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Sense and Seussability: How the Grinch and the Cat Brought Us Money and Fame

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My husband and I own an academic publishing house, one devoted to Latin and ancient Greek. Our authors include Vergil, Cicero, Caesar, Euripides, Aeschylus… and Dr. Seuss!

One of the goals of our company, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, is to popularize Latin. Publishing Latin translations of Dr. Seuss titles gives us an opportunity to inform the general public that Latin lives.

We selected How the Grinch Stole Christmas to be our first Seuss publication. Getting the rights to publish a Latin version was our first challenge. Fortunately for us, Random House hadn’t sewn up Latin language rights. We, of course, needed approval then from Seuss Enterprises on everything, beginning with the choice of translator right down to every ad produced. Another challenge was finding the right translators. Given the fact that we are an academic press, the Latin in our books has to be excellent; it must pass peer review. Generally, a translator should be a native speaker of the end language. Well, there are no native speakers of Latin left. We did, however, know a husband and wife team of neo-Latinists. The Drs. Tunberg conduct workshops every year in which the participants speak only Latin for a full week. It took us a while to convince them to do the translation.

Finally, in 1998, in time to meet the holiday season, we published Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit (How the cantankerous individual named Grinch stole the birth of Christ).

That choice of title was our first mistake–more on that later.

Grinchus Gets His Ink

Needless to say, we knew this book had to be marketed differently from our usual fare. We decided to hire a PR firm that was recommended to us. DeChant Hughes, a prominent Midwest firm, prepared press kits and sent them to 300 media contacts. Did that work? Mirabile visu. We were overwhelmed with requests for interviews and for additional information. The coverage ranged from NPR interviews to the Paul Harvey News to Entertainment Weekly to USA Today to the London Daily Telegraph. Harper’s Magazine covered Grinchus in an aside in the topical section of their December issue. Wireless Flash News Service (a division of Copley News Service) carried a blurb about Grinchus and sent the information to 800 media outlets (print, radio, and TV). The Drs. Tunberg were interviewed by Northeast Public Radio regional network the first week of November. More than 20 interviews with other public radio networks followed. Publishers Weekly had a write-up on Grinchus in the September issue. I myself was filmed for a one-minute piece on E! Entertainment TV.

The reporters’ pieces were far more interesting than anything we could have written in-house. The titles used in the print media were especially creative:

 

• “Amo, amas, amat. Let’s give Seuss another shot” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12/13/98)

• “A Grinch for Latin Lovers” (Dallas Morning News, 11/14/98)

• “Ehem, optume! [Ah, Great!]” (Colorado Springs Gazette, 11/98)

• “Veni, vidi, grinchi” (Sacramento Bee, 12/21/98).

My husband was especially taken with a piece by Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, who imitated the Latin Grinch in his headline “Quomodo Medicus nomineKevorkianChristi Natalem Abrogaverit” (How the doctor named Kevorkian stole the birth of Christ) in the Catholic New World.

After considering our promotional plan, Barnes & Noble and Borders stores did in-store promotions for Grinchus. Not only was the book placed on special holiday tables, but the chain store buyers committed to buying more copies for their stores. As a result of the marvelous publicity we received and the special co-op, in-store promotions, we sold 8,435 copies of Grinchus in the first three months after publication. Just for comparison, our previous best-selling book, 38 Latin Stories, sells 7,500 copies a year.

Boffo as Backlist

The success of the 1998 season was a hard act to follow. In 1999, we again hired a PR company, this time Planned Television Arts (PTA). However, Grinchus was now a backlist book, and many newspapers had covered it the year before. Although NPR stations were interviewing the translators, we were having a hard time getting print coverage. But PTA subcontracted with ARA Content, a firm that writes press releases and sends them out electronically to 16,000 media, to do a piece on Grinchus.

