Creating Seasonal Titles
With the holiday season fast approaching, many publishers and producers are busy creating appropriate books for readers everywhere. Whether these books celebrate a particular holiday, introduce new traditions that bring people together, or simply make wonderful gifts to share with friends and family, they can involve a great deal of time-consuming labor. Holiday and gift books often include illustrations, special features, and other components that can be a challenge for even the most experienced production teams. Fortunately, book producers with a wide range of experience can step in to shepherd these complex projects from initial proposal to final printed volume, all in time for winter’s festivities.
The Gifts that Keep on Giving
Leslie Jonath, a member of the American Book Producers Association (ABPA) and the founder and principal of Connected Dots Media LLC, seems to speak for all book lovers when she reminds us that “all books are gift books because a book is a great gift.” Leslie’s most recent gift book projects include Postmark Paris, which she describes as “a personal memoir about living in as a child in the City of Light.” The book is creatively illustrated with French postage stamps and touches on themes including “art, the delights of childhood, and the mysterious beauty of Paris.”
With their eye-catching illustrations and ability to involve the reader, cookbooks and other culinary titles make great gifts. A series of “Little Local Cookbooks” conceived, developed, and produced by Connected Dots spotlights the regional cuisines of various parts of the US. Designed as part travel guide, part cookbook, they appeal to adventurous spirits everywhere. Mochi Magic by Kaori Becker is a tribute to the Asian treat made with rice dough. It features recipes for traditional shapes and cute creatures.
Successful gift books can inspire the reader to pick up new hobbies or revisit old ones—which is a gift in itself! Leslie’s work on The Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar led her to begin making her own bouquets for family and friends.
Book producers are known to be resourceful, adapting titles and projects to meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace as well as shifting seasonal calendars. ABPA member Nancy Hall, president of The Book Shop, Ltd., has been successful in repackaging other products she has created for clients into deluxe gift sets for the holidays. “This is a great way to get a high-value product without incurring a lot of one-time costs,” she says.
The Art of Henna and Tattoo is a deluxe kit that combines two smaller kits (The Spirit of Henna and Tattoo Art) that sell at lower price points during the year. The deluxe kit is then offered as a gift package. The Art of Henna and Tattoo has done very well for the past couple of years at Barnes & Noble, demonstrating that there is a market for more elaborate gift sets.
The “Wow Factor”
Susan Knopf is an ABPA board member and president of Scout Books and Media, an independent book packager, brand developer, and publishing consultant. “While all books need to look special,” she states, “gift books need more of a ‘wow factor,’ to compete during a busy time of year and to support what is often a higher retail price.”
When she was an in-house packager at a major publisher, Susan put together promotional titles like Christmas Memories, a keepsake photo album with foil stamping and vellum, and All About Christmas, an omnibus of Christmas-themed stories, recipes, and other writings. This experience taught her to “understand what’s expensive versus what looks expensive,” and to make appropriate design choices for holiday and gift books with high perceived value while staying within budget.
Books that Deliver
This year Susan oversaw production on a new title for National Geographic Kids, The Coolest Stuff on Earth: A Closer Look at the Weird, Wild, and Wonderful. This lavishly illustrated, visually arresting volume fits into the gift book category because, in Susan’s words, it “delivers way more than it promises in terms of content.”
The book had a complicated production schedule, but “packagers are used to juggling” various assignments, Susan says. They often have a wide network of writers, editors, designers, and other publishing professionals to draw from, enabling them to “bring together the right team for tight deadlines” and ensure a fresh presentation in both images and text. Producers can take on time-consuming tasks like detailed photo research that may not be otherwise practical for publishers.
The major design element of The Coolest Stuff on Earth—and most of the other content-rich gift books that Susan produces—is undoubtedly the photography. “You can’t get what you want unless you ask for it,” she says about sourcing photographs. This means being willing to scour Flickr, personal blogs, and other photo-sharing sites to find that perfect image—and then contacting the photographer directly to see if they would be willing to license it.
As an example, Susan needed a photograph of “singing” sand dunes—noise-makers first observed by Marco Polo hundreds of years ago—to use in The Coolest Stuff on Earth. It’s hard to capture the drama of sound in a still photo, but she found an engaging shot on travel blog. She reached out to the photographer, who agreed to license the image. Susan has also found that scientists and educators are often happy to share their images. In the course of developing these relationships, book producers can end up with a sizeable team of photographers for future projects. Susan also adds that National Geographic Kids has a terrific photo team who provided great input and guidance throughout the process.
Some publishers will insist on seeing licensing agreements for photos, while others will not. Producers should always know what rights are available before presenting an image to a publisher. Licensing agreements can be modified depending on the photo. Many book producers are well-versed in the ins and outs of licensing agreements, lending an added service to publishers who may not have time to oversee negotiations. It’s just one of the many ways that producers can help navigate the whole scope of the publication process, especially for illustrated projects like holiday and gift books.
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