A mock-up cover of Dragonology—with fake jewels and heated glitter powder for embossing—led to the sale of the first book in the Ologies, which went on to become one of the most successful novelty series of the past decade in general, and for Candlewick Press and Templar in particular. Since its 2003 publication, “Ology 1,” as it is known in-house, has sold three million copies worldwide, and six million including its companion titles. Altogether, the 11 books that make up the core series and their spin-offs have sold more than 17 million copies worldwide in 42 languages. A 12th title, Dinosaurology: The Search for a Lost World, is due to be released next month with a 100,000-copy first printing.
Karen Lotz, president and publisher of Candlewick and group managing director of Walker Books Ltd. (parent company to Candlewick and Walker Books U.K. and Australia), said that she remembered seeing the mock-up, designed by Nghiem Ta, at Templar’s booth during the 2002 BEA, and Candlewick had just published David Ellwand’s novelty book Fairie-ality, which was doing well. “I told [Templar], ‘I’ll take 35,000 copies if you don’t show it to anyone else,’” she said. Candlewick executive editor Sarah Ketchersid’s reaction to the dummy was similar. “This is going to be amazing,” she recalled thinking. “The ‘found’ journal of a Victorian naturalist who made a scientific study of dragons. I was hooked.”
From the beginning, Candlewick in the U.S. and Templar in the U.K. have partnered on both the sales and creative sides of the series, which helped bring them closer together. So much so that in 2009, Candlewick added a Templar imprint. “We have such simpatico sensibilities. It makes sense,” said Lotz. Part of that simpatico, or serendipity, extends to Ketchersid and Ta, who work together closely. Ketchersid incorporates factual scientific information into a fictional storyline that drives the narrative; Ta oversees the design and production specifications.
Each of the oversized core books has a faux-leather cover and purports to be a facsimile of a limited-edition book or notebook that can’t be authenticated. “All kids read the books with their hands,” said Ketchersid, referring to the tactile appeal of the series. Spreads are filled with flaps to be lifted, letters to be opened, and samples of dragon dust to be touched. Ta credits Templar creative director Amanda Wood with the original concept. Wood wanted to publish a book that would keep her six-year-old son, who was outgrowing picture books, interested in reading. “I want a book on dragons with lots of jewels on it, and shiny. It has to look like a real treasure,” she told Ta.
Many of the subjects are connected to school curricula and/or the zeitgeist. Dragonology launched just after book #5 in the Harry Potter series; Pirateology came out on the heels of Pirates of the Caribbean, starring Johnny Depp. Ta explained the long wait for Dinosaurology, a what-if about prehistoric beasts surviving on a remote island off the coast of South America. “We always wanted to tackle [it],” she said. “Our competitors were doing dinosaurs. Now we finally get to give the Ology fans their own version.”
As part of the 10th-anniversary celebration, Candlewick is reissuing the first book with a “slightly refreshed” front cover, featuring silver foil and a sky-blue 10th-anniversary sticker. It releases on August 27, two weeks before “Ology 12.” The company anticipates prominent displays of both titles at indies, mass market retailers, and Barnes & Noble through the end of the year.
For many retailers, the Ologies books continue to be a favorite. “They do quite well and there’s excitement when the new ones come out,” said Leticia Pasencia, a children’s bookseller at Vroman’s in Pasadena, Calif. The store stocks the titles in its mythology section and uses them for thematic displays throughout the year (promoting Vampireology before Halloween, for example). To further boost sales to indies, Candlewick mailed a “deluxe” activity kit to stores that participate in CHIRP (Candlewick Handselling Indie Recognition Program), with temporary tattoos and vinyl dragon/dino footprints to lead customers to the Ologies.
Even without the extra push, Lotz said that she’s noticed an uptick in sales over the past couple years. Given how tactile the books are, she said, the increased demand “could be a reaction to e-books.” Lotz has no regrets about taking a chance on a beautiful piece of paper—and the idea behind it. But she would like to see the series clear one more hurdle and have one of its many movie options get the green light. Hollywoodology, anyone?
The Complete Ologies, So Far
|1.||Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons (2003)|
|2.||Egyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris (2004)|
|3.||Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin (2005)|
|4.||Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter’s Companion (2006)|
|6.||Monsterology: The Complete Book of Monstrous Beasts (2008)|
|7.||Spyology: The Complete Guide to Spycraft (2008)|
|11.||Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic (2012)|
|12.||Dinosaurology: The Search for a Lost World (Sept. 2013)|