Ehem

, optume, the coverage began again. More than 200 print media published the exact same article, “Sense and Seussability, Test Your Grinch IQ with This Fun Holiday Quiz.” And some reporters wrote marvelously creative pieces. Here is an excerpt from Patrick T. Reardon’s piece, “How the Grinch Went Latin” (Chicago Tribune, 12/15/99): “The same words and grammar used by Caesar and Horace, by popes and scholastic theologians, by medieval alchemists and Enlightenment astronomers are employed to tell of the Grinch’s comeuppance.”

Once again, based on the promotions we were doing, Barnes & Noble and Borders stores placed Grinchus on special holiday tables. We sold another 15,195 copies in 1999.

In the year 2000, we published Cattus Petasatus. That’s right, The Cat in the Hat in Latin. We hired the DeChant Hughes PR firm; they sent out 300 press kits to the media. Again the coverage was excellent. Here are two excerpts:

• “Green Eggs and Hammibus–If any writer can raise a language from the dead, it’s Dr. Seuss. Cattus Petasatus, aka The Cat in the Hat in Latin, is being published this month.” (Washington Post, 8/12/00)

• “Cat in the Hat moving to a new Latin rhythm” Burt Constable (Daily Herald, 8/19/00).

Whenever a reporter covered Cattus Petasatus, we made sure that Grinchus was covered as well. Once again, based on the promotions we were doing, Barnes & Noble and Borders stores placed not only Cattus Petasatus but also Grinchus on special holiday tables. Sales again were good; we sold 23,633 copies of these two books in 2000.

Ecce Even More Major Media

For the year 2001, we used ARA Content again to cover both titles. Once more, we had more than 200 print media use the piece they wrote. But something even more exciting happened. Our Dr. Seuss Latin translations made the front page of the Wall Street Journal (March 16, 2001). The article even used a Seuss illustration–this in the staid Wall Street Journal. The following week we were on the front page of the Journal’s European edition. My husband was almost as thrilled when the Chronicle of Higher Education, one of his favorite periodicals, also did a half-page editorial on Cattus Petasatus accompanied by a color graphic. Once again, based on the promotions we were doing, Barnes & Noble and Borders stores are placing both books on special holiday tables. We expect sales to continue to be good.

Have we learned any lessons along the way? Certe!

1. Don’t pick a title that few will remember and that will cause confusion with bookstore staff.

Our title, Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit, caused more than a little trouble. We finally had the stores list it as the Latin version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas from Dr. Seuss.

2. Consider placing fewer ads and using the money you save on generating promotion.

Ads are exceedingly costly, and readers don’t like to read them. But when well-written and entertaining articles are published, they cost the publisher nothing, and people do read them. In effect, reporters are advertising for you.

3. Hire a PR firm.

The PR companies we hired did a far better job than we could have done in-house in developing press kits, getting them to the right people, and doing the necessary follow-up. Using them was most cost-effective.

4. Promote your backlist.

One of the best ways to do this is to piggyback a backlist book onto promotion for a new title. When we did promotion for Cattus Petasatus, we always had some mention of Grinchus.

5. Consider hiring a company that sends out electronic press releases.

6. Let the chain store buyers know of your promotional plan.

If it’s good enough, they may agree to display your book on special promotional tables. One additional plus of this is that the chain buyers will purchase greater quantities of your title than they normally would and will agree not to return them for a period of time. There is some cost involved, but co-op dollars are well spent.

As noted in the beginning of this piece, one of our goals is to popularize Latin, and judging from our sales figures, we had a measure of success. What’s more, the chain store buyers began ordering greater quantities of such authors as Vergil and Cicero and the Latin grammars. These developments have especially pleased us.

Well, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers is moving on to its next Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham,in Latin, of course! Look for that one in your Barnes & Noble and Borders stores in the year 2003. Enjoy it a la Latine! By the way, did you know that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is now also in Latin?

Marie Bolchazy has a doctoral degree in education from the State University of

New York at Albany and a masters degree, also in education, from Cornell

University. She has taught graduate level courses in reading and worked extensively in public education as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and a curriculum coordinator. After taking an early retirement in 1993, she

started working full-time for her own company, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Learn more about their books at http://www.bolchazy.com/.

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