A few years ago, I was in a Wiscon writing workshop with Theo Nicole Lorenz. Theo's novel excerpt was totally awesome, so I was stoked to a) gush over it and b) offer hopefully useful feedback on it. And Theo's response to my own novel excerpt was great.
I was completely pleased to later see Theo at a panel I was on -- the panel was talking about the astonishing lack of body diversity in science fiction and went by the pithy title, "Why Are There No Fat Ladies In Space?"
Later that weekend, Theo approached me at a makeup party and showed off this drawing:
Which, yeah, I have since framed and hung up in my house because check it out! That is so rad!
Theo caved into peer pressure from a friend there at the con and spent the next year producing a coloring book called Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace. It's basically the best thing ever. I've spent a lot of time over the years coloring in those great works of art coloring books you can buy and those anatomy ones, too. But this was something entirely more awesome.
I'm only a little bit biased because I am one of the characters in the coloring book. Then my co-workers got hold of that coloring page and colored in multiple copies of it for my birthday one year. Tanya's daughter even turned it into a collage.
But what was next on Theo's coloring book horizon? I mean, a coloring book mogul cannot build an empire on one coloring book alone, amirite? Yes, I'm right.
Enter Theo's newest coloring book, "Unicorns Are Jerks."
Man, I love unicorns.
And I love this coloring book. Other people are also loving it, so I traded some emails (curse this lack of transporter technology) with Theo on the subject of coloring books for grownups.
"Hey," I said, "Tell me about publishing your own coloring books!" Because I am a master of open-ended questions. (Just let me go on believing that, okay?)
"Self-publishing sounded like a neat experiment," Theo said. "I figured if it [Fat Ladies In Spaaaaace] sold 25 copies, I'd call it a success. When it sold a couple hundred copies, I started jokingly calling myself a coloring book tycoon."
I can definitely see Theo wearing the little Monopoly guy's monocle, y'all. It'd be so good.
And it might not be too far fetched. She continued, "A year and a half in, I've got two books out, over 3,000 copies sold, and a literary agent for my coloring books. 'Coloring book tycoon' is totally going on my business cards."
Sometimes I forget that not everyone is into the same things that my friends and I are into, so I asked about reception. Especially because the two coloring books are really different in subject. I mean, fat ladies are not unicorns. Except when we are.
Theo reported that the reception has actually been really interesting to watch. "Fat Ladies has gotten me the most wonderful, heartfelt emails from women who'd never seen their body types represented positively in sci-fi. I've had people tell me my coloring book made them cry. Fat Ladies In Spaaaaace proved to me that art matters no matter what medium you're working in."
And the unicorns?
"Meanwhile, Unicorns Are Jerks has proved how far a snappy title can go in selling a book. It's got a positive message in it, too, but mostly it's the title that's gotten it linked all over the Internet."
It sounds like the in-person response is pretty great as well. Theo said, "When I table at local sci-fi and comic conventions, the most common reaction is people wandering over to pick up a copy of Unicorns Are Jerks, saying, 'That is so TRUE,' and handing me money."
Creating your own market is one of those tricks that money-gurus always advise, like it's no big thing to invent something that people didn't know they wanted. Sometimes it really is just the little things, like coloring books. "A year and a half ago," Theo said, "selling coloring books at conventions got me double-takes and raised eyebrows." (No one can judge like nerds -- you know this if you've ever been on the receiving end of it.)
"But now," she said, "most people go, 'Oh, cool, a coloring book.' Like this is totally something they expected to find sandwiched between indie comics and Adventure time plushes."
"One more thing," I said to Theo. "How do people react when you tell them you are a coloring book tycoon?"
Theo's response is quick. "I tell someone I'm a coloring book tycoon and they laugh. And I say, 'No, really.' People generally seem to think it's an odd job, but kind of cool."
I laughed when she went on though. "Strangers are way quicker to believe it," Theo said, "than my own family, who are still convinced I'm pranking them. I still have to be, like, 'Dad, stop laughing for a sec, I'm not kidding. I was on the Top 100 Fantasy list right above Cloud Atlas. YES, THAT'S A REAL BOOK, DAD.'"
The thing that was so great about my co-workers doing all of that coloring for my birthday was the way everyone seemed to be so into it. One co-worker got his kids in on it, but most of the pages were done by grownups that I wouldn't have imagined sitting there with crayons. They were all coloring in secret, too, so I wouldn't know about it.
There's something pretty magical about that. In fact, I think there's something pretty magical about coloring in general. Which is why I need to buy myself a new big box of 64 crayons. I have some unicorns to color.