Blog #37: How to Name a Publisher

Of Names and Colophons

My name is Gerard. Andre Gerard. I’m a publisher. A self-publisher. My publishing house is Patremoir Press. The press colophon is a small frog, verdant, with a

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jackboot pressing down upon him. Why a frog? Why a jackboot? Some things are best not explained too quickly–if at all.

While self-publishers often invest heavily in cover design to entice potential readers, they are not always careful about naming their imprint or about coming up with a suitable colophon. Bad mistake. Books are judged by more than their covers, and the imprint name and colophon can be a great branding or marketing opportunity. A name is a name is a name, but a publisher by any other name might not sell “tout de suite.”

Writing for the Guardian Books Blog, John Dugdale recently published a piece titled “How to name a publisher.” In talking about how important and agonizing the process can be, he mentions that until Penguin came along the norm was to name imprints after their founders. Chatto and Windus, Faber and Faber, Hamish Hamilton, Jonathan Cape, and Newbury testify to this tradition.

Over time, these names have acquired cachet and gravitas, yet, unless your name is Angelina Jolie, David Beckham, or Paul Newman, naming your imprint after yourself is not likely to be a good way to boost sales. Better, perhaps, to follow Allen Lane’s example. Lane, as Dugdale describes, named his paperback company Penguin to differentiate himself from conventional publishers. Apparently, he saw the penguin as a symbol of modernity, also as “a dignified but flippant” symbol of the difference between paperbacks and hardbacks.

Lane’s reasoning certainly appealed to me, particularly because I am an avid bird bander and also because naming my press after a bird would make coming up with colophon relatively easy. The trouble was puffin, heron, peregrine, cormorant, falcon, kingfisher, condor, stork, eagle, and parrot were all taken, and somehow Parakeet Press or Dodo House didn’t appeal.

Although I’m a great fan of Acheron, Centaur, Pan, Venus and Vulcan, Greek and Roman names seemed too presumptuous. Place names seemed more plausible, and Dugdale does say that with the property-fixation of the 90’s came “the soberer fashion for places” such as Bloomsbury, Cannondale, Soho, and Haymarket. As is so often the case with fashion, I was a few years late, but for several months I seriously considered naming my company Taku River. The Taku is a pristine river on the Yukon, B.C., Alaska border, and I had romantic associations with the river. I had worked on the river as a fisherman and cash buyer, and subsequently a friend and I had named a smoke house business after the river.

Romance lost out to sober realism. Too many people looked at me blank eyed when I tried the Taku name out on them. Friends in Whitehorse, Juneau and Atlin understood, but they only represented a small market of potential buyers. Another name had to be found.

As it turned out, the perfect name was there all along. In the introduction to Fathers: A Literary Anthology, the book I intended to publish, I had speculated that father writing was worthy of genre status and I had coined the term “patremoir” for such a genre. What better way to brand myself than by using the word for my publishing house. Patremoir had the advantage of being unique, slightly mysterious, and intrinsic to my publishing purpose.

Subsequent events have proved the name to be an inspired choice. Google “patremoir” today and you will find over 295 results. This number has been achieved in less than a year, and it is growing almost daily. Better proof yet is what happened when I took ads out in the Times Literary Supplement. The first ad, which featured an image of the book and some slight description, resulted in very few hits to my web site. The second ad, however, which consisted only of the phrase “Daddy, what is a patremoir?” generated a lot of web traffic. There is a lot to be said for unique, slightly mysterious and intrinsic.

And the colophon? Well if Knopf could have a Borzoi, and McClelland & Stewart a horse and charioteer, there was no reason I couldn’t have a frog. Personal mythology was involved. With a Francophone name I was often labelled “Frog” while growing up, and over the years I became fond of the label. Several good friends used “Frog” as a term of endearment. I also liked creating a visual pun by having the frog image pressed or oppressed by a jackboot version of Patremoir Press. In my mind it symbolized some of the pressures I, poor frog, had faced in my publishing journey.

Bottom line? Pick a unique name and colophon. Take your time coming up with the right name and image. Try them on friends and industry professionals. Think of name and colophon as branding opportunities. Be true to your vision, and try not to be too cute or too pretentious. Remember, there is a totemic magic to names. Choose wisely and well, and with time your press will become part of you, and you will become part of your press.

Patremoir Press c’est moi.

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