Branding concepts in publishing

We may not judge our books by their logos, but a distinctive marque can still make all the difference for emerging imprints. Anna Richardson unravels the branding concepts behind three new publishing ventures.

Diana the Huntress, Eve’s apple or a simple descriptive letter are just some examples of prominent publishing logos. But many would struggle to match a logo with the imprint it denotes – apart from that penguin of Penguin, of course.

‘Imprints are mostly a way of publishers presenting themselves to other customers within the industry such as book retailers or literary agents,’ explains Claire Round, marketing director of William Heinemann, which recently launched new paperback imprint Windmill Books. ‘It’s quite rare for consumers to select a new title on the basis of its publisher.’

Nonetheless, a strong identity is vital when presenting to the trade and can serve as a useful in-house reminder of an imprint’s essence.

One newcomer is Particular Books, a quirky non-fiction list within Penguin Press which launches in July. Editorial directors Helen Conford and Georgina Laycock describe it as ‘fun to know’, from the information within to the books themselves. This will be reflected in their handmade qualities, with a tendency for illustration throughout, bespoke text design and traditional, tactile materials.

The ideas of playfulness and a handmade high quality informed the logo design, and a folded paper rabbit image was created following an in-house pitching process. Art director Jim Stoddart says, ‘It summed up the imprint’s key qualities, but also had a freshness and even flippancy which can be hard to achieve.’

‘I like to think the logo is the page of a book, carefully folded into a rabbit shape,’ explains designer Stefanie Posavec, who created the marque. ‘I wanted to use an animal linked to the UK to emphasise the home-made qualities of the imprint, and as Particular Books is meant to be a hand-crafted, quirky and playful imprint, [the folded effect] made perfect sense to me.’

Another animal-inspired logo emerged at Corvus, a new imprint of genre fiction from Grove/Atlantic. The challenge was to represent the diversity of the list, which spans crime, historical and science fiction. ‘What I’m interested in are books which don’t fit into one particular genre,’ says publishing director Nicolas Cheetham. The name, Latin genus for the raven family, suited the list partly because of its mythical connotations. Also, the collective noun for crows is ‘a murder of crows’ and for ravens – more spuriously – ‘a storytelling of ravens’, which added extra resonance.

The logo developed from the initial idea of a Venetian raven mask, which turned into an ink blotch, eventually morphing into a fluid raven motif. ‘It represents the variety that Corvus will publish,’ says independent designer Andy Valla, who conjured the logo. ‘I wanted it to have freedom and break out of the mould of traditional publishing logos.’ Cheetham adds, ‘I always like publishers’ logos which are more flowing and was keen to introduce some of that to Corvus.’

Cheetham doesn’t think that the brand and logo are that important to a new imprint. ‘It’s important that the trade knows what kind of books they might be able to expect from your imprint; I’m not certain that an actual logo makes a huge amount of difference,’ he says. ‘But it does show attention to detail.’ It might also add a narrative to the imprint name, says Cheetham, and if it is used larger on advance proofs it can successfully herald new Corvus launches.

At new Random House imprint Windmill Books, the logo had to represent the literary aspirations of the division and distinguish itself from the publisher’s other, predominantly commercial paperback imprint, Arrow. Deriving in part from the well-established Heinemann windmill logo, the new one needed to create its own distinctive personality, says art director Richard Ogle. ‘Featuring an actual windmill would look either too close to the Heinemann logo, old fashioned or Dutch, none of which fitted the books or the profile of the potential readers.’ The result was a six-sail emblem, combining dynamism and a timeless appeal.

When it comes to the books’ design, imprints tend to approach each title individually. ‘The cover design will be entirely dependent on the books,’ says Cheetham. ‘The list is going to be very diverse. To tie them together with an overall brand would be doing a disservice to the author and reader.’

The Windmill launch list is also diverse. ‘Our priority, beyond the branding message, was to create a livery which would be flexible, distinctive and also design-friendly,’ says Ogle. The only rules are the positioning of the logo on the spine, the barcode block on the back cover and a reproduction of authors’ signatures inside.

‘From the bold graphic design of The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway to the rich contemporary literary feel of The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III, they approach a more literary sensibility from very different directions, with disparate design aesthetics, which somehow successfully sit as one.’

Beyond the books, the identity can focus the publishing process in other ways. ‘The design helps us when we talk about the imprint within Penguin and present books to our sales colleagues,’ says Particular’s Conford. ‘It helps focus our attention on the qualities we are looking for in the books we commission. It’s a visual reminder of the qualities – crafted, characterful, fun to know – that we hope the imprint will embody.’ •

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  • dee November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Bad idea, that printed signature. Now all the online sellers offering “signed copies” just create confusion. What were y’all thinking?

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