Cover of Manifest from Kimari PressPublishing more than 80 books a year across four imprints, Kimani Press, with offices in the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan, is something of a house within a house. The African-American publishing division of romance publisher Harlequin, Kimani combines series publishing, a stable of popular (and Web savvy) authors with loyal fans, and fast, creative editorial responses to pop culture events and trends to sell books and generate growth in the midst of a tough economy.

Kimani is having a very good year. “Sales have held steady and even gone up a bit,” said Kimani executive editor Glenda Howard. “Romance publishing is a bright spot,” Howard continued. “People want those happy endings.” Kimani titles feature “steamy romance and strong families,” Howard said, pointing to a lineup of such established bestselling African-American romance authors as Brenda Jackson (more than 70 books), Donna Hill (more than 50 books), Gwynne Forster (more than 40 books), Beverly Jenkins (16 books), and others. The typical Kimani reader, said Howard, is an African-American woman aged about 30 to 65, though Howard said there is some crossover from white readers for authors, like Brenda Jackson, who also write for Harlequin's general romance line.

The Kimani program features four imprints. Kimani Press, “the flagship imprint,” which does women's commercial fiction at the house, also includes Kimani After Dark, a line of branded titles featuring “sexier” fare; Kimani Romance, four titles a month specializing in series publishing and shorter works, around 224 pages; Kimani Arabesque, which will be 16 years old in July, releasing four books a month specializing in “traditional” romance and newly launched series like Match Made; and Kimani Tru, launched in 2007 to publish young adult titles. (The Sepia and New Spirit imprints have folded.) The house publishes only trade paperbacks or mass market paperbacks, with prices ranging from $6.25 up to $14.99. The house even does well with an annual holiday anthology (Once Upon a Holiday). While most of the house's books come through agents, Howard said Kimani editors still work the slush pile. “We've found some gems,” said Howard, who said she gets two to five unsolicited manuscripts a week.

Most Kimani titles are part of a series. To keep readers hooked, Howard convenes “brainstorming sessions” with editorial and marketing—usually marketing manager Brie Edmonds-Ashton, editors Evette Porter and Kelli Martin, and publicity manager Shara Alexander—to come up with new series every year. “What can we do that we haven't done already,” said Porter. “We look at holiday themes, brides and weddings, and pop culture trends to come up with sexy, fun, fantasy fulfillment.” This year look for Love in the Limelight (powerful women in the media find love); Hotties (chance hookups with buff dudes; the series features downloadable posters of each book's shirtless cover guy); and Match Made (finding love through an agency à la the TV reality show, Millionaire Matchmaker). There are series on interracial romance, nontraditional westerns, and college reunions at HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). “Our readers' tastes change constantly,” said Howard.

While African-American readers remain Kimani's editorial focus, Porter said the house is looking to expand Kimani Tru's YA line into different genres and even attract a multicultural audience. In August it's debuting Manifest by Artist Arthur, the first book in a new paranormal series called Mystyx. It's Kimani's first effort in the genre and features African-American and white middle-class teens as well as Native American and Latino kids—the African-American heroine speaks to ghosts and each kid has a supernatural power. “It has multiracial, multicultural characters and gives each kid a chance to be the story's primary character,” said Porter. “It's a first for us, sales is excited, and we're going to give it a big push at BEA, ALA, and in teen print outlets,” she said.

This April, the Kimani Romance imprint will publish the prolific Brenda Jackson's 75th book (Hidden Pleasures), and in March, Kimani Press will release Donna Hill's What Mother Never Told Me, a sequel to her bestselling novel, Rhythms. Kimani can also count on its authors to work tirelessly to cultivate and please their readers. “Most of our authors are on the Web, Facebook, and Twitter,” said Porter. “They make video trailers, they blog—maybe too much instead of writing—and are very active online with their readers.” Porter said that Jackson even sponsors an annual ship cruise that attracts 300 paying readers.

“Our authors hold contests, give away T-shirts, and let their readers name their characters. They try to be creative and have fun,” said Howard, “but most importantly, they listen to their readers.”