Thursday, April 15, 2010

The brand

by Jessica

Two recent stories in Publishing Perspectives caught my eye: first, that the number of self and micro published titles has risen to the staggering figure of 764,448 in the last year; the next was a story about whether consumers feel a sense of allegiance (or actually notice) the name of a book’s publisher or imprint.

Taken together, the stories seem to capture two countervailing impulses in publishing. For many writers, the decision to publish without backing from a major house--whether by choice or necessity--expresses a fundamental confidence that it is the author, not imprint, who is the “brand.” The latter article (which is more impassioned argument for than clear demonstration of) points to imprints that have built for themselves a recognizable brand identity. The articles cites Knopf, Vintage, and Penguin Classics as imprints that readers may deliberately seek out, or at the very least, spot and have a baseline assurance of quality.

So, I’m curious to know: How often, or have you ever, bought a self-published book?  Have you self-published a book yourself?  To what degree to you pay attention to a book’s imprint?  Are there imprints that you swear by?


  1. I've recognized that Pantheon's breadth is intriguing to me, but I have never bought a book based on anything other than who wrote it and/or my desire to read it.

    I also don't buy self-published books. :) I'd like to know the book has been given some effort and - whether true or not - I don't get that impression from self-publication.

  2. I haven't purchased any self-pubbed books (as far as I know). I definitely don't look at publishers when I am choosing books, either.

    I usually am looking in a particular genre, and after that, the cover/title and the jacket copy are what I use to decide what to purchase. Books on end caps or faced out do catch my attention first, but if the jacket copy doesn't draw me in, I move on.

  3. Only since I have been seriously writing (for publication) have I started paying attention to the imprints. I buy books that I want to read or from authors whom I have read before and love their work.

    I still remember my first self published book I ever bought. I was probably 11 or 12 and my parents took me to the swap meet. The author was set up with a table of her books and was signing them if you bought one. She was very nice and when I got home I read her book from cover to cover. It was actually really good (although it was a romance, so there were sections that were clearly inappropriate for a YA/MG reader!) I think the author was just happy to have a sale that she gave no thought to which audience the book was intended for.

  4. I've only bought one self-published book. I think, maybe. Does Publish America count? Because the guy who owned the local bookstore finally got his story published and he pushed it heavily on those customers that talked to him regularly -- not in the rude way, but in the won't you be happy for me way.

    Unless the author worked hard and got their book into bookstores (where I pick up most of my books) or on amazon where I look for things I've heard of that may not be on the shelves locally. Other than accessibility, publisher's names don't mean anything to me. Knowing it was self-published, I can look back and see the lack of polish in Bill's book. But there have been books published by major publishers I haven't been able to read -- and books on the best seller lists with titles you'd have to be dead not to know that I wasn't able to make it past chapter three on.

    I watch the author name.

  5. The only time I've ever paid attention to a specific book's publisher or imprint is when I've had to reference titles in essays at university.

    Truthfully, I couldn't tell you if I've ever read a self-published book, mostly because I never look at the name of the publisher when I buy something. When I choose a book I've never heard of before, I look at the title, cover, author or genre, and if something about that grabs me, I'll look at the blurb (store) or blurb and reviews (online).

    It's an interesting thing to think about, as a writer. I never really noticed before that, while I look at agencies and publishers for writing-related things and when I'm looking up books that are similar to mine, I never, ever consider the publisher when picking up a random book to read.

  6. I used to buy books for a local store in the Tower Records chain. I found self-publishing works best for subjects that appeal to a small group of readers. For example, a book about a band that few people had ever heard of would sell to my music crazy customers, but not at Barnes and Noble.

    I do recognize some publishers that specialize in a genre. Hard Case Case is going to be a crime thriller or hardboiled mystery. Tor will be a science fiction or fantasy book. One of the problem with publisher branding is the constant musical chairs publishers play with the small brands. Which brands does Random House own now? All the bouncing around makes the publisher's name next to worthless. And even if I recognize a publisher it is the author's words that interest me.

  7. I've never looked at the publishing house/imprint when buying a book. The only time I ever noticed it was in non-fiction books, when it was necessary for me to include the publisher in citations for my research papers.

  8. I have not purchased any self-published books, although I have bought one that was self-published before being picked up by a major publisher (THE LACE READER). The only time I plan to buy a self-published book is one forthcoming from a writer I know, who is self-pubbing that novel because she is targeting it for a very small, niche audience and doesn't want to go through the traditional venues. (I think she should, but that's her choice.)

