Book Branding

By David Alan Rech of Scribe Inc.


Book branding is getting a lot of attention: Book Business Magazine devoted its February issue to branding. The 2013 Tools of Change conference focused on the topic in a number of discussions. Numerous blogs discuss branding, and even the editorial and production staff among our clients are mentioning it more frequently.

Before branding became all the rage, publishers created works distinct to them. In the history of publishing, there have been various terms—including “imprint identity”—to communicate this notion. As an industry, we selected authors, edited manuscripts, and designed books to meet the demands of our customers. Customers felt a connection to specific publishers, sought out their publications, and knew exactly what to expect inside the book cover the moment they saw the colophon on the spine. This is successful branding at its finest.

We seem to have lost that art at a time when it is needed most. In today’s market, it is crucial to make a title stand out. Instead of viewing branding as a marketing concern, publishers need to approach it (imprint identity) principally as an editorial function. Here are some approaches to brand a book to your style and make it stand out:

  • Editorial consistency. It is our role to edit books and present information that consistently meets expectations. The expectation is for more than an error-free book. Obviously, we want authors to speak in their finest voice; however, we also need to present materials in ways that draw the reader in. We should not only deliver books that are copyedited to the prevailing style of formatting, but also achieve a consistent writing style. For fiction, that means ensuring the author’s voice resonates with the audience in both obvious and subtle ways. For nonfiction, it should mean the consistent use of terminology, structure, and accessibility.
  • Editorial aesthetic. We already mentioned style. It is important to use nomenclature consistently, treat heads consistently, and so on. These days, books are not only print products; they also appear in electronic format. Limiting the size of chapter and head names, considering the graphic presentation of materials, and creating a consistent book structure all contribute to identifiable—or branded—content.
  • Information accessibility. We need to make books of all types accessible. This means consistent use of metadata. Indexes are an excellent way to draw people to books. Indexing using house terminology (we recommend the development of an indexing canon) can create a branding opportunity by providing the ability to search multiple books for a topic or term. Accessing information also means presenting consistent entry points to your books. Since the first place most people turn to find out about a book is the table of contents, these should be produced in a consistent fashion so customers know what to expect (i.e., have a branded experience) each time they open your books.
  • Design consistency. For series, such as O’Reilly Media’s technical books or John Wiley’s For Dummies guides, the name and the design go hand-in-hand. It is harder to implement consistent design when you have a variety of subjects. Design should not only convey the publisher’s identity, but also convey the tone of the book’s content. For most publishers, making every book look the same would spell disaster, but design means more than the way a book is rendered. Design is the method you use to present information, and you can enhance the reading experience by adhering to consistent design standards. If you do not think this is possible, consider the work of certain artists or designers (e.g., Pablo Picasso or Dieter Rams). They do not produce the same artwork, but their body of work is distinctive. Inconsistent or choppy design hinders concentration and comprehension, which distracts the reader, thus preventing him from associating the book with your brand. Beautiful and consistent design not only makes a book easier to read but also creates a mood that draws in the customer. When a book evokes an emotion, or brings a moment of clarity, this experience confirms that the choice made by the reader is correct and makes him wish for more. The result is that customers will both identify with your product and will be able to identify your company—that is branding.

Branding does not merely mean the way a book looks or the marketing behind it. We can spend a lot of time creating striking covers, marketing our titles, and generating hype. But if we do not create consistent products that draw our customers to our imprint, we fail to properly brand our books. That activity is not merely the responsibility of the marketing group, but is predominantly that of the editorial and production staff. Through branding, we create a distinctive and identifiable reading experience.