Marketing: Deseret Book’s marketing Foo

So does DB have the marketing chops, the ‘Fu’ so to speak, to market their new, nationally-targeted children’s fantasy series?

Perhaps. They’re certainly making a game attempt at it. Hoping to capitalize on the Harry Potter et. al. phenomenon, DB’s Shadow Mountain Books (their national imprint) is publishing “Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo” — the first in a planned series by writer Obert Skye.

As Andrew Hall pointed out on the AML List, that’s almost certainly a pseudonym. And Deseret Book is playing up the mystery. Here, for instance, is the author’s bio/mythology of the story from the DB Web site:

“Obert Skye slipped into our building (Shadow Mountain Publishing) like a shadow. We looked up and there he was standing against the wall and smiling. He told us the story of Foo and of the gateway and of Leven, claiming it was a real place whose story had real consequences. His tale immediately captivated us.

“He showed us the pages of his work and objects that he felt proved Foo’s existence. We were in awe at the idea but told Obert we saw the story as fiction, not reality. We then suggested a series of children’s fantasy novels beginning with, Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo. Needless to say, Obert was offended and left as quickly as he could gather his things.

“The story stayed with us, and the marvelous idea of Foo was one we could not shake. Three days later Obert returned. He looked tired and worn, as if he had been across the world and back. He had also come to the realization that the tale simply needed to be told and that if we weren’t wise enough to see the truth, and insisted on calling it fiction, so be it. We were more than happy to oblige and publish his fictional story.

“We understand that there are those who might think Obert is, well, unbalanced, but we at Shadow Mountain think he’s just misunderstood. After all, some people believe in Santa. Some people believe in fairy tales. And we think some people will soon believe in Foo.”

I’m not sure that the specter of mental illness (no matter how benignly presented) is the right way to go about things. The whole schoolmarm, single mum thing that J.K. Rowling has going on seems like a better hook. But, hey, at least DB is trying to do something fun. It’s also not clear to me why the photo of Skye shows him jumping off a boat in full scuba gear. That doesn’t seem like something a fantasy novelist does, but perhaps that’s more reflective of my own biases.

At any rate, you can read the the first part of Leven Thumps online. There’s not enough to it to really get a great impression of the story, but it’s clear that Skye has decent writing chops and it seems like an interesting premise.

There is also a groovy official Web site. The countdown to “April Foo’s Day” is a great touch. Click on the “Obert Skye” link for another fake bio. Not bad stuff — although I find the “help children use their imagination” thing to be superfluous and pedantic. Readers of fantasy don’t need to be told to use their imagination.

A Utah book tour begins March 28 (see the official Web site for details). If any AMV readers decide to attend a reading, I’d love to hear a report of the event. E-mail me at motleyvision AT gmail DOT com.

NOTE: Do you think Skye and Deseret Book are aware of the urban usages of the word “foo”? I suppose that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a children’s book. But “Journey to Foo” would actually be “Journey to Fool” here in the Bay Area. And according to the Urban Dictionary, it also is a slang term that programmers use. My hope is that there is a certain silly/humorous aspect to the novel that will mitigate this issue. Cause if we’re supposed to take ‘Foo’ as seriously as we would take ‘Rivendell’ or ‘Gilead’ then this might be a problem. I do, however, have to give the author major props for his main character’s name. Leven Thumps is a great name (albeit a bit Lemony Snicket-ish).

7 thoughts on “Marketing: Deseret Book’s marketing Foo”

  1. William,

    Do you know: is this series trying to eschew those pesky “occult” issues that have surrounded the HP books? That is, is DB attempting to market this towards LDS/Evangelicals that believe HP is teaching witchcraft? If so, do you see it working?

    One almost has to believe that the publishers know that “foo” is short for “fool” (or else DB is more isolated than previously imagined). I was a bit dismayed, though, that you didn’t once use “I pity the foo'” in your post… 

    Posted by Pris

  2. Pris:

    I really don’t know. Although I have heard of some instances of LDS being concerned about Harry Potter, I don’t think that’s a huge concern for the LDS Market.

