Imagine you're 36, successful, high profile, at the top of your field domestically and with business dealings around the world. And then imagine you have to change your name.
That's what Warner Books is facing, now that it's no longer part of Time Warner. A committee of Warner execs is working on a new name, but finding one that pleases everyone won't be easy.
The executive editor wants something that captures a creative, lively and fun atmosphere and spirit. The publisher would like a name that translates well into other languages. The deputy chairman thinks the name should (somehow) embody the company's list, staff and place within the larger organization. The creative director would like everyone to think about R's. She really likes the letter R.
"At first," publisher Jamie Raab says, "you think, 'Oh, it's just a name.' But it's hard to come up with a name that fits the company's image or what you want it to be. And it's not just a name—it's your identity." Raab and others at the company say the name change is also an opportunity to refine the publisher's image.
The "opportunity" is unprecedented in U.S. trade publishing. Although mergers and acquisitions have resulted in hyphenated and compound names, no publisher of comparable size has ever had to come up with something completely new.
Warner was founded in 1970, when Warner Communications acquired the Paperback Library. It has a long history of publishing bestsellers: some of its first works were paperback editions of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. The 1980s brought John Naisbitt's Megatrends; the '90s saw heavyweights like Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County; and today's list features powerhouse authors Nelson DeMille, Nicholas Sparks and David Baldacci. Now that it's owned by French conglomerate Hachette, the house needs a new name that can stand up to some weighty names.
Since the sale to Hachette last March, the naming committee has considered—and rejected—thousands of names. It has contemplated names that derive from someone involved in the company, and names taken from a place, à la Broadway Books or Gotham Books. (Speaking of names that are already taken, executive editor Rick Wolff jokes, "We were thinking of Random House, but there's another house called that—how random is that?") Taking a cue from the high-tech industry, the committee has also tossed around made-up names—think Yahoo, Expedia, Accenture.
Raab won't reveal the "maybes," but the "no" list includes Brocadia Books ("it just didn't sound like publishing"), Ovation ("which isn't a bad name, but it sounds more like the performing arts"), Arteman Books ("don't know what that is"), Tri Coastal ("not sure what the tri coasts are"), Jackstraw ("one I never quite understood") and Amaranth Books ("I can barely pronounce this").
...Not to Mention New Letterhead
Warner hopes to settle on a name this month and tout it to the trade at BEA next year. The house's executives are using the occasion to rebrand the company and remind people that besides publishing commercial fiction, it also turns out literary fiction, political books and lifestyle guides. Says Raab, "No matter how hard we try, when people hear Warner, they think of one type of book, when the truth is that we've evolved and done much more." A marketing campaign will launch in time for BEA, with ads, brochures and announcements. The house's entire back-office operation will need overhauling, too: all backlist titles going forward will carry the new name; and the name will have to be incorporated into all contracts and IT systems.
Warner also must consider how it will rename its various imprints. Some will keep their current names and just drop the "Warner" part (Warner Twelve will be simply "Twelve," etc.) but others (like Warner Business and Warner Wellness) will need renaming, too (Warner Faith has already transitioned to FaithWords).
"Warner really means something," says Hachette Book Group deputy chairman and publisher Maureen Egan, noting Warner's successes and admitting she's slightly apprehensive about being charged with making people realize the newly named house will be "the same team... doing the same things."
That's one of the challenges. In the "opportunities" column, Warner will get a fresh logo, replacing the familiar but admittedly dated "W." "I've wanted to redesign the Warner logo for about 20 years," says creative director Anne Twomey. She's planning on something contemporary and clean-looking, bearing in mind that it'll appear on the spine of every one of the house's books.
You Can't Please All the People...
With so much at stake, Warner earlier this year hired a consulting firm to find the new name. When their suggestions failed to click with the staff, Warner execs decided it was a job better done in-house. Still, Naseem Javed, president of the consulting firm ABC Namebank (which is not the one Warner hired), was happy to offer a little free, expert advice. He says a company's new name should be unique and not stem from an already established brand—nor should it be too creative, which can confuse people. And, Javed advises, "Think globally and name universally." In other words, Warner must consider how its French parent company will view its name, as well as international agents and publishers.
But to whom does the name really matter? Warner employees and authors care, of course, but what about the publishing industry—and beyond? Sandi Mendelson, of the book PR firm Hilsinger-Mendelson, believes names—especially those of imprints—are essential to establishing an identity with media contacts. Agent Theresa Park, who represents one of Warner's biggest authors, Nicholas Sparks, points out that a name should resonate with consumers, too, since many publishers are hoping to eventually sell direct, and in order to do so, they'll need to have a brand identity.
For all the energy that's going into the new name, Raab knows not everyone will be pleased. "I can guarantee that 100% of the people inside and outside the house are not going to say, 'Oh, that's fabulous.' But in six months or a year, it's going to become as natural as saying 'Warner Books.' "