Does The Imprint Matter?

A few things have been making me ponder the imprints of books over the last few weeks. First up was when I was discussing a book and someone asked me what the imprint was and then if that imprint was very good which was something I wasn’t aware I give much thought to but then realised that I do. A bit like prizes actually thinking about it, you know the ones you really trust the selection of, or not as the case may be.

While in London I bumped into Meike Ziervogel who wrote Magda and also runs Peirene Press, who translate novella’s, which instantly reminded me I hadn’t read as many of their brilliant (they have all been very good so far) books as I have meant to. I also have a friend who has been looking for a new publisher and who asked me if I would recommend any, I instantly reeled off three or four who I would recommend because a) the staff there are lovely b) overall the books I read from their publishing house are just up my street – a publisher to trust on all counts. I also spotted a receptionist in a museum reading a Penguin Modern Classic this weekend, which I instantly recognised from the brand which whenever I see a copy of second hand I snatch up even if I know nothing about it because I trust them on previous experience.

This isn't a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

This isn’t a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

Mulling it (I like a good mull) all over made me wonder if I am partial to certain publishing houses in particular and where my bias lies. To get a negative out of the way, a certain book won a prize the other day and I looked at the publisher and rolled my eyes as I don’t really like them, not because of their books but because their publicity departments are a nightmare to work with. It shouldn’t matter but then again it does, a lot like one publishing house who has a publicists whose tweets were so up their own bottoms I blocked them and have avoided their books since. Bad, I know. Judgemental? Very. Yet once you have an impression of an imprint it sticks, good or bad. And it isn’t just the publishers you know in reality, it is also just the publishing houses you read regularly simply as a reader. For example Gran used to say she could generally trust Virago’s if she was stuck for a book to read.

Obviously I am working my way through the Persephone Classics (if a little slower than intended) and the reason for this is because through all the ones I have read, which I think is about ten or twelve now in total, maybe more, there is only one which I haven’t like and I have forgiven it everything because it is a Persephone – which is clearly a rather partial leaning isn’t it? I am hoping that when I re-read it (it was The New House by Lettice Cooper) I ‘get’ it the second time around and am 100% proven that all Persephone’s are brimming with wonder. Anyway, I digress…

Another pair of publishers that haven’t gone wrong for me are another two small independents (I need to mull over the bigger imprints more). They are Peirene Press (who I have already mentioned) and And Other Stories. Both feature novels that tend to be short-ish and cover fiction from all over the world and even though every book has something different about it you understand why it fits in the imprints umbrella, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will? I have actually rearranged my shelves recently so that these imprints’ titles all sit together and I can make a beeline for them as I must read more of them. In fact I really must pick one of them up next!

What about all of you? Do you have a certain publisher that you turn to when you need a good read and are pretty much certain any of their books will do the trick? (Feel free to tell me which one publisher it is!) Are there any you’ve had a pretty bad failure rate with? Do you have a classic or independent print you make sure you have the whole collection of and really support? Or does it simply not matter?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

22 responses to “Does The Imprint Matter?

  1. Well, Simon, as I’m sure you’d figure, I’m coming at this from a SF/F perspective.

    To me – YES! The imprint *does*

  2. Well I must say that I’m starting to become partial to Penguin. It’s the combination that’s a real winner – beautiful covers and beautifully written stories. How can diehard readers like us pass on that?

  3. I’ve been following a couple of imprints for a few years now. While I don’t always like the book, I do find a level of quality overall that I can count on. Art of the Novella from Melville House along with their Noir books; NYRB Editions, Europa Editions, Science Fiction Masters from Gollancz; I buy almost all of these in second hand stores, scouring the shelves, looking for imprints on the spines.

  4. Kateg

    The imprint does help to pick my next read. I, too, gravitate to the NYRB imprint which are reprints of older books. They have introduced me to great stories published before and out of print. I also enjoy Europa which are translated works; I tend to be very US /UK centric in my reading and I feel like Europa broadens me.

  5. What a great idea for perusing bookstores! I will begin paying much more attention to imprints now.

  6. I collect older, green-spined Virago books and I am beginning to collect some of the NYRB classics. I’d love to collect Persephone books one day. I have to admit that I do love unique and/or beautiful books. Part of the charm in working in a library is that I get to see the beautiful books in our rare book collection or some of the nicer editions in the stacks. I think Persephone books are gorgeous (hello, lovely end papers), I like the smooth look of the NYRB classics, and I really enjoy pretty much anything Penguin creates. I think Penguin has done a really nice job in making the artistry of books relative again. I love their Deluxe editions, the Penguin English Library, and the Penguin Clothbound and I think I should probably own all of these books (ahem… don’t tell my husband). As far as Virago goes, the new ones are quite beautiful and I love that they publish forgotten/under-valued women authors from the past. Of course I will read anything you give me, but if I had to chose I’d pick a lovely deckled-edge novel with lovely endpapers and a nice, thickly weighted paper.