    I think it's rather prevalent in genre fiction to consider the publisher/specific imprint, although it's not an end-all be-all consideration. SF fans seem to think they can generally trust books from Tor or Orbit. I imagine the same is true for readers of romance as well. I don't look too hard when I'm buying, but if I read a SF book I don't particularly enjoy and then look and see it was published by some relatively unknown company, I do admit to occasional thoughts of "no wonder."

  9. I never pick a book based on the imprint. I do believe the author is the brand. I'm not conscious of whether a book is self-published when I buy it.

  10. I self published my first book, but plan to go the traditional route with my second. This recent blog post explains:

    I'd also like to point out that it is not always obvious when a book has been self-published. I created my own company and published in its name, not my own. So someone buying it might not realize it was self published. They may have just thought it was published by a small press...

  11. @ Bethany - In some ways MORE effort goes in to self publishing a book. It's best not to make assumptions. A self-published book was not necessarily rejected by publishers. Some authors simply choose that route. Either way, the writer puts blood, sweat and tears into the process, I can assure you.

  12. As many have answered above, I don't look to the publisher when I am buying a book, unless is for my researches. If so, I look to the author first, and his/her credentials, and the publisher.
    I usually pick up a fiction book based in the cover, but I must open it and check in a few glimpses if I like the "voice". If I like it, I'll probably buy it.

  13. I have purchased a few self-published books and have been impressed with the product for the most part. The cover usually attracts me first, then the description on the back. I usually look at the publisher to see who is publishing in the genre that I write.

  14. I'm in the midst of self publishing my first book, but it was a conscious choice rather than reaction to rejection (though I did send out a number of queries which were rejected). I am a graphic designer by trade and have helped produce a few books for clients of mine. Because of that, I decided to produce my own book, as much to learn more about the process for my clients as for my own personal satisfaction.

    Unlike (I believe) the vast majority of self pubbed pieces, I am having mine professionally edited because, frankly, there is a lot of low quality work out there. My hope is that mine will not add to that pile.

    For my own buying purposes, I can't recall paying any attention to who published any particular book. If the cover attracts me, and the blurb on the back sounds interesting, I'll give it a whirl.

  15. I never paid any attention to the publisher until I started researching comps to my current book in progress...

  16. My thoughts are the same as all above, I choose based on the author or the cover/jacket.
    However, when I pick up a really bad book, THEN I look to see who published it.

  17. I've purchased three self-published books--as research for a book proposal--and I actually read them. I endured atrocious grammar, sentences which went nowhere, misspelled words, pathetic metaphors, ah, don't get me started.

    I used to search for Penguin books in trade and mass market. I was loyal to the brand for its extensive backlist and for the cover art. These days, I'm loyal only to good writing (or what I call good writing--hard to define, but I know it when I see it). Looking at my bookshelves, I see that brand really means nothing to me.

  18. I absolutely notice the imprint - we have many FSG, Grove, Knopf, Dalkey, and NYRB titles in this house. I've never purchased a self-published book.

  19. Ok, I’ll admit to being blown away that anyone in the publishing industry thought fiction readers purchased books based upon publisher. Maybe if publishers supported author book tours (in bulk), I would pay more attention to the imprint.

    I have bought many self-published books, some excellent, some in gross need of editing. The same is true of all the imprint books I've purchased, even if I can’t tell you who printed them.

    When I purchase a book, my decision is based upon (and loyalty given to) who wrote it, not who published it. The author moves, so does my money.

  20. The publisher is irrelevant in my selection of books for the most part. The exception is if the publisher partakes in unethical or illegal business practices. Then, I won't buy anything from them.

    And I do buy self-published stuff all the time. I just need to sit down and read through some sample pages before spending the money. The stuff I buy is typically short fiction.

    My preferred self-published works are those published under creative commons, where I can obtain the electronic version for free. Then, if I like the electronic version, I will usually buy the printed book, which is normally sold as a POD book.

    I think self-published works need to exist since not all work is commercially viable. There are stories that good, but they will never end up on the NYT bestseller list.

    And it's not hard to create electronic books these days. Just import the document into the latest version of Adobe InDesign, and in seconds, you'll have a electronic book that will need minor proofing. Copyediting services run about a $1 a page, so self-publishing short fiction, which is hard to sell to the big publishers, makes sense.

  21. There are not any imprints that I swear by--although I do notice them. There is one imprint, however, that I take care NOT to purchase. There have been three recent books made by this imprint that looked like something I would like but were, inevitably, disappointing. Therefore, when I see a book made by that particular imprint, I always put it back on the shelf.

    I don't read self-published books. Why bother? There's plenty of books that have proven themselves to be good by more than just the author. I don't have time to read books that are self-published. They're not a sure bet (as in, assured quality) like traditionally published books are.

