It’s not every day a new publishing imprint, dedicated to bringing new writing from Germany to the UK and Irish markets, arrives on the scene, but today’s the day! The first batch of V&Q Books will appear on bookshop shelves and mighty fine looking they are as well.
Before diving in, let’s take some time to appreciate the vision and hard work that has been needed to produce these lovelies. That and the bravery involved in launching during a global pandemic. First let’s meet the publisher.
Katy Derbyshire is well known to German literature lovers for her translation skills. It’s a very different hat she’s wearing today …
Tell us about V&Q Books and the kind of books that will make it to the company’s list?
In a way, V&Q Books was my kneejerk reaction to Brexit – except of course setting up an imprint takes a really long time. I was feeling generally powerless in the face of politics and publishing. And I wanted to help even up the flow of literature into and out of the UK and Ireland, which as you know is pretty one-sided. So the idea came up to use my contacts and knowledge of the German book world to start exporting the literature I love!
The imprint is part of the German indie publisher Voland & Quist, hence the name. We’ll be publishing what we call ‘remarkable writing from Germany’ – contemporary literature with strong voices and a deep sense of place, although that place won’t necessarily be Germany itself. And although the books will mainly be translated from German, there are also plenty of writers based here who work in other languages, a rich source that we plan to tap.
What brought the first 3 titles to the top of the publishing queue?
We wanted three strong books that were different to each other, to make a bit of a splash. So we have the more literary title, Sandra Hoffmann’s PAULA, a narrative non-fiction treat in the form of Francis Nenik’s JOURNEY THROUGH A TRAGICOMIC CENTURY, and Lucy Fricke’s addictive road novel DAUGHTERS, a book for anyone who’s ever had a father.
Did you have specific ideas for the actual books as objects? What, for instance, is going to make a V&Q book stand out in the UK market?
We spent a while thinking about the books’ design, which we wanted to source in Germany but sell in the UK and Ireland. Book covers look very different in different places, even between the UK, Australia and America. So we decided not to go to Voland & Quist’s usual designers (who do great stuff for the German market) but work with pingundpong in Dresden, who we felt had a more international outlook. We asked them for a concept for the imprint as a whole and we really love what they came up with.
We’d originally planned to make hardbacks with luscious thick pages, playing with the clichés about Germany as a maker of luxury goods… But then my colleague Karina and I went on a research trip around the UK and everyone told us not to. Too expensive! Hence the French-flap paperbacks. But we still want our books to stand out and we hope the stark covers will help.
How has your first foray into the world of publishing been? Has everything been as easy as the initial pitch to Voland & Quist at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018? What, besides launching in the era of COVID-19, was the biggest challenge?
It’s been really challenging to do so many new things all the time. I’ve been translating for over a decade but that didn’t quite prepare me for all the other work that has to be done. And of course I’ve had to learn to work in a team instead of on my own – I’m lucky they’re all so delightful and supportive.
The biggest challenge, for me, is dealing with the visual level. I’m a words person – I’d be happy to live with bare white walls around me as long as I have books and music and films and people to talk to. But not everyone’s like that so the books need to look great and I have to communicate with the authors, translators and designers to make sure everyone’s as happy as possible with the visuals. I’m getting there, I hope, but that’s what I need the most help with.
How many hats have you worn to get the show on the road? Pubisher? Commissioning editor? Translator? Marketing manager? Project manager? How many will you continue to wear for the foreseeable future or will you/do you have a team to support you now? (Do you have a picture of them?)
I thought you meant did I have a picture of my hats! I do have a picture of most of us, actually. Björn Reinemer, Ilka Winkler and Ulrike Meuer are missing, but we are (left to right): Sebastian Wolters, me, Karina Fenner, Leif Greinus and Helge Pfannenschmidt.
But the hats… at the moment I’m doing most of the stuff that needs doing in English, so lots of liaising: with our authors and translators as commissioning editor, with our sales team and publicist as marketing manager, plus translating or editing the books, and social media as social media manager! I have all the team’s experience to fall back on, though, and I’m hoping I can get some English-speaking support through an EU-funded scheme.
Thanks, Katy. Now let’s turn our attention to the team at pingandpong and the creativity that has turned words on paper into objects that will grace any bookshelf.
Tell us about pingundpong and specifically the team that designed the covers for V&Q Books.
pingundpong is a design bureau from Dresden that has made visual culture its mission. Museums, theatres and foundations – pingundpong has been helping cultural and scientific organizations to design their appearance and communicate their projects for more than a decade.
Our strengths lie in editorial design, in developing key visuals, and exhibition graphic design. We love playing with typography and illustration. Whatever we do, we do it with a resourceful team. We fight for our clients’ visual triumph with sporting spirit.
What was your process for developing the design from the publisher’s creative brief? How long did it take?
V&Q Books wanted to develop a book series with a similarly strong visual image to the Spektrum series brought out by the GDR publishing house Volk und Welt Berlin, created by the graphic designer Lothar Reher. That placed the design bar pretty high. After a period of creative prototyping, we decided to use a dynamic grid and a standardised typography to create an identifiable branding, irrespective of each cover’s colour and photo.
We wanted to give a subtle teaser of the books’ stories via the photos, making readers even more curious.
It was a long process for us but the publishers were quickly convinced. 🙂
How did you select the front cover images? Are they custom or stock images?
We get keywords from the publisher and that’s how we choose the photos. These then become the book’s key visual – the shell that holds the content. We search in our own archives, we ask photographer friends, or we fall back on stock photos. We’d rather develop our own image ideas but the V&Q imprint is new on the market and the current budget doesn’t yet enable that.
What are the differences, if any, when designing for a UK market as opposed to a German one?
The lettering on the spine of English books is the other way up to German books. I think it’s we Germans who do it differently to the rest of the world. 🙂
Thank you pingandpong. All that remains now is to wish all at V&Q a happy launch day and much success for the future.
This post is part of the V&Q launch blog tour. Further details below.