  7. I’ve a lot of old penguins and love Peirene books and and other stories another of my favourites is the us publisher archieplago book that do square books of various sizes and shapes

  8. None’s mentioned Pushkin Press yet – so I will. Been collecting their gorgeousness for years …..

  9. gaskella

    It does matter – you do tend to build up a relationship with the lists of particular publishers, even if you don’t realise it. Yes – like you when I see a Penguin Mod Classic in a charity shop, I snap it up regardless (particularly the new design). I have always loved Penguin. When I was a teenager – it was them and Gollancz in the library for their yellow spines. Now I also love Persephone, Pushkin Press, Peirene – all the ‘P’s it seems, but equally those other specialists who produce quality books in their curated lists (Europa etc). My real addiction is Folio …!

  10. It does matter to me in two respects: a) I am far more likely to pick something up from a publisher I trust and respect, and if it is well-bound; b) I am far more likely to keep it on my bookshelves instead of donating it to the local library or Women’s Association sales. And I like many of the same ones others have mentioned above: Peirene, Europa, Gallic, Penguin Classics. The same applies to my foreign language books – there are some cheap but nevertheless gorgeous French or German imprints, such as Fischer Verlag, Gallimard, Albin Michel, Folio.

  11. It certainly *does* matter – the best imprints have an identity and you know you can rely on them. And like many, I’ll always look at a Penguin because you usually can’t go wrong. And I’d *never* pick up a Mills and Boon……. :s

  12. Penguin Classics and Wordsworth Classics always grab me, and I know I have a few I probably would avoid just as their books aren’t my thing. But, over all I’m probably totally ignorant, which has it’s pros and cons. I would like to be a lot more aware of the smaller publishing houses.

  13. David

    Some of the big publishers publish so many books that not everything they put out is going to be my thing (and a lot of them seem to be inventing ‘imprints’ lately just to increase the number of submissions they can make to awards), but – big name as they may be – I do always trust the American publisher Knopf. Biblioasis in Canada can be relied on for intriguing fiction and I agree with your Gran about Virago (I’ve seldom met one I didn’t like and I trust their list implicitly if I’m looking for a present for my Mum).

    For many years I was addicted to Folio Society books (which is why I have all of Joseph Conrad’s books without having read any of them!) but their current editor’s fondness for science fiction and thrillers has led me to allow my membership to lapse – I now just pick up the odd book that appeals.

    Over the last couple of years I’ve become a fan of some of the American university presses (Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia, Nevada). In the past I’d – wrongly – dismissed them, but not only do they put out some fabulous fiction (it’s interesting to see how many current well-known US novelists had debut short story collections put out by them) they’re also often beautifully produced (from Iowa’s unusually tall and slim paperbacks to Massachusetts’ lovely cloth bindings).

  14. Seeing it’s from Knopf always makes me think it’s probably going to be good.

  15. Erm, yes 😉

    For majors, Vintage are always good. As for the small indie translated fiction presses, there are far too many to list completely. Let’s say Peirene, And Other Stories, Pushkin, Comma Press, MacLehose and many others whom I hope I haven’t offended by omission…

  16. Peirene, Persephone, and I agree with Tony about Vintage. If a book’s published by Vintage it will generally make the difference if I’ve otherwise been unsure. I also shelve Peirene and Persephone books together, they are the only publishers whose work I don’t shelve by author.

  17. I was going to mention NYRB as well, and Gollancz’s SF Masterworks are always interesting. But yeah, top of the heap is Penguin, an imprint I’ve loved ever since I was a kid. Pretty hard to pass up a Penguin Modern Classics or a Penguin English Library when cruising used books.

  18. Viragos, Persephones, and NYRBs. I’ve only had one “dud” with Persephones, and for me, that was Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.

  19. I agree. There are certainly publishers I trust more than others. I have had really good experience with Simon & Schuster and like about every book I’ve read. Penguin, Vintage, Hachette, Pushkin are also favorites.

  20. The way a book feels in my hands is so important and so whenever I see a black-spined Penguin classic in a charity shop I snap it up! Virago Modern Classics and Persephone Press (obviously) and for Canadian titles I’m stuck on the House of Anansi Press which bats about a thousand for me.

  21. I have a feeling I’ll be checking back with the comments for the next few days – a shocking number of imprints already mentioned are completely new to me (Europa sounds especially interesting)!

    The imprints that I tend to gravitate toward are fairly large in their own right: I have an extremely good record with both Viking and Atria and recently discovered Pamela Dorman, an imprint of Viking (an imprint of an imprint??). Whether I’m browsing a bookstore or am looking at upcoming releases, if these imprints are involved, chances are the book and I will get along just fine.

  22. Pingback: Let’s Talk About…Imprints! | The Pretty Good Gatsby

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