Why “Twelve”?

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Ever wonder why publishers keep creating new imprints and what their names signify?

Earlier this week, NPR’s All Things Considered took a look at Twelve, an imprint launched last year by Grand Central (formerly Warner Books, part of Hachette, which was formerly Time Warner Book Group). It’s worth listening to the piece (don’t rely on the overview; it manages to miss the best bits) for insights on the publishing process.

It’s useful to get to know imprints and their characteristics. To see how an independent bookstore buyer uses such knowledge, check out this post on the blog “Kash’s Corner.”

As NPR points out, Twelve has had a remarkable ability to publish bestsellers (6 out of 9 of the titles they’ve released became bestsellers. By contrast, NPR says the industry average is one book in ten becoming a hit. I think that figure is high).

NPR also quotes the Bowker statistic of 290,000 new titles published a year. I always grind my teeth when I hear this figure quoted. It includes on-demand titles, every new edition, technical manuals, and titles from extremely small publishers (83,000 publishers are represented). A large percentage of those titles will never reach the radar of bookstores and public libraries. My own guess (which I checked out with some knowledgeable industry observers, so it’s not completely out of thin air) is that the number of commercially viable titles is more like 30,000 to 50,000 each year.

NPR also featured a Twelve title that’s about to be released:

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Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee

  • Hardcover: $24.99
  • Publisher: Twelve (March 3, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0446580074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446580076

It received a starred review (a “delightful first book on the origins of the customary after-Chinese-dinner treat by New York Times reporter Lee…There are satisfying minihistories on the relationship between Jews and Chinese food and a biography of the real General Tso”) in Publishers Weekly, 12/3/07. the author was also interviewed in PW (but no explanation of her middle initial).

Twelve’s Web site announces titles through August, and also lists those coming in the more distant future, from authors such as Christopher Buckley, Po Bronson and Ted Kennedy.

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