A "grocery" as opposed to a "luxury" is how Houghton Mifflin Harcourt refers to wine on the cover of its inventive new book, The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert. The board book by Richard Betts, which features 16 different scents--all of which can, indeed, be sniffed, post-scratch--sounds like an amusing experiment. Amusement or not, and experiment or not, the book is now a bestseller. Since HMH released the title on October 15, it has sold 150,000 copies. And, while HMH said it loved Betts's idea from the start, bringing it together on page, er cardboard, was far from easy.
HMH editor Rux Martin, whose authors include vaunted culinary figures and celebrated chefs like Jacques Pepin and Marcus Samuelsson, said that Betts's book is the only title she's ever acquired that came in complete or, as she put it, "wholis bolis." The title, which walks people through the characteristics of wine by region and smell, required little "fiddling with," Martin said, because Betts's original manuscript arrived with the final accompanying illustrations, by Wendy MacNaughton.
Although Betts's submitted draft came in polished and seemingly ready-to-go, Martin knew the scratch & sniff element would be tricky. HMH made what Martin called a "strong" bid for the book, but she also believes other houses may have been "deterred by the manufacturing hurdles."
Those hurdles proved larger than anything HMH initially expected, as well. Jill Lazer, HMH's v-p of production for its General Interest Group, began by consulting with the house's children's group. At that point, Lazer and her team found out that, while the children's department had published scratch & sniff board books before, those titles only featured one sticker, and one scent. And, although the China-based printer Lazer's vendor used could make the needed stickers, the scents proved trickier.
Betts's book originally came in with 20 scents. That number was quickly whittled down to 16 when Lazer's team realized how hard it would be to create the scents. Of the 16 scents in the final edition, six were unfamiliar to the book's printer. For those "special" scents, which included butter and dill, Lazer worked with a company in the U.S. on samples that were then mailed to China. Overall, Lazer said, the process was laborious, as the smelly stickers went through rounds of approvals--Lazer and other HMH employees would smell the stickers at each round, trying to identify if the scent matched the target--with Betts having the final approval.
The most difficult scent, vanilla, also called for a bit of innovation on Lazer's end. That scent, which was wholly unfamiliar to the Chinese printer, forced Lazer to resort to soaking cotton balls in vanilla extract, sealing them in bottles, and then shipping them off to China.
Overall, Lazer estimates that the manufacturing process took over a year. HMH has not attempted a digital edition of the book.
Thankfully, for HMH, the hard work has paid off. Not only is the publisher expecting sales to continue climbing into the new year--the book makes an ideal novelty gift--but Martin is looking forward to working with Betts again. Although he is not officially signed with HMH for another book, Martin said that "you can expect something by Mr. Betts, from us, in the future."