Why Do Some Authors’ Books Get a Branded Look?

From Eye on Design:

When Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez of Strick&Williams were invited to design Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, Strick was already intimately familiar with the work. As the designer of The Paris Review, the magazine that serialized Cusk’s first book in the series, Strick had already acquainted herself with the roving narrative, which traces the journey of a woman enroute to Greece and the strangers she meets along the way. As three books, hatched one after the other like eggs, it only made sense to design Outline, Transit, and Kudos as a trio, with a “spare but evocative” vibe, as Strick put it, which bridges together each part of the whole.

While designing one cover or jacket requires the designer to conjure a single visual solution, crafting a cohesive look for such a project creates an added challenge. Each cover must encapsulate the story within while simultaneously maintaining some coherent iconography that can run through every title—not unlike a magazine design. And that design challenge and opportunity is magnified to the extreme when all of an author’s books take on a clearly defined aesthetic, which Cusk’s eventually did with work by Farrar, Straus & Giroux creative director and designer Rodrigo Corral.

Such comprehensive cover design initiatives tap into the same power as branded objects. It might seem dismal to compare an author to a brand. The writer—the literary purveyor, if you will—is indispensable, and each book they produce is a unique object. To group them together in a branded package like bottles on a drug store shelf can seem reductive, dystopian even, at its face. But this is essentially what publishers do when they commission several books by one author to be designed in a similar fashion. It’s a way for the publisher to associate a particular writer with a visual identity. And ultimately, despite any venal ambitions on behalf of publishers, the designs they require can be demanding and gratifying artistic projects for book designers.

Corral’s covers are the ones Cusk is perhaps now most well-known for. They’re white, modern—brutalist almost—with one slightly oversaturated, often metaphorical photo in the center of each. Amid the swirl of illustrated covers as of late, it seems unique to find photos on the covers of novels. While it sometimes risks narrative misinterpretation, as in Peter Hujar’s enigmatic photo on the cover of A Little Life, for Cusk’s books, it works, perhaps because her writing tends to take on broad philosophical questions. “So much of the [Outline trilogy] takes place in transit and on planes,” Corral explains. “The reading experience is quite similar to eavesdropping. You cannot stop listening or reading.” Fittingly, the image on the third installment of the Outline series is the contemplative view one experiences when peering out an airplane window.

Link to the rest at Eye on Design

7 thoughts on “Why Do Some Authors’ Books Get a Branded Look?”

  1. …It might seem dismal to compare an author to a brand. The writer—the literary purveyor, if you will—is indispensable, and each book they produce is a unique object. To group them together in a branded package like bottles on a drug store shelf can seem reductive, dystopian even, at its face. …

    Yeah, those darn authors and their books. Who needs ’em?!

  2. And yet… everyone who writes a series (more common in genre fiction than literature) has to maintain a related design of each cover to proclaim loudly that the books belong together, so that someone who has read one of them will recognize the others.

    The OP’s example is nice. But hardly notable as a unique challenge.

  3. Why do some come books get a branded look?
    Duh.
    Good marketing.
    Perfect example:
    https://d1466nnw0ex81e.cloudfront.net/n_iv/600/3956447.jpg

    One look tells the shopper it is a ROBITECH adaption, which series, and its place in the series.
    The graphic? Secondary really. By tge time th is book came out the branding alone sold it.

    Similar examples abounded back when MMPB was a real market:
    The ACE editions of Burroughs series, all with Frazetta art.
    The Ballentine editions of the full Tarzan Series with art by Neal Adams.
    The Darkover hardcovers with Whelan covers.
    Anything lucky enough to get covers by Whelan,Morrow, Boris…
    Same artist, same set of aesthetics…
    If you got one, the cover alone sold the rest.

    Any Indie doing series would be well advised to maintain a uniform trade dress, ideally with a distinctive logo.

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