mail guy comes by three times a day to pick up any mail I've got to send out straight from my desk. This is a godsend. Think about doing a 200-copy book mailing and then having to drag it to the post office. In New York City. And I don't have a car.
(Also our computers and our website and our tech support! Which is extremely helpful.)
More than that, Macmillan is responsible for a number of things that help us to be able to spend our time focusing on publishing books. There are people at Macmillan who handle (in consultation with us):
Permissions — dealing with people who want to use pages of our books in articles or textbooks.
Subsidiary Rights — like selling chapters of our books to magazines or anythologies, or the foreign-language rights, or the film rights.
The Budget — we've got people to: pay royalties to our authors, handle taxes on our convention sales, project how much money we'll have to acquire new books and spend on marketing in the current year, pay website or ad or book designers, pay our actual taxes every April, etc.
Contracts — once we've figured out the parameters of a book deal, our contracts people step in make sure that we've got all the appropriate legal language.
Managing Editorial — our parent company is kind enough to lend us their Managing Editor to deal with our copy-editing and to make sure books get to the right place at the right time — thanks, Jill! We couldn't do it without you.
Production — once we've figured out how we want our books to look, the production group prices out the paper and the cover we want to use, figures out the best printer for the book, and handles the whole process of liasing with them to get the book printed perfectly.
Sales — we've got in-house and out-of-house sales teams that have personal relationships with the bookstores (and other stores that sell books, like museum stores) all around the country. They're responsible for getting all of our books into those stores.
And Macmillan is also a resource if we get a crazy-awesome opportunity and we can't necessarily figure out how to make it happen on our allocated budget. If we can convince them it'll definitely pay off, they can back our crazy-awesome opportunities.
And that's what it means to be an imprint.