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Do-Overs: Rebranding and Repackaging

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by Deb Vanasse, Reporter, IBPA Independent magazine —

Deb Vanasse

Were your initial book sales underwhelming? Or maybe the market evolved and your book is now “outdated”? It might be time to rebrand and repackage.

Every publisher wants titles that distinguish themselves in the marketplace and are packaged in ways that appeal to readers. But sometimes a worthy book misses the mark, the market shifts, or the book becomes dated. The solution? Rebrand and repackage.

Audience Appeal

Simply put, branding is how publishers distinguish their titles in the marketplace. “A brand is a memorable characteristic that sets one product apart from another,” says Jeniffer Thompson of Monkey C Media. “When we set out to brand something, whether it be an author, a single book, or a series of books, we seek to speak the language of the audience first, to reach them on an emotional level.”

With the brand in mind, Thompson suggests publishers invest “a lot of research and thought” into packaging a book. “Things like trim size, typeface, imagery, and even paper type create an experience for the reader and tell them what they can expect from the guts of that book,” she explains. “A well-packaged book looks professional, instills trust, and intrigues the reader before he or she even picks it up.”

Deciding to Do-Over

Books that look unprofessional or don’t attract attention—or attract the wrong sort of attention—can benefit from rebranding. So can books that have been in the market a while, especially as the market undergoes changes.

Problems with audience appeal convinced Patagonia publisher Karla Olson to make changes to Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods, and at the Table. “The hardcover edition of the book was beautiful, with illustrations from Pacific Northwest paper cut artist Nikki McClure, which complemented the author, Dylan Tomine, who is also from the PNW,” Olson says. “However, the package did not clearly appeal to any of its audiences, who are both parents and foodies. The jacket, which was a black, white, and gray illustration, did not say much about the themes of the book, and some thought it was ‘scary,’ or about Halloween, which it was not at all.”

Redesigned cover for Surf Is Where You Find It

Originally released in 2007, Surf Is Where You Find It, another Patagonia title, needed updates to expand its market reach. “This is Patagonia’s bestselling book, a collection of surf stories from icon Gerry Lopez,” Olson says. “When it came time to reprint in 2015, we decided to freshen the design. The original book was designed by a well-known surf book designer. It was beautiful but a bit staid in its presentation. We wanted to introduce the book to a younger audience.”

A desire for consistency and professionalism prompted Faolan’s Pen Publishing to rebrand and repackage the novels of author Glynn Stewart. “We were switching artists and wanted consistency across all titles, so that new readers, especially [those] online, would be able to glance at a group of books and know they belonged to a series,” explains Faolan’s Pen CEO Jack Giesen. “We also focused on continuously having a more professional product.”

Creating a series brand was also the aim of Sourcebooks when it took over publishing the What Does It Mean to Be…?® books originally released by Little Pickle Press. Because the titles hadn’t been initially conceived as a series, each book had its own distinct look. “We wanted to give the books a cohesive packaging that made it clear this was a series even when the covers were viewed at thumbnail size,” explains Sourcebooks nonfiction editorial director Kelly Barrales-Saylor. “That way, if you’re a fan of one book, you’re more likely to identify another book in the series as one you might like to read.”

The increasing availability of app-based resources inspired John McKinney, self-described “trailmaster” at Trailmaster Inc., to make changes to the company’s trade-sized hiking guides. In an evolving market, he says huge hiking guides were becoming obsolete. He repackaged his list with smaller trim sizes and branded the guides as “Perfect for Your Pocket or Pack.”

A Fresh Eye

Rebranding and redesign begin with taking a fresh look at the product. Thompson recommends identifying five books that will be shelved alongside the title. “Look for current trends in packaging: trim size, cover treatments, colors, typeface, and visuals,” she says.

Build on the success of what’s working with the title, she suggests, as well as strengthening weaker elements. “Research comparable titles and see what people are responding to and buying,” she says. “If your book looks like other books in the genre, people are more likely to be drawn to it and pick it up.”