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  23. Once upon a time in a land far far away, I would race through a bookstore to find Delacorte's trade PBs. When they were publishing Vonnegut and lots of other fun American lit.

    I was also a sucker for bruised Penguin sales. Anything in the orange Penguin pb that was on sale, I bought. ANYTHING. :-)

    Delacorte published a lot of disappearing authors (who wrote SMALL POTATOES?) in trade PB, but they were always fun.

    Oh, and I almost forgot, Doubleday Crime Clubs were on my list, as well. I think, btw, I was the last one. One of the last three anyway.

    As for branding authors, look closely at genre or reading-group (MG or YA for instance) FIRST-TIME AUTHORS covers. Can't even find the name on most of them.

    I'm currently reading Andrew Fukuda's incredible YA novel, CROSSING, in full-cover ARC and I need a magnifying glass to read his name on the cover. So I imagine some publisher branding accounts for something with books by first-time authors. Though, it probably has more to do with what bookstores order than with titles flying off the shelf (rack).

    I have bought and read many self-published books but always in niche NON FICTION areas I was avidly interested in. These have been around for a long, long time and don't really represent trends in the new access to having one's book published.

    And poetry, but not by unkowns. People like Robert Bly used to self-publish books and chapbooks on a regular basis. They turned out to be wonderful investments, btw. :-)

  24. I've never bought a self-pubbed book, but I am aware of imprints in the sense that when I'm browsing for books or new authors, my eyes instantly gravitate toward a particular spine or cover. That's not a conscious awareness of brand loyalty, just the sense that certain imprints publish more books I end up loving.

  25. I would say an author's name is the bigger of the "brands"; if I know an author I usually don't pay attention to the imprint. However I definitely have paid attention to imprints when buying a book from an unknown author. It's not an always thing, but I have done it. An unknown author from an imprint I usually like is more likely to be something I'll be happy reading (and paying money for) than something from an imprint I have no idea about or, worse, usually dislike.

    I haven't bought any self-published books. I can't really see myself doing so unless it was (1) a close friend or family member (I'd be pretty leary still) or (2) recommended heavily by someone or some organization I trust... Like if JoeShmoe sefpubbed I'd probably not pick it up. But if... say To Write Love on Her Arms said it was a great book you'd probably then have several thousand copies sold because they have so many followers.

  26. I was never conscious of publishing houses before I started writing seriously. It still doesn't sway me much when it comes to buying a book, but I have noticed that there are some publishers I tend to buy a lot of books from, at least in children's: Bloomsbury, Delacorte, and HarperCollins.

    I would only read a self-published book if it was recommended to me three times. I've never read one. I see publishers as a kind of quality control but to me the authors are the brand.

  27. I have never bought a self-published book, but it's more that they don't really come onto my radar. Actually, maybe I have. I think an internet marketing book that I bought might be self-published.

    I do pay attention to imprint when I read. I get a lot of Penguin ARCs from a friend and I have to say I'm more apt to stick with a Razorbill or Dutton book that I'm maybe not sure about at first, than I am with a Dial book. Nothing wrong with Dial, I love some of them, but they're not always my cup of tea, so if I'm not that interested at first, I'm more likely to set it down. I also love Bloomsbury, Little, Brown, and Delacorte.

    Also, I live in a very small community that is known for its artists and writers. Many people are self-published here and the fact that Penguin is my publisher seems to carry a LOT of weight. Even though my first book isn't even out yet, people seem a lot more interested in me after they know I'm with Penguin than they did previous to knowing that info. And I've had some very cool receptions at bookstores when I've introduced myself as an author with a book coming out UNTIL I mention Penguin and then the store owners seem to visibly relax.

  28. I buy books by authors I like, and I follow authors to new publishers.

    I have bought 2 self-published books; Ransome Seaborn by Bill Deasy, which is an amazing book, and his second book, Traveling Clothes, which is in my TBR. I don't get why he's not published by one of the big 6.

    The only time imprint or publisher matters is when I'm talking to people/booksellers. They will often have a polite but frozen expression until I mention I write for Berkley and Grand Central.

  29. Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers. It's true that I never paid attention to imprints until I actually worked in publishing, but in an era in which people are now supposed to brand themselves (an expression I still find a little distasteful) it's actually strange that publishers have not better sorted this out. I know that periodically houses try, but as you all clearly demonstrate, few have quite succeeded.

    As always, thanks for being so articulate and engaged.

  30. What Liesl said, but to her list I would add a few others, such as Penguin and Picador. I've almost never been disappointed by a Penguin or a Picador book.


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