Ahoy there, landlubbers and book lovers! Here be news of a new pirate book and a pirate-holiday promotion with some swash and buckle.
In 2002, Ashley Smith, a marketing department staffer at Harcourt, heard a piece on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered about the celebration of a holiday called International Talk Like a Pirate Day. She mentioned the story at a meeting, noting, "Don’t we have a pirate book coming up?" The company was indeed moving ahead with the lively picture book How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon, featuring a slew of pirate phrases and scheduled for fall 2003. During the meeting associate director of publicity Sarah Shealy made a note and filed it away with potential pirate marketing ideas.
Once the publication date of How I Became a Pirate moved closer, Shealy and her colleagues further investigated Talk Like a Pirate Day and discovered it was the brainchild of two friends, John Baur (aka Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy), both from Oregon.
"Talk Like a Pirate Day is, I think, the only holiday to begin as a sports injury," said Summers. "[In June 1995] John and I were playing racquetball at the local YMCA when one of us--and we have no idea which one--let out an "Arrr!" probably due to some sort of muscle strain. Before you could say ‘Shiver me timbers,’ we were commenting on the game: ‘Thar be a fine cannonade!’ or ‘Take THAT, ye scurvy dog!’ Afterward, we realized we had so much fun that we decided there ought to be one day out of the year when everyone talked like pirates."
The random date they selected for International Talk Like a Pirate Day was September 19--a date that stuck in Summers’s head because it was his ex-wife’s birthday. "The early days of Talk Like a Pirate Day were modest, to say the least," noted Summers. For several years Summers, Baur and a circle of friends called and e-mailed each other to exchange pirate greetings on the designated date. But the originating duo had grander plans for their holiday, even back in 1995. "As we were leaving the [racquetball] court that day, I said, ‘You know who would be the perfect spokesman for Talk Like a Pirate Day? Dave Barry.’ So of course, we rushed right out and did nothing about it."
Flash forward seven years, to 2002. "I happened across [Barry’s] e-mail address and, well, e-mail’s cheap and easy, so I sent off a message inviting him aboard," Baur recalled. Much to their delight Barry took the bait. "He e-mailed back and asked if we had actually done anything to promote the holiday or if we expected him to do all the heavy lifting," said Summers. Soon after, nationally syndicated columnist Barry wrote a piece about the holiday encouraging participation and providing humorous examples of potential pirate-speak in the average workplace.
"We spent most of the next two weeks fielding radio interviews and talking like a pirate to local classrooms whose teachers had been caught up in the mania," Summers noted. "We were on the air live in half a dozen American cities, plus Sydney, Australia and on Radio Ireland." In addition, the crew of the USS John Young (decommissioned on September 19, 2002) wrote to the Pirate Guys offering themselves as the official U.S. Navy vessel of Talk Like a Pirate Day. Summers has been told that a battalion of Marines spent last September 19 talking like pirates while on a 10-mile hike.
How It Became a Marketing Plan
How I Became a Pirate was officially published last month, on August 4, with a first print run of 75,000 copies. "We figured Talk Like a Pirate Day was the perfect marketing hook [all puns intended] for the book," joked Shealy. Harcourt has printed a poster and sent out a Pirate Speak glossary and a release about Talk Like a Pirate Day to reviewers. The publisher has also created a pirate event kit for bookstores featuring temporary tattoos and reproducible games and puzzles, including a treasure-map maze. "The Pirate Guys are including a link to the book on their Web site [www.talklikeapirate.com]," Shealy noted. "We think it’s just a cute holiday that booksellers can have fun with," she said. "The release of [the Disney summer film] Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t hurt either--it puts pirates on everybody’s brain."
Jill Bailey of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., is one bookseller who was eager to hoist the sails for a pirate display, complete with a cardboard treasure chest. "We used the David Shannon book as the center of our display," she said. "With the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, pirates have really been in the forefront." Other featured titles include Everything I Know About Pirates, The Pirate Treasury and Eyewitness: Pirate. Bailey had not heard of Talk Like a Pirate Day before PW contacted her, but has since ordered a kit from Harcourt and plans to hold an event on September 19. "Now we can make an even beefier display than what we had and include some nonfiction, historical fiction and books for teens," Bailey added.
Children’s bookstore Halfway Down the Stairs in Rochester, Mich., is on board for pirate partying too, though not on Talk Like a Pirate Day itself. Owner Cammie Mannino said her store will be featuring How I Became a Pirate on September 27. "We’ll have an actual pirate ship in the store, recycled from our Peter Pan event years ago, with a plank to walk, of course, a sandy beach where you can dig for hidden treasure, and generally a lot of aarghing and references to ‘mateys.’ "
At press time the Pirate Guys had not yet finalized their plans for this September 19, but are expecting that the day will include at least a few more radio interviews. Additionally, people from around the country have been e-mailing them information about their own celebrations, which can be found on the Talk Like a Pirate Web site.
Close to home, Summers’s and Baur’s local newspaper, The Oregonian, is running a haiku "or pi-ku" contest during the two weeks leading up to the event, according to Summers. On the horizon is a potential community theater production of The Pirates of Penzance in February (Summers and Baur have long been active in the troupe) as well as some book projects. Represented by literary agent Scott Hoffman, Baur and Summers are pitching three humor titles to publishers: The Pirate Guys’ Guide to Talk Like a Pirate Day, The Pirate Guys’ Guide to Running for President and The Pirate Guys’ Guide to Fixing All the Things Wrong with You, and There’s a LOT (tentative title). In the meantime, they continue in their landlocked endeavors as husbands and fathers as well as school social worker (Summers) and science writer (Baur).
Aye, sounds like a fine crew of scalawags to lead the way to hearty pirate book sales.