Call it nostalgia, stress relief or meditation--for whatever reason, coloring books for adults are suddenly filling in the blanks of a previously untapped market. The most popular title far and away is Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford (Laurence King, distributed in North America by Chronicle), which has sold 1.5 million copies in 28 countries since its publication in 2013. The book is so popular that the publisher is currently out of stock, and many booksellers say they could sell huge amounts if they could get copies. Basford's second adult coloring book, Enchanted Forest (Laurence King, Feb. 2015), has already sold more than 220,000 copies. More titles by Basford are on the way: on May 7, Penguin Random House announced its acquisition of Basford's next two books, with the first, Lost Ocean, to be published October 27, 2015.
The boom in adult coloring books began in Europe. Lisa Trudeau, U.S. publicity and marketing representative for Jacqui Small (the eponymous imprint of Quarto), said that early last year, when Jacqui Small pitched her idea for the Art Therapy series, Small "saw that adult coloring books were all the rage among French women. They were, at that time, outselling all other nonfiction instructional books, even cooking. Women were proudly posting their coloring accomplishments on Pinterest boards, many claiming that the therapeutic effects of coloring were more effective than yoga, meditation, or even antidepressants."
Social media appears to have played a central role in expanding adult coloring book sales. Sales of Secret Garden exploded in South Korea when Korean pop star Kim Ki-bum posted a colored-in page of Basford's book to 1.8 million Instagram followers. Actress Zooey Deschanel also posted about Secret Garden on her Facebook page. Still, the wild popularity of adult coloring books didn't translate across the Atlantic immediately.
"When Jacqui first brought her Art Therapy books to the U.S., sales were disappointingly slow," Trudeau said. "We were told that they were too expensive, too 'European'--then something changed. Suddenly we were selling out of our first titles, and pre-orders began piling up for forthcoming releases. We have not done any advertising for these books, and very little marketing. Honestly, our expectations were low. Demand and interest has grown organically, much to our delight and surprise."
The appeal of adult coloring books is multihued. Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Children's Books and More, Delaware, Ohio, said, "One customer told me coloring helped her get through the dark days after her husband passed away. I always suggest a coloring book and colored pencils or crayons for every get well package, whether for kids or adults."
Lacy Mucklow, author of Race Point Publishing's Color Me Calm and Color Me Happy (illustrated by Angela Porter) and an art therapist with the military and families of the military, has found coloring books important in her work. "Lacy has received some heart-warming messages from readers and artists who have benefited from using the books--a veteran struggling with PTSD (who reluctantly tried the books after a concerned family member gave them the book), a mother coping with her child's illness, and a bedridden patient who needed something to pass the time," said Angela Corpus, senior marketing manager with Quarto.
Beyond the therapeutic value of adult coloring books, the simple fun of coloring has encouraged the creation of adult coloring groups, which often involve alcohol. "We hosted a Coloring & Cocktails event featuring Johanna Basford's adult coloring books," said Janis Herbert, assistant manager at Face in a Book bookstore, El Dorado Hills, Calif. "The evening was a huge hit--a ladies' night out for some, who brought their friends along, and, for others, a chance to do something different and to meet new friends. The overflow crowd spent a happy hour-and-a-half coloring and talking. We sold dozens of books from our display in the weeks prior to the event and dozens more that evening."
One bookstore gave the drinking and coloring trend its own twist. For Independent Bookstore Day, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex., created Hemingwasted: A Loving Look at Literary Lushes, a 16-page coloring book pairing famous authors with boozy quotes (like Ogden Nash's "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker"). Brazos made the book available to other bookstores participating in IBD for $5 a copy.
Adult coloring books also cater to spirituality and mindfulness. Mandalas, the ritual geometric symbols used in Buddhism and Hinduism, appear in many titles. One current example: last week, HarperElixer announced the October 6 publication of Sacred Nature and Sacred Symbols, marketed as "coloring books for the soul."
It remains to be seen whether the adult coloring book trend is written in permanent marker or sidewalk chalk. Either way, publishers are rushing to fill the demand. The following is a partial list of titles already out and coming soon. --Tobias Mutter
The Experiment: The Mindfulness Coloring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People by Emma Farrarons (June 2, 2015), already popular in the U.K. The Experiment will give away 500 copies during BEA.
Watson-Guptill: The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book by Daria Song (Sept. 1, 2015) to be followed by The Time Chamber (Oct. 13, 2015). The Time Garden has already sold more than 65,000 copies in Korea.
Cider Mill Press: Dr. Seymour Kindbud's Stoner Smoke & Sketch (2012). Using the included pencil, the black coating disappears to reveal gleaming, tie-dye colors beneath. The publisher said this book will appeal to "hipsters, the growing medical marijuana community, and tokers who didn't grow up with this cool scratch-and-sketch concept."
Running Press: Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book by Cindy Wilde, Laura-Kate Chapman and Richard Merritt and Creative Therapy by Hannah Davies and Richard Merritt (both May 26, 2015). Calming Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book will appear Nov. 3. During BEA, the Running Press booth (738) will have easels with coloring book sheets for attendees to use.
Quirk Books: Color Me Fierce! by Nike Desis (2008), a satirical skewering of the fashion world.
Countryman Press: The Mindala Coloring Book: Artistic Designs for Fun and Meditation by Cher Kaufmann (July 6, 2015), an introductory take on this ancient tradition.
