I have maintained such a narrow focus on Angry Robot that I have all but ignored the publisher’s two imprints; YA outfit Strange Chemistry and the crime bosses at Exhibit A Books. I will take a brief overview of both imprints, discussing how they fit into AR’s overall marketing strategy.
Launching in September 2012, Strange Chemistry seeks to publish “the best in modern young adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between”. This sounds quite similar to AR’s mission statement, except SC notes the specific target audience to which they cater.
“Young Adult Literature” is a difficult concept to condense into an exact definition. Some common definitions refer to the age of the book’s main characters and target readers (most typically, teenagers), while others refer to common themes and plot elements (like the search for identity, absent parental figures, etc.). Most simply conclude that YA is about both its readers and its broader content. While YA doesn’t necessarily have to be genre fiction, many of the most recent publishing sensations have been YA genre novels.
Unlike AR and SC, Exhibit A does not have a SF/F bent. Rather, they are a “a commercial crime fiction imprint,” one that is “focused on big ideas, big characters and, above all, big stories”. Launching in Spring 2013, EA distinguishes themselves from other crime publishers by adopting a “cinematic sensibility,” replete with large-scale scenarios and attention-grabbing plots. And, of course, crime fiction is that genre which “fictionalizes crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives.”
As previously mentioned, SC and EA share many similarities with AR. All three imprints sell their e-books through The Robot Trading Company, and they all take similar approaches to social media marketing (Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc.). They both speak with the same down-to-earth tone that AR adopted (“…if you came here craving cozies, then you should have checked the weather forecast first, because Exhibit A is all about brewing up storms…”), and they similarly follow AR’s “fans first” policy. SC regularly posts “Media Round-Ups” on their front page that quote not only the higher-profile YA reviewers, but also from many blogs that are on the fan level. EA has their own version of the Robot Army, which they call the Witness Protection Programme.
These similarities pose the question; why does AR feel the need to separate these three parts of the same whole into separate divisions?
The simplest answer is that this is an industry standard. The Big Five/Six each have their own legion of imprints, many of which are distinct genre divisions. While the debate over the ethics of genre assignments and their implications rages on, the choice of publishers to use the imprint tactic is entirely a marketing decision.
The imprint phenomenon is an example of the “trade name” practice, in which one company will use a different brand name for a certain product in order to better market that product to a specific demographic and/or consumer base. In genre publishing, the audience is what drives the formation of imprints. Genre fanbases are characterized by a core group of readers who maintain their dedication to that specific content/thematic/etc. type. In order for a brand name to have meaning to those readers, genre publishers will want to maintain a singular focus on that specific genre. While the publishers and the readers will form their own personal definitions of what exact elements constitute that genre, such focus is what allows readers to develop an affinity for that imprint as a provider of their favorite type of content.
Because this is an industry standard, it is also a necessary business step for publishers to think in terms of genre separation. Physical bookstores have notoriously upheld the genre separations by physically separating and labeling genres within the store’s space. While a novel might have elements of YA and mystery, if the publisher believes that the title will make more money with the YA label, then they will want to do everything to make sure that book is shelved in the YA section. While this is becoming less important with the rise of digital bookstores, many of those establishments (including the Robot Trading Co.) still maintain genre classifications in order to ease browsing for the shopper.
Genre separation within a company also allow for each of the genre imprints to have their own unique editorial team. By branching off into focused divisions, the publisher can make sure that each of their imprints are staffed by professionals who sincerely understand that genre, its audience, and that genre’s status in the marketplace.
The introduction of SC and EA allows Angry Robot to publish a broader range of content without sacrificing their marketability and appeal to their core SF/F/WTF fans.
Next time, I will focus on one element that has brought AR into the spotlight for many readers; their awesome covers.