Fan appeal

Books that tie in with TV shows are big business these days – often they are bestsellers with high production values. But there are many ways of capturing the imagination of a seemingly captive audience through design, argues Anna Richardson

Long gone is the time when a TV tie-in would be either a drab novelisation or an uninspiring text with a screen-grab front cover. These days, whether in form of cookery’s Jamie or Delia, entertainment’s Top Gear, or the mightily creative Mighty Book of Boosh, tying in is a challenging and bestselling business.

One success story is the ever-popular QI series. Building on the quirky identity of the Stephen Fry-fronted comedy quiz show, the books have proved a consistent seller for independent publisher Faber and Faber. According to senior designer Alex Kirby, ‘It’s very important to maintain the link between the show and the books and make sure they’re readily identifiable, but at the same time pushing the envelope.’ The aim was to make the books ‘witty, quirky, intelligent and accessible, and to give a sense of the TV show on the cover of the book’.

For the original titles, Faber used illustrator Mr Bingo, who incorporated instantly recognisable elements from the show, namely the logo and its main stars Fry and Alan Davies. Since then, the books have evolved, with other illustrators and styles, but always fitting really well into the comedy genre, says Kirby. Advanced Banter, for example, illustrated by Piers Sanford, uses serif type and has a Victorian-poster look to convey a humorous reference-book feel.

A recent new edition of Book of General Ignorance sports a more traditional, photographic tie-in cover, coinciding with the TV show’s move from BBC Two to the more mainstream BBC One. The cover was designed in collaboration with the authors, says Kirby. ‘The styles are very different. Probably most • designers would prefer the original, illustrated version, but the new book was launched to broaden the market,’ he adds.

One brand that couldn’t be more different from the quirky QI is Doctor Who. Since the return of the Doctor to the BBC in 2005, any related publications have had to adhere to strict style guidelines. Freelance designer Lee Binding of Tea Lady helps draw up the style bible every year, and is the general go-to man in all things Doctor Who design. The guide provides strict parameters, from Pantone colours matching every aspect of the Doctor Who world to the Deviant Strain font, approved action shots and TV show logo. The brand itself is incredibly strong, says Binding: ‘We’ve got great photography that instantly brings anything to life. When I design the covers, I put myself in the mindset of a six-year-old fan and bring all that excitement to the work.’

While Doctor Who’s tie-ins are inextricably linked to the TV brand, others like to stand apart. BBC Books is publishing The Victorians by Jeremy Paxman this month to accompany his series on Victorian society seen through the paintings of the era. But its cover features neither Paxman nor screen grabs, and its designer, Tara O’Leary of O’Leary & Cooper, never saw any of the footage, mainly due to the tight publishing schedule.

‘It worked well approaching it as a standalone book and not being too influenced by the programme,’ says O’Leary. ‘I was trying to make sure the design was sympathetic [to the programme], but I was working from the text, which is very good and really helped the design itself.’ When designing a book, the primary concern is to make sure that it’s as usable as possible, adds O’Leary. ‘I wanted to keep the design simple and elegant, and not over-clutter it.’

Mitchell Beazley senior art editor Juliette Norsworthy also focused on the standalone integrity of Nature’s Great Events, which accompanies a forthcoming landmark series from the BBC’s Natural History Unit. ‘One of our tasks was to make the book interesting in its own right, but also to work very closely with the programme,’ explains Norsworthy.

Norsworthy was keen to use TV footage and location photography, working closely with the production team to include as many of the programme’s stories as possible. With the Natural History Unit celebrated for its award-winning animal and nature documentaries, imagery was key. ‘We wanted the images to stand out, so we kept the typography clean and simple,’ says Norsworthy.

She also gave the book an extra level of information, using boxes, maps and other graphics. But where the inside of the book has its own look and design elements to convey information appropriately, the jacket needs to scream its allegiance to its TV source, says Norsworthy – it is vital that the programme’s viewers can easily find the tie-in. ‘You’ve got to consider how a jacket looks in the bookshop, as well as reduced to an eighth of its size on Amazon,’ she explains. ‘A cover nowadays has to do a much harder job.’

With tie-in success variously attributed to the power of the written word, the high-quality production values of the BBC or a punchy cover, it is impossible to conjure a perfect recipe – which luckily means that the task is all the more challenging and fun for book designers everywhere.

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