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Industry Insight: Q&A with Unicorn Publishing (Beautiful Books)

It is no secret that we absolutely adore the emotionally and visually stunning Lion by Mark Adlington, published by Unicorn. It was one of our December Books of the Month and a LoveReading Star Book too. Lion feels different, the lions are free to stalk through the pages, there are no page numbers, there is no text at all to disrupt them. Page after page of stunning artwork is allowed to be, to shine. Other gorgeous books Unicorn have published over the last year include Only Us, and Wild Neighbours. You can either dip in, or immerse yourself completely in order to soak up the beauty in front of you. Having read, and sunk into the gloriously vibrant pages of these books, we wanted to know more about the publishing process behind a beautiful book and asked Unicorn Publishing some questions:

Tell us about Unicorn Publishing and how did you start?

Unicorn Publishing Group is an independent publishing company that was established in 2013 when four like-minded, talented individuals got together to publish artist’s monographs and exhibition catalogues. We soon established ourselves at the heart of art publishing and from there our list expanded and our subjects broadened.

Tell us about your three very distinct imprints; Unicorn, Uniform, and Universe.

Unicorn encompasses visual art and cultural history - from beautiful artists' monographs such as Lion to creative, cultural and political biographies, to quirky, fun gift books. Uniform covers military history from ancient battles to contemporary warfare; Universe is our historical fiction imprint and we have also recently launched a fourth imprint - Unify, focusing on health and wellbeing. 

We would like to focus on Unicorn, which publishes visual feasts of books, how do you decide what books to publish?  

We very much welcome submissions from authors and artists with an exciting body of work or a tale to tell. Our choices depend partly on the timescale and viability of the project, it is also favourable if a topic has not been written about previously or brings a new angle to a well-known subject. 

How do you choose the look of the book, size, cover, layout, paper etc.

The look of the book is determined mainly by the content and the target audience. For example, a photography monograph might call for a large coffee table book with coated paper to show off the images, whereas a text-based political biography might need to be smaller and on lighter weight uncoated paper for a comfortable read. 

Sometimes the author might have a particular look in mind. We often find taking the author to a bookshop to see where their book might sit and search for inspiration can be a good starting point. 

How much of an input do the author’s, artist’s, and photographers have in the layout of a book?

It varies! Mostly, after generating some initial concepts for consideration, our designers are left to work their magic and return with a full draft ready for comments from the author. Some clients, particularly our artists and photographers like to be more creatively involved, in which case we can work directly with them to develop the layout. We are also open to an author organising their designer, following our guidelines. For us it is about a partnership to create a product everyone is pleased with!

How did you discover Mark Adlington and why did you decide to publish Lion

We initially discovered Mark Adlington through his stunning otter paintings that we used to illustrate our centenary edition of Ring of Bright Water in 2014. We published his book Painting the Ice Bear in 2016 which was very successful so when he approached us again with his Lion project we saw another exceptional body of work and the makings of a great companion title... so were pleased to take it on. 

Lion concentrates on the artwork, you allow it to speak for itself, how difficult was it to get this just right?

The design process for Lion was very much a collaboration. We began with a studio visit to look through Mark's vast collection of artwork and discuss what might be included.

Mark then put together an initial layout which we batted back and forth for a while, with time to absorb and reflect which each viewing. Through this considered approach we were able to develop an overall narrative that featured a good range of media and compositions, with lots of negative space. Mark was keen not to have the text interrupting the images, so we kept his introduction and the foreword by Richard Bonham at the front.

It can be easy to get 'stuck' just looking at the layout on screen so once we were fairly happy with how it was shaping up, we laid print outs of the entire book out across the floor and spent the day arranging and rearranging to get the flow of images exactly right. We would shake it up by moving sections around in unexpected ways to see how it might change the dynamic...some we reversed but some we kept!

What is it about Unicorn that makes you unique?

We create beautiful high-end books worthy of anyone's bookshelf or coffee table, but being a small team, we have the added advantage of being agile and adaptable to accommodate project constraints. We enjoy celebrating the achievements of those from an array of cultural fields, introducing them to a wider audience and inspiring curiosity.

Keep up to date with Unicorn Publishing


Facebook:Unicorn Publishing Group

Twitter: @UnicornPubGroup


If you enjoyed this, click here to check out our other Industry Insight Q&As.

You can also click here to read our Q&A with Lion Author Mark Adlington.

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