Sourcebooks has embarked what may be its most ambitious project yet: it has produced and is marketing 97 volumes in the Santa Is Coming series of children’s picture books, written by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Robert Dunn; nine illustrators assisted Dunn in illustrating some of the books. The series debuted last year, when Sourcebooks published the first 24 volumes in the series. Another 73 volumes were released in October in both print and digital formats under Sourcebooks’ Jabberwocky imprint.
Each Santa Is Coming book features the tale of Santa Claus making his way from his home in the North Pole to deliver gifts to children. The story branches out into all sorts of directions, however, once Santa reaches North America. Individual titles bring Santa to each of the 50 states and D.C., as well as to 41 specific cities, plus natural landmarks like the Rockies and the Great Smoky Mountains. He even visits Notre Dame University in Indiana. Santa also visits Canada in one volume, and five Canadian cities in five other books.
The Santa Is Coming series can be customized yet further: it is being released on the company’s Put Me in the Story platform, which allows parents to produce personalized books for their children, either digitally or in print format.
Sourcebooks children’s and YA publicity manager Derry Wilkens explained that when the series debuted last year, it focused on major U.S. cities and states. “The demand was so enormous that we decided to send Santa everywhere we possibly could this year,” she said. “The Quad Cities deserve to have Santa come to them as much as New York does.” Steve Geck, Jabberwocky’s editorial director, added that the original plan was to add another 51 volumes to the series, but that, due to “more feedback from some accounts” that wanted to be included, the press decided to add to the list.
All of the books feature key landmarks specific to each locale. For instance, in Santa Is Coming to Minnesota, Santa visits eight cities and two counties throughout the state, flying over such landmarks as the Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior, the state capitol building in St. Paul, and the giant statue of Paul Bunyan with his ox, Babe, in Bemidji. In Santa Is Coming to San Francisco, Santa passes over Alcatraz, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Reading the book in the Santa Is Coming series that is most relevant to them, Wilkens says, provides both parent and child with an “opportunity to learn a little bit about their region or city or state while relating Santa’s adventurous journey to deliver presents.”
Wilkens said that, to date, more than a million units have been printed total for the 97 titles. Print runs – and sales figures – vary, depending on the title, with Texas, Portland (Ore.), and Vancouver being especially strong sellers. Surprisingly, North Dakota is also a strong seller; Geck noted that it might be because there are few children’s picture books set in that state. “It might be the first time some people in North Dakota have had an opportunity to buy a regional book for their children or grandchildren,” Geck pointed out. North Dakota booksellers are also reporting spikes in the sales of children’s books overall in their stores, due to an influx of families moving to the state to join relatives working in the oil fields that have drawn workers from all over the country.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky has sold out of a number of the titles already, and is going back to press for them. To provide a frame of reference for the sales of the series, Geck told PW that if the series has been considered as one title with one ISBN last year, Santa Is Coming would have been one of Sourcebooks' top three bestselling books in all genres, including romance.
A Company-Wide Effort
If it sounds like there were a lot of moving parts in producing and marketing 97 volumes of Santa Is Coming, there were. Beginning last October, Sourcebooks’ editorial team began brainstorming the places Santa could visit across North America. They researched each locale that was selected, to create lists of landmarks and points of interest for each title that would easily merge into the “rhythms of the story line,” Wilkens said. While Sourcebooks editors tweaked the core story written by Smallman, Dunn illustrated all 97 books, with nine other illustrators assisting on some of them. “Fortunately, he worked quickly,” Geck said of Dunn’s achievement.
The process became a company-wide endeavor, as most of Sourcebooks’ 100+ employees signed up to become a “cheerleader” for one of the titles, based upon their familiarity with a specific place,. “We were pretty much able to cover the entire country with the editorial staff,” Geck noted. Geck, who lives in New York City but grew up in Minnesota, worked closely on researching and tweaking his home state’s edition.
Each participating employee was also expected to write a letter to one bookseller, one media outlet, and to one gift store in their assigned location, talking up the book. They were also encouraged to bolster their assigned book, as well as the series in general, on social media.
Geck said that Jabberwocky intends to expand upon the Santa Is Coming series each year indefinitely by adding new locales, both large and small. “We’re not hitting any walls at all,” he said, noting that Santa Is Coming to Notre Dame is one of this year’s more popular titles.