Audrey Geisel, widow of the late author Theodor Seuss Geisel, was cleaning out her husband’s office in their La Jolla, Calif., home in 2013, when she and Ted’s secretary and friend, Claudia Prescott, rediscovered a box filled with pages of text and sketches in various stages of completion. The material had originally surfaced during a remodeling project shortly after Geisel’s death in 1991. Rather than being sent to the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California–San Diego with the rest of the author’s papers, it had been set aside.
Among other treasures, the box contained a full manuscript of an unpublished picture book, What Pet Should I Get? On July 28, Random House Books for Young Readers will release the title, representing the first completely original new Dr. Seuss book since the publication of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in 1990, with a one-million-copy first printing.
“It’s really a significant moment in not only the Dr. Seuss publishing program but in children’s books,” says Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books.
“Ted was very prolific,” says Susan Brandt, president, licensing and marketing, at Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company headed by Audrey Geisel and charged with overseeing all things Seuss. “He did many projects at the same time—manuscripts, cartoons, paintings and sculptures, articles—all brought to different levels of completion. For some reason, he set this one aside.” What Pet Should I Get? is believed to have been written between 1958 and 1962.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” says Roberta Yochim, sales manager, cards and books, for the Portland, Ore.–based superstore chain Fred Meyer about the new book. “I love selling Dr. Seuss books. They’re one of those constantly selling products. The new book just gives excitement and a nice warm fuzzy feeling that will help grow the business and give one of those little bumps in sales.”
All told, 45 Dr. Seuss books were published during Geisel’s lifetime, with another 16 released posthumously. Cumulative sales exceed 650 million copies, with the five bestsellers being Green Eggs and Ham (1960), The Cat in the Hat (1957), Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990). Those five collectively have sold more than 73 million copies.
“Due to strong sales, Dr. Seuss titles are always a large part of our picture book selection,” says Anne Krinkie, book buyer at Hudson Booksellers, a chain of airport stores. She notes that new titles tend to do well—2011’s The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories was Hudson’s top-selling picture book from Random House that year—as do perennial bestsellers such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Fred Meyer stores can feature as large as a four-foot section of Seuss books, depending on location, according to Yochim, who reports that the bestsellers are the $8.99 picture books, particularly Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and One Fish, Two Fish, along with Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, which is part of the Beginner Books series that Geisel oversaw at Random House. Oversize Seuss formats, such as Happy Birthday to You!, also do well.
A Nearly Finished Work
“The first time I saw the new book was in late October 2013,” says Cathy Goldsmith, v-p and associate publishing director, Random House/Golden Books for Young Readers. She met Dr. Seuss in 1970, worked with him on six books, and is the only remaining Random House employee to have collaborated directly with him.
“We just had a half hour to look that first time, but we were aware that it looked like a full manuscript,” she says. After the papers in the box were properly processed into the Dr. Seuss Collection, the Random House team was able to get a closer look and realized the manuscript was a full-fledged, nearly complete book.
“When I worked with Ted, he would come to New York City in person to deliver a book,” Goldsmith recalls. “We knew that if Ted was coming, it often meant he was bringing us something new.” Geisel never shared what he was working on until it was close to finished, when he would arrive at the office and call everyone into a room. He would read the book, text-only first, before sharing the pictures. “It was an amazing, special kind of moment.”
“He was a perfectionist about his work,” Goldsmith adds, noting that his books did not require a tremendous amount of editing once he delivered them. He typically wrote first and drew second, continuing to edit the text while perfecting the pictures.
The manuscript for What Pet Should I Get? had Dr. Seuss’s distinctive look, with text typed on onionskin paper. Some of the boards had layers of three to four versions of text, suggesting that Geisel was still involved in the editing process, since the final manuscripts he delivered to Random House during his life were freshly typed. But it was very close to being finished. The Random House team added a line or two of transition text, Goldsmith says, and chose to use the top layer of text as the most recent and preferred version. But the editors made no major changes beyond that.
Geisel had written the names of colors on certain spreads, but had not yet added any direction about placement, which he typically did with colored pencil or crayon. Since the characters are the same as in One Fish, Two Fish, Goldsmith took her color cues from that book, as well as from the handwritten notes. “His color sense is like no one else’s,” she says.
Otherwise, the layout was fully fleshed out. “Ted was very interested in clarity of layout,” Goldsmith recalls. “He was interested in eye movements. It mattered where the type was placed on the page, so the eye could naturally find it.” She says watching his process taught her a lot. “Even today, I’ll make a suggestion to a young artist and I’ll realize, ‘I learned that from Ted.’”
Keeping It Fresh
Although the Dr. Seuss publishing program is vast and is at the top of retailers’ bestseller lists year in and year out, Random House and Dr. Seuss Enterprises oversee a full and continuing publishing and marketing schedule to keep interest high.
“We do not take it for granted, ever,” says Marcus. “Each year we ask ourselves, how do we creatively expand the readership for Dr. Seuss books, whether through new editions, new promotions, or even new books? We approach everything as if it’s the first year.”
New publishing includes anniversary editions, reissues in new formats or sizes, and updated editions. On some titles, Random House returns to the original custom illustrations for the back covers, rather than listing all of the author’s books. “Our updating often takes us backwards,” Goldsmith says.
