Producing Great Gift Books
‘Tis the season when eye-catching gift books grace every shop window, stacked and splayed artfully on display tables, all waiting to be picked, wrapped, and delivered (and then devoured by readers).
Gift books come in all shapes and sizes, from delightful children’s books with specialty toy components, to meticulously-researched books that delve into a niche subject, to beautifully-photographed cookbooks by the hottest celebrity chefs.
What do these books have in common, other than the fact that they’re flying off shelves this time of year? Many of these books were brought to market, at least in some part, by book producers.
Book producers wear many different hats in the publishing industry and collaborate with individuals, corporations, publishing houses, manufacturers, and others to launch gift books into the market. A notable strength is in meeting tight scheduling demands, book producers help transform books from an idea to a finished product and do so in the timeliest manner. The American Book Producers Association (ABPA) has attracted book producers with a range of specialties for nearly forty years.
Repackaging Retro: A New Take on an Old Classic
What special qualities allow us to recognize a book as a holiday ‘classic’?
Could it be a story line that introduces new and creative content to an already familiar theme? Is it illustration and design that are somehow in perfect pitch with the writer’s vision? Is it the ability to appeal to every member of the family from wide-eyed toddlers to wise grandparents and from one generation to the next? Or is it a magical combination of all three?
With the help of Bill Luckey and Rock Scissors Paper Press, the packaging company he manages, Simon and Schuster has recently reissued Michael Brown’s Santa Mouse in a beautifully enhanced new edition.
First published during the 1960’s, this holiday classic has gone on to sell several million copies, establishing a proven track record (impressive mouse tracks indeed!) Thus far S&S has reintroduced the original hardcover gift book to great success and the publisher is already planning a die-cut, lift-the-flaps board book for next Christmas. There are plans to expand the brand in the coming years to include a wide variety of formats (perhaps even pajamas and sheets) and to create new Santa Mouse stories. Apparently, Santa Mouse is a very little hero with very large appeal and it looks like he will continue to charm his fans of all ages for many Christmases to come.
Gift Books—On Trend and Evergreen
Susan Knopf of Scout Books & Media knows that quality gift books can bring evergreen sales for publishers. Knopf worked with the Animal Planet brand to showcase more than 2,500 animals in Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia. The publishing team knew they needed an experienced book producer to quickly organize the project and create the book, and they needed a very high degree of accuracy to properly index so many different species of animals. Named a Best Nonfiction Book of the Year by Amazon, Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia anchors a line of bestselling Animal Planet nonfiction and storybooks produced by Scout Books & Media. Publishers and brands turn to book producers for their creativity, strategy, planning, and problem-solving. In return, they are rewarded with evergreen bestsellers and happy, loyal customers.
Knopf enjoys creating quality books for curious kids. “I love working with publishers and brands who are passionate about kids’ learning, and as a book producer, I always think about what happens after the sale, when the book is at home or in a classroom. Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia has a giant pull-out poster, and thinking about that poster up on the wall of kids’ rooms or classrooms makes me really proud.”
On-Trend Gift Books
Book producers have the ability to work quickly and nimbly, researching growing trends and working with licensed brands to bring books to the market quickly. Kristin Mehus-Roe of Girl Friday Productions recently collaborated with another ABPA member, book producer Christopher Navratil to create the companion book for the popular television show, This is Us.
This is Us: Lessons in Life and How to Live is the perfect gift for fans of the show—but in order to make the book great, it was essential to have people working on the project who really know and love the show. Book producers have wide partner pools and networks including writers, editors, designers, copyeditors, and everyone else involved in the production process so that they can tap the right individuals for the right book project. Mehus-Roe says, “Having somebody that is passionate about the project, someone who cares deeply about it—it makes all the difference.”
Never was that more true than when Girl Friday Productions took on The Great American Read: The Book of Books, a companion book for the PBS show, The Great American Read. Mehus-Roe found a writer whose passion was writing about literature, and it made the book come alive. Instead of being just another coffee table book, The Book of Books became an exciting, unique work that found a niche as a popular gift book for book lovers.
Even with the perfect writer, working with PBS on the show’s timeline proved to be challenging because the timeline of a television show and that of a book are so different. A companion book has to be prepared much earlier than the television show, and has to anticipate and even lead the narrative in some cases. A close-knit relationship between a book producer and a licensor is essential to keep the book consistent with the show in content and tone.