    Also note that the Leven Thumps books are being released under DB’s Shadow Mountain imprint — they’re going after the national market. And good for them. I’m not so hot on their nonfiction Shadow Mountain titles — which tend to be social/political conservative and self-help stuff. But I’m pleased with their fiction choices. For example, Orson Scott Card’s “Women of Genesis” series.

    If Evangelicals hit upon this book as a “safe” alternative, then I’m sure DB will be happy. But I don’t think that it has “Left Behind” potential. After all, I seem to recall the most Evangelicals that have problems with Harry Potter also object to any type of “fantasy” novel because it takes place in a world where God’s dominion and Christ’s sacrifice don’t apply. And if you read the excerpt from Leven Thumps, there are clearly forces involved that could be labeled “occult”

    I think that, on the whole Mormons will embrace the series. And whether it’s true or not, some of them may see it as “safer” than Harry Potter simply because it’s been published by DB.

    But that shouldn’t scare away any of you. According to an AML List message  from Shadow Mountains’s Chris Schoebinger, the Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus reviews are quite good and suggest that it’s not some namby-pamby Harry Potter knock-off. 

    Posted by William Morris

  3. The “Foo” is unfortunate, as inner city slang is what immediately comes to mind.

    This is an interesting venture for DB. But I wonder how many Mormons will pick it up just because it’s DB. I’m also curious to see how religious/spiritual it will be. Even Shadow Mountain doesn’t seem to publish things that are wholly secular. Is this a new turn for DB?
    I just clicked on the pre-order and it send me to B&N – not to DB. That’s interesting.

    The whole thing does come off as very Harry Potter/Lemony Snicket ripoffish, which is kind of a turnoff even if it is good.

    Posted by Eric Russell

  4. Eric:

    I can’t find my source, but I did read somewhere that it is kind of dark and scary in places. It sounds much more fantasy-ish than “spiritual.”

    Yes, it’s kind of Harry Potter ripoffish, but then Harry Potter is pretty ripoffish as well. This is an exploding category [Artemis Fowl, His Dark Materials, etc.] in young adult fiction, but it’s also always been a very strong category in ya fiction.

    The key with this type of work is

    1) what twists in terms of world creation does the author bring to the work
    2) how coherent and interesting is the magical system involved
    3) how well is it written [the excerpt on DB’s Web site shows that the author has decent writing chops]
    4) how interesting is the main character
    5) and how engaging is the plot

    Obviously I haven’t read the book so I can’t answer those questions. And in fact, because this book isn’t Mormon per se, I normally wouldn’t post about it here. But I have because marketing and the LDS publishing industry is part of what I deal with here and this is an incredibly interesting case study (and test case) for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain.


    Posted by William Morris

  5. I have read “Leven Thumps,” and let me assure everyone, it is a terrific book, with enormous potential. However, in no way is it an LDS book, not at all. That it happens to be published by Shadow Mountain, a company that has previously published books by LDS writers, is odd, as it could have easily been published and marketed by Random House or any other major company. While it does have similarities to the Harry Potter series, these similarities are minor, and just enough to hook readers. After a short beginning however, the similarities end. There is no reliance on mythical creatures such as trolls and vampires–everything is original–and unlike Harry Potter, this book is funny. Laugh out loud funny, in fact. Hilarious, even. This book will absolutely be a national hit, because that’s the only kind of hit it can be. It is not a religious book, and no one who has read it could mistake it for one.  

    Posted by Mick America

  6. FYI, the author is Robert Farrell Smith (I’ve talked to him about it in person). 

    Posted by Anonymous

  7. Well, I read this book, so I thought I’d come back here and comment on it. Especially since I pretty much disagree with everything Mick America says except that it’s not religious. It’s not. But it’s also not that good.

    It’s very much a Harry Potter rip off on many different levels. Except that where Harry Potter  is intriguing and astute, Leven Thumps is childish. Kids might enjoy it, but it won’t be a national hit. But I have noticed it’s now #1 on DB’s top 10, so it is gaining popularity.

    That would be interesting if Robert Farrell Smith is the author, as I thought I noticed his sense of humor ““ but maybe I was just thinking that because I had read that comment previously. Like Smith’s other books, there are lots of smiles, but it’s not really funny in the laugh out loud sense.

    Posted by Eric Russell

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