Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pick me up before you go-go

Mes Amis

Does anyone else think about the publisher before they pick up a book?

Since starting my current day job, I’ve had to brush up on the bookseller equivalent of The Knowledge*. I may specialise in crime fiction but there’s still a whole lot I don’t know. So I take advantage of bookseller ARCS to read books I wouldn’t normally consider and to discover more about the wide world of publishing.

And I’ve started to realise something - - the key to discovering new authors is not to read blurbs but to consider the publisher.

Certain publishers are getting higher hit rates with me. I get excited by Polygon crime ARCS now (even David Ashton, who doesn’t write my typical style, is actually very good at the Historical, bringing to it a fine sense of time and place). Also Quercus, who even if they don’t always publish crime always publish something intriguing (Pilo Family Circus, please stand up!). Orion, of course, as well. And Serpent's bloody Tail who, before I even registered the name, were introducing me to Mosely, Pelecanos and a whole boatload of truly exciting writers.

Certain publishers have a more hit and miss ratio for me, but intrigue me. And certain publishers I tend to avoid altogether apart from a cursory glance.

Maybe its because this is the first time I’ve ever had to think about the publishers, but I’ve found that it’s a way of finding new-to-me authors I’d never have encountered, relying on the strength of the publishing brand to convince me to crack open the book. And if I wasn’t in the job I’m in, I wonder, would I ever do that? I don’t think so, because I don’t think the average reader gives two hoots about the publishing brand. Which may explain why they don’t branch out that often – they have nothing to go on with a new author other than blurbs (which many average people assume are done as favours/for cash bungs if I’m to judge by a few comments I’ve overheard) or advertising (and let’s face it, book advertising is rarely imaginative and often homogenous between publishing houses – coming off the train the other day at Waverley, I saw three publisher billboards for upcoming thrillers from different houses and, names and titles aside, they all looked the same).

Brands can be built. Certain people will only buy shoes from Nike or t-shirts from, uh, FCUK**. But most people will buy books from any publishing house and mostly based on the fact that they… already like the author or it appears similar enough to an author they already like. Witness Andrew Gross being touted as a “best selling co-author” capitalising not on his talent or his publisher, but rather on the brand of the Thriller Machine James Patterson whose name on a book – whether he wrote, plotted or simply came up with the characters – guarantees sales***.

At the same time, getting publisher brands more imbedded in reader conciousness might be a way of leading to more reader experimentation. I will now read any book by Quercus. Or Serpent’s Tail. But if I wasn’t a bookseller, would I even be aware of the publishers? Would the thought of who they are and what they do even cross my mind?

Because I’m sure it doesn’t with most bookbuyers, which might explain why they’re so lost when looking for a good book. Why they don’t experiment.

As ever, I can’t offer answers. Because as ever, this blog is just random thoughts from the top of my head, but I’m interested to know if anyone else will automatically examine books from certain publishers, or if its just me who’s starting to think that way.

Au revoir


*For those who don’t know, The Knowledge, is like that thing taxi drivers have where they know the ins and outs of the city - - I think it might be a London taxi-driver specific thing, but don’t quote me on that

**Can you tell I’m not one of the people who pays attention to brands on clothes, because I was really struggling to think of them here…

***Very much like Tom Clancy - - these guys are no longer authors but brands of their own.


Graham said...

Do you have Hard Case Crime in the UK? The spines of their books all look alike, and on the covers only the illustration is different.

Since they only take single books, they can sell the brand, not the author, and this approach has been very successful.

Russel said...


I love Hard Case, but they're not a UK publisher (HCC are available pretty much through import only afaik), who are the people I was specifically thinking about. I think they do an ace job of selling a brand - and ensuring the general quality of it, too.

I wonder how well they would do with the general British buying public.

Vincent said...

Is it the publisher/imprint brand that warrants a following or is it the editors that select their list of titles? If the people behind the scenes change, does the logo on the jacket continue to merit loyalty? I don't know the answer to either of those questions, because I haven't a clue who publishes the books I read, but I'll certainly try to take note in future.

I don't suppose one of those book adverts you saw when getting off the train were for a Rickards' book? Because he seems to have serious problems sustaining original covers.