Perigee: Outside the Lines: An Artists' Coloring Book for Giant Imaginations by Souris Hong-Porretta (2013), Color Me Crazy: Insanely Detailed Creations to Challenge Your Skills and Blow Your Mind by Peter Deligdisch (July 7, 2015), Outside the Lines, Too: An Inspired and Inventive Coloring Book by Creative Masterminds by Souris Hong (Sept. 1, 2015), and the YA coloring series Color Me Swoon (2013) and Color Me Girl Crush (2014) by Mel Elliott.
Peter Pauper Press: Studio Series Artist's Coloring Books, a series of eight 31-page coloring books, including Joyful Designs by Joy Ting (2014), whose art was selected for its calming intricacy.
Barron's Educational Series: the Just Add Color series, the Color Magic series, the Copycat Coloring series and Color Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Coloring Book by Tiddy Rowan, illustrated by Paul Heussenstamm (June 1, 2015).
PM Press: Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak (2009), Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Nat Kusinitz (2010), and The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Leela Corman (June 1, 2015).
Ulysses Press: Coloring Animal Mandalas (2014) and Coloring Flower Mandalas (May 12, 2015) by Wendy Piersall, whose success (thanks in part to a viral Huffington Post feature) prompted the forthcoming Coloring Dream Mandalas (Winter 2016). Ulysses also has two pop-culture coloring books, The 1990s Coloring Book by James Grange (2013) and Hillary: The Coloring Book by Valentin Ramon (2014).
Ammo Books: A coloring series based on art by Charley Harper (1922-2007), an American Modernist who depicted animals and nature.
Skyhorse Publishing: 12 coloring books that are coming out between June and October this year with designs inspired by Mandalas, Paisleys, Art Nouveau, Whimsical Patterns, Zen Patterns and Mehndi, each with an edition for artists and for everyday colorers. Bill Wolfsthal, executive director of sales & marketing, commented, "Adult coloring books are definitely a huge category for 2015, and we expect great sales for the holidays. We’ve already gone back to press on our first four titles Paisleys: Coloring for Everyone, Paisleys: Coloring for Artists, Mandalas: Coloring for Everyone, Mandalas: Coloring for Artists."
Plume: Coloring for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book by Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen (2012), an early success with 75,000 copies in print. Sales spiked after an April 2015 post on Reddit recommended the book. Also available: Coloring for Grown-Ups Holiday Fun Book (2013) and Coloring for Grown-Ups College Companion (2014). An omnibus of the Coloring for Grown Ups series comes out in October along with Extreme Coloring: The Ultimate Search and Find Coloring Book by Kerby Rosanes.
Chronicle Books: Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald (Aug. 11, 2015), which includes illustrated aerial views--bird's-eye perspectives of visually arresting cities from around the world and a selection of immersive architectural mandalas created from his cityscapes.
Andrews McMeel Publishing: the Posh Coloring Book series and a 2016 coloring calendar based on it (Aug. 4, 2015), an extension of the publisher's popular Posh line.
Last Gasp: a mix of "adult" adult coloring books, including The C*nt Coloring Book (1995), The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book (2004), a cannabis-inspired series and the Fetish Coloring Book (2014).
Printers Row Publishing Group: the Nature and Vintage Coloring series, the Querkles series, the 3D coloring series and the 1000 Dot-to-Dot series.
Coppervale Press: James A. Owen offers a coloring book version of images from his YA series the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica called All the Colors of Magic--A Coloring Book for All Ages, funded via Kickstarter.
St. Martin's Griffin: Four Seasons: A Coloring Book by Aiko Fukawa (Sept. 29, 2015) with images for each season and How to Draw Everything by Gillian Johnson (Sept. 1, 2015) with easy projects and whimsical illustrations that teach the user how to draw.
Beyond Words: The Big Girl's Little Coloring Book by Carol Omer (June 2015), which aims to awaken the user's creative brain and serves as an open eye meditation. The book features mandalas and will have perforated pages allowing the work to be framed.
Little, Brown: Splendid Cities by Rosie Goodwin and Alice Chadwick, Secret Paris by Zoe de Las Cases (both June 9, 2015), and Secret New York and Secret Tokyo by Zoe de Las Cases (both Oct. 6, 2015), all of which are subtitled Color Your Way to Calm. These books combine the elaborate, abstract "zentangle" patterns that have been shown to lower stress with pictorial narratives that immerse readers in the cultural fabric of cities all over the world.
Sounds True: The Shakti Coloring Book: Goddesses, Mandalas, and the Power of Sacred Geometry by Ekabhumi Charles Ellik (July 1, 2015).
Sterling Publishing: Animal Kingdom: Color Me, Draw Me by Millie Marotta (2014), a U.K. bestseller with more than a million copies in print worldwide. Marotta's Tropical World: A Coloring Book Adventure comes out Sept. 8, 2015. Other Sterling coloring books coming this fall include The Hipster Coloring Book by Charlotte Farmer and Mandala Meditation Coloring Book (both Oct. 6).
Design Originals, a Fox Chapel Publishing imprint: 16 coloring books in print, including Creative Coloring Inspirations by Valentina Harper (2014), and another 27 coming in fall 2015. Some of its titles have sold well in alternative markets, including an animals coloring book sold by a major pet retailer.
Singing Dragon, a Jessica Kingsley Publishers imprint: The Acupuncture Points Functions Colouring Book by Rainy Hutchinson (June 21, 2015).