Such publishing initiatives can boost sales. When Random House increased the trim size for Seussisms! A Guide to Life for Those Just Starting Out... and Those Already on Their Way, sales of the title rose 10-fold over the previous year, according to Marcus.
New books over the past 25 years have included Daisy-Head Mayzie (1995) and Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! (1998), which were based on Geisel sketches and notes. The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories (2011) and Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories (2014) were both collections of material first published in Redbook magazine in the 1950s, but never appeared in book form.
Random House and Dr. Seuss Enter-prises work hand-in-hand on every aspect of the Dr. Seuss legacy, from publishing to marketing to scheduling. “We’re true partners,” explains Brandt at DSE. “I consider them my East Coast office. I talk to them, I’m not kidding, a million times a day. We’re that linked.”
Goldsmith, who estimates she spends about 30% of her time on Dr. Seuss these days, reviews all the publishing activity, including new editions and reprints, as well as marketing pieces, changes to the website, and even TV series and specials from Random House Children’s Enter-tainment. “I take it very seriously,” she says. “It’s probably the most important thing I’ve done here, and I feel that it’s my responsibility to keep his legacy alive and intact.”
Creating Marketing Moments
On the promotional side, there is a full calendar of marketing initiatives throughout the year. The three mainstays are Hats Off to Reading in March, coinciding with Dr. Seuss’s birthday; graduation time, tied to Oh, the Places You’ll Go!; and the holiday period, which focuses on How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Two years ago, the “Grinch-mas” program, which occurs in November and December, refocused around a “Grow Your Heart 3 Sizes” theme to stress community and giving. “The Grinch was always a holiday classic, but this gives it a new message and brings communities in to be a part of it,” says Kerri Benvenuto, executive director of brand marketing at RHCB.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! has been a popular gift for high school and college graduations for years, but last year Random House decided to tap into the growing trend of preschool and kindergarten graduations. Promoting to this new audience led to a year-over-year sales increase of 25%, according to Marcus.
Between the three key programs each year are promotions tied to content themes, anniversaries, TV specials, and the like. In 2016, initiatives will include Poetry Month and Earth Day in April; The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Camping and National Pet Adoption Month in June; the 30th anniversary of You’re Only Old Once! in September; and Anti-Bullying Month (targeting preschoolers with a “Dare to Care” message featuring Horton) in October.
Wherever possible, the initiatives highlight lesser-known books, along with key titles. In January 2016, Random House is launching Dr. Seuss’s Guide to the Curriculum, which lists every Seuss title and explains how each connects with curricular subjects across grade levels. “Teachers already use Dr. Seuss in the classroom, but we wanted to get them to think beyond the bestsellers,” says John Adamo, senior v-p, marketing at RHCB.
“When we have these moments where we get to talk about who Ted was, and where we can remind people about the themes that were important to him, it raises sales across all of our books,” Brandt says.
“Our goal is to grow sales every year with the right mix of publishing and marketing,” adds Adamo. “We try to build these moments and then make them bigger each year.”
The promotional calendar for What Pet Should I Get? incorporates elements similar to any other release, but on a larger scale, thanks to the high level of interest. For the first time for Dr. Seuss, Random House ran two pre-sale campaigns, one in April and a second in May; ran a consumer ad in People magazine, in addition to other, more standard placements; and dedicated space at retail and educational trade shows to a single title. A 100-Day Countdown on social media is highlighting all the Dr. Seuss titles with a fun fact about each.
In addition to publishing, Dr. Seuss Enterprises oversees an extensive licensing and merchandising program that extends across toys and games, children’s apparel, young adult and adult apparel, puzzles and educational kits, home furnishings, cards and stationery, hats, bags, accessories, party supplies, art, collectibles, classroom materials, and fabrics.
Each new publishing venture gives licensees—which range from Converse and Hallmark to Birthday Express and the Wonder Forge, among others—the opportunity to create new product designs once the books hit the market.
Meanwhile, DSE is active in the entertainment space as well. There are apps from Oceanhouse Media, DVDs from NCircle, and music recordings from Warner Bros., along with The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! TV specials. A new animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas! feature film from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment is in development for a 2017 theatrical release.
With all of the ancillary activity, “our focus is to support the core of our property, which is the books, and the relationship our fans have with those books,” Brandt says. “That’s the barometer. That’s what drives everything we do.”
Meanwhile, back on the publishing side, some of the forthcoming ventures Random House and DSE are considering include more titles linked to the Grinch “Grow Your Heart 3 Sizes” theme, a second volume of Seussisms! and ancillary formats such as activity titles and journals tied to some of the bestselling classics.
Executives from Random House and DSE also meet periodically along with librarians overseeing the 8,500-piece Dr. Seuss Collection to brainstorm about potential publishing ideas. “Any time we have any news or found treasures, there’s a great amount of interest,” Brandt says.
And there may well be future books based on other materials found with What Pet Should I Get? “There are no other completely finished projects in the box,” Goldsmith says. “But there are ideas we find interesting and continue to explore.”
Any activity is considered carefully. “We want to seek new readers, but we always want to be true to the franchise and do what Ted would have wanted,” says Marcus. “Every day, DSE says, and we say, ‘What would Ted do?’ ”
For now, the Random House team is looking forward to July 28. “This has been our little secret for the last year and a half,” Goldsmith says. “It’s time to share it with everyone else. I know it stands up well and I know Ted would be proud of it.”