Diversification,branding, and word of mouth are just a few ways Seven Footer Kids, the children'sbook imprint of New York City-based Seven Footer Press, is expanding itspresence in the kids' market as it marks its one-year anniversary. Founded byDavid Gomberg and Justin Heimberg, Seven Footer takes its name from its founders'appreciation of the combination of "awkwardness and grace" of seven-foot (and taller)basketball stars like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and Manute Bol.
Duringits first year, Seven Footer Kids' bestseller was Life-Size Zoo, a picture book by Teruyuki Komiya that features full-size,up-close photographs of animals from a hedgehog to a giraffe. The book sold50,000 copies in Japanbefore Seven Footer brought it to the U.S.; since its publication last March,there are 136,000 copies in print (around 100,000 to book fairs, and the restto the trade).
Untillast January, Seven Footer Press was known as Falls Media, a small press that Gombergand Heimberg formed to publish the Would You Rather...? series of partygame-style books, which present such quandaries as "Would you rather fight tothe death 1 Chuck Norris... or 10 Alan Greenspans?" The series has its roots ina 1997 book the duo wrote for Penguin, WouldYou Rather...?, which sold more than 300,000 copies. Their second book, Do Unto Others (St. Martin's, 2000) didn't do as well, but the two men stayed tunedinto the publishing world, while pursuing other careers.
Sowhen Urban Outfitters expressed interest in additional Would You Rather...? titles,Gomberg and Heimberg decided to build the brand on their own, creating Falls Mediain 2004. They published a second Would You Rather...? book nearly 10 yearsafter the first, in 2006, and a dozen more followed, including a "Love &Sex" edition for adults as well as kid-friendly spinoffs. One of thekid-focused books, Would You Rather...?Gross Out, ran a close second to Life-Size Zoo last year, thanks tostrong Scholastic Book Fairs and Clubs sales. "Urban Outfitters has been such asupporter of our Would You Rather...? books," says Gomberg. "In a big way they'rethe reason that we exist right now as a publisher."
Withthe success of that line and having signed with Publishers Group West fordistribution, thoughts turned to building the company's children's book offerings,particularly when Gomberg and other staffers began having children of their own(Seven Footer currently has six employees as well as several freelancers theywork with). Gomberg expects that children's books will account for 75% of SevenFooter's sales next year, up from 50% currently. "Our kids' titles are helpinglead the way to expanding into different markets for us," he says. Case inpoint, Life-Size Zoo has been sellingout at Toys ‘R' Us, and Sam's Club and Costco have placed orders for the book. "Wenever had adult titles in any of those accounts," Gomberg says.
SevenFooter Kids' debut list last spring consisted of Life-Size Zoo as well as two activity books, Holes! and Squiggles!,both by Lazoo, a Japanese design house. Both the Life-Size and Lazoo propertieswill continue to be a big part of Seven Footer's growing list. Holes! and Squiggles! were followed by two coloring books from Lazoo—Imagine That! and Let's Color!—as well as an interactive picture book, All About Faces! (which is... all aboutfaces). Two more Lazoo titles will follow this year. And in August, SevenFooter will launch a line of merchandise (including apparel, plush, melaminedishware, and placemats) featuring Lazoo's artwork, which will be soldalongside the books at the Toys ‘R' Us and Babies ‘R' Us flagship stores in NewYork City. "We're not just focusing on the books, though books are the corepart of our business," says Gomberg.
HeatherDoss, children's merchandise manager at wholesaler Bookazine, says that Life-Size Zoo "has done nicely for us,"noting that zoo accounts she deals with (such as the Bronx and Atlanta zoos) have been especially receptive.Life-Size Zoo will be followed thisyear by two additional Life-Size titles: MoreLife-Size Zoo in May and Life-SizeAquarium in August.
Butthe title Doss is most excited about is Seven Footer's May picture book Mirror by Suzy Lee, creator of Wave (Chronicle, 2008). Mirror was published in Italy in 2003, but had yet to be published inthe U.S.;Bookazine will feature it along with several other titles at its fourth annual children'sevent for independent booksellers in April. Mirroris a wordless story about a lonely girl who discovers her reflection in amirror and experiences a range of emotions as they play together. As such, Dosssays the book fits well with Bookazine's bookseller event—which will focus on "issuebooks" for children of all ages this year—since Mirror deals with "choices and learning and understanding that everychoice has a consequence." Doss believes that the fact that Mirror is wordless is an asset, giventhe emotional subject matter it explores. "Those kinds of issues work well inwordless books. Kids tend to make up story lines depending on what they see andwhat they feel at the time."
Dossisn't the only one with high hopes for Mirror:Lee's artwork for the book is featured on the cover and throughout PGW's springcatalog—the more cheerful images from it, anyway. Mirror doesn't shy away from darker emotions and imagery (the girlis shown alone and seemingly sobbing when the book opens as well as when itends). Like Seven Footer's other children's books, Mirror is meant to "empower [children's] imaginations," says Gomberg,adding he wants his own son "to use his head a little bit" when reading.
Interms of marketing, word-of-mouth is key at Seven Footer. "With Life-Size Zoo, the big retailers did notorder until it was reviewed in the NewYork Times in December," says Gomberg. "But we'd already printed 16,000copies before that. That's due to special sales and independent bookstores, andalso librarians—they were really incredible supporters. They're great viral marketers."
Butaccording to Robert Kempe, director of marketing at Seven Footer, gettingword-of-mouth buzz doesn't necessarily mean jumping into Facebook, Twitter, orthe hot social network of the moment. "If there was a formula you could applythat would make a bestseller, every book would be a bestseller," Kempe says. Sohe makes sure Seven Footer is represented at trade shows where the publisher canconnect with buyers and librarians by "putting a paper book in someone's handand letting them feel it and see it and hope they love it. The human connectionis stronger than anything else."
SevenFooter published three or four books per season last year, and that number willincrease going forward. However, "we very much like to pick and choose," says Gomberg."We'll look at every book we do, and it has to be important to us in one way oranother."