Mehus-Roe says, “Book producers can create strong relationships with licensors and bring a lot of new ideas to the table. Frequently, when publishers have relationships with licensors, book producers can work quickly to find the right author, the right graphic designers, and then navigate the brand and licensor approvals, the agents’ approvals, the production company’s approvals, and the publishers’ approvals.”
Manufacturing and Component Cost Control
“Book-plus” gift books are especially popular during the holiday season. The children’s section in any bookstore is full of books packaged with fun extras, like plastic toys, plush stuffed animals, crayons, electronic components. Many of these books feature familiar licensed brands and were brought from concept to reality by book producers who communicate and negotiate the license terms, the printing, and the manufacturing.
The ability to locate and source manufacturers for the toys or electronic components in books, while at the same time delivering high-quality writing and illustration, is essential for publishers and booksellers as they build out their holiday season catalog. For original book ideas that include extras, book producers can deliver everything from concept to finished products.
Sunny Trails, a gift set featuring four 4”-tall horses created by ABPA member Nancy Hall (The Bookshop), began with the toy itself. Hall attended the Hong Kong Toy Fair and spotted the toy horses. After talking with the toy manufacturer, she realized she could secure a good price for the toy. Next came the box concept. She designed a box that resembled a stable with a hinged door for a gate that the horses could slot in securely. Then, the book. Nancy found a writer who could bring the residents of the Sunny Trails stable to life. Sunny Trails has been a top holiday seller at Sam’s Club and Books a Million for several years in a row.
Customized Gift Book
Book producers work with publishers and booksellers, but they also can work directly with a company or group to create a personalized gift for the holidays. Book producer Jerrold R. Jenkins of Jenkins Group, Inc. works primarily with companies who are seeking books with high production value to help their services or product stand out to customers.
While many of the books created by Jenkins are developed by clients with a specific audience in mind, they can also find longer legs with the help of the Jenkins Group marketing team. For example, Rioja, a photo book exploring the Spanish wine-producing region, was designed as a gift for distributors. While the book serves its original purpose, it also brings in sales on Amazon.com from wine enthusiasts and world travelers.
Niche Photography Books
Gift books can be the perfect way to celebrate the unique interests of friends and family. These gorgeously photographed books provide long-tail sales and can provide steady revenue for publishers and booksellers.
Many times the idea for niche photography books come from a book producer’s relationship with an artist or photographer. Book producers find artists through a variety of methods, from researching on social media channels like YouTube, Etsy, or DeviantArt, to meeting talented creatives through networking and local arts fairs.
Leslie Jonath at Connected Dots Media partnered with Brooklyn artist and maker Peter Cole who makes beautiful art in nature. Cole and his wife have been vendors at the Brooklyn Flea for a long time, and connected with Jonah to create Foraged Art. Together, book producer and artist created a beautifully photographed gift book that appeals to all lovers of nature and beauty. Jonath is also the producer of the Little Local Cookbooks series with Countryman Press, featuring local recipes from around the United States.
Another noteworthy gift book featuring stunning photography is Canines of San Francisco. ABPA member Christopher Navratil teamed up with San Francisco Bay Area photographer Mark Rogers and Bluestreak Books to capture the spirit of the city, along with the most fetching furry, four-legged inhabitants. The book is distributed by Simon & Schuster.
Fast-Track Follow-up Books and Series
What book producers bring to the table more than anything else is the ability to work quickly. From concept to completion, ABPA members have the connections and resources to fast-track each element of the publishing process to make sure that books hit the market at the right time to be successful. While Thanksgiving through New Year’s is still the primary gift-book buying window, other holidays like Mother’s Day, graduation, and Halloween are also huge opportunities for gift books—and books about health and weight loss are an evergreen gift-giving opportunity.
When the health book How Not to Die became a bestseller, Flatiron Books knew a follow-up cookbook would be a natural. There was one catch, however, the sponsoring editor had just left on maternity leave. So, they called ABPA president Richard Rothschild at Print Matters Productions. The challenge was to create a cookbook from scratch based on the first book, including new custom photography, on a tight schedule. Rothschild knew he had the resources to bring the project together on time and within budget.
The How Not to Die Cookbook: 100+ Recipes to Help Prevent and Reverse Disease was completed in eight months. The gorgeous four-color vegan cookbook became a bestseller in its own right and affirmed for the publisher the advantages of working with packagers.
Get Started on Your 2020 Holiday Season Today
Make 2020 your best sales year yet by connecting with an ABPA member and starting a conversation today. Book producers are any company, publisher, or bookseller’s ticket to high quality, on-budget, and on-time gift books. Browse through the ABPA experts at abpaonline.org.