The adjustments do not need to be large. “Your design doesn’t have to say it all, but it does need to be professional, fit squarely in its intended genre, and intrigue your reader,” Thompson says. “Sometimes the answer to a successful rebrand is simply pulling back and simplifying.”

Redesigned cover for Closer to the Ground

In taking a fresh look at Closer to the Ground, Olson’s team decided to incorporate features that would more directly appeal to the book’s proven audience. Building on the new full-color design, they added personal photos of the author’s children and recipes that enriched the family’s story. “The cover is now a photo of the author and his kids walking in nature, near the water, with the mountains in the background, which really sets the scene and says much more about the themes of the book,” Olson says. “It is much clearer who the book is for—parents and foodies—and what it promises.”

The redesigned Surf Is Where You Find It includes six full-color galleries to supplement the black-and-white photos. A red cover with inset and gold foil stamping replaces a white cover and inset photo. Patagonia released the new edition in two formats simultaneously: hardcover, for collectors, and softcover for a younger audience.

McKinney made changes to his Trailmasters series after gathering suggestions from retailers. “Zero in on what appeals to customers in your subject area,” he advises. In addition to reduced trim size, the series now features unique shipping sleeves and counter displays. As a result, his 20 pocket guides now move at “high velocity,” he says, selling more like gifts than books.

After acquiring a series by self-published author Cathleen Burnham, Great Lakes Literary went to work updating the front and back cover treatment on all the titles—switching out images, using a cleaner font, and rewriting back cover copy for stronger branding. They also swapped titles and adjusted the metadata.

To appeal to the school and library market, Great Lakes Literary director Philip Martin also released the newly branded series in hardcover. “We boosted the focus on the series concept and added a page in the back of each book, [which tells] the purpose of the series and the role of books like this, as seeds to plant with kids to make a difference in the world,” Martin explains.

Redesigned cover for What Does It Mean to Be…?

Sourcebooks rebranded the What Does It Mean to Be…?® books using the same typeface and graphic style on all covers. To freshen the design, they brought forward internal images for cover treatment and made sure the spine type was consistent across the series.

Back matter also got a makeover. “Little Pickle Press is all about growing and learning emotionally and challenging yourself to be all that you can be,” Barrales-Saylor says. “So in the back of each book in the series, we added content that gives examples of what the concept of the book means and ways you can challenge yourself to exhibit the qualities you read about.”

Barrales-Saylor points out that publishers who intend to rebrand need to be prepared to sell through existing inventory and then break stock in order to minimize having multiple editions in circulation at the same time. “And be sure your metadata team is pushing out the right covers to your vendors and following up to make sure everything gets updated correctly,” she advises.

Rebranding Results

Publishers who succeed at rebranding and repackaging draw on lessons learned from their first go-round. They consider how and why a book might be missing its audience. They approach the do-over strategically, weighing the strength of the content and where the original packaging fell short. They make adjustments that address the shortfalls and enhance the overall brand.

The results can be well worth the effort. “A professionally branded and packaged design will not only attract buyers from across the room, it will instantly tell readers what they can expect
from that book,” Thompson says.

Titles in Great Lakes Literary’s repackaged series have received positive reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, says Martin. They’ve also been named Skipping Stones Honor books.

Rebranding the Little Pickle Press titles has focused accounts, consumers, and even the Sourcebooks internal team on the fact that the books belong together. “They’ve always been identified as a series because of their titling in catalogs and such,” Barrales-Saylor says. “But now you can see at a glance that these books belong together. It certainly helps with sales promotions and marketing efforts to have the books in a series look like they go together.”

Patagonia’s redesign projects also yielded the results they were aiming for. The do-over of Closer to the Ground has extended the life of the book and introduced it to a new audience, Olson says. Sales have already exceeded the original hardcover. And after a bit of a sales slump, Surf is Where You Find It is back to being one of the company’s bestselling titles.

Like other products, books can be “new and improved.” By rebranding and redesigning, publishers create second chances for worthy projects in need of a makeover.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the author co-op Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse is the author of 17 books. Among her most recent are the novel Cold Spell and a biography, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold. She also works as a freelance editor.

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