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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Art Licensing: What's With the Adult Coloring Book Craze?

Recently there has been a lot of hype about how coloring books is good therapy to relax and reduce stress for those that have stressful jobs and lifestyles, are recovering from surgery, have life threatening illnesses, and even for inmates in prison. With the advent of thousands of adult themed coloring books hitting craft stores, bookstores and e-stores, consumers are gobbling them up as soon as they are printed. People (colorists) are sharing their colored creations on the different social media sites, having coloring book parties, and forming coloring book clubs. So how did the adult coloring book craze start?

As with many trends, the adult coloring book craze took a while to built momentum. In the 1970s, Dover Publications published their first adult coloring book (Antique Automobiles Coloring Book) and now sell hundreds of titles. But it was not until a couple of years ago that Dover and other publishers called attention to the therapeutic values of coloring. Consumers rediscovered the childhood joys and calming effects when coloring, the press published the popularity of adult coloring books and its therapeutic effects, and the sales of the books started escalating. And in fact, several adult coloring books are on the best sellers list for major publishers and e-stores like

In 2013, UK illustrator Johanna Basford published her first coloring book "Secret Garden" which was a HUGE success and so far has sold a whopping 1.4 million copies worldwide. When her second book "Enchanted Forest" was published in Feb 2015, the massive amount of publicity is attributed to have caused the recent surge in adult coloring book craze. But, in the United States it could also be due to the intensive marketing of Adult Coloring Books by Dover Publications.

Dover Publications applied to the U.S. Registrar at the National Day Calendar and received the permission that National Coloring Book Day will officially be observed on August 2 each year. Dover sponsors a National Coloring Book Day website. This year they did intensive marketing for National Coloring Book Day and on August 2 had events in bookstores all over the United States. Now that is a great example of marketing outside-the-box!

Note: Johanna Basford's success with adult coloring books continues. She signed with Penguin Random House to publish her next two adult coloring books. "Lost Ocean" will be published at the end of October 2015 and another will be published in fall 2016. For information about Johanna Basford's success in creating illustrations for other products, read "Illustrator Johanna Basford's Success in Marketing Art Outside-the-box"

About Adult Coloring Books
Most adult coloring books have 30 or more pages of illustrations. And, unlike children's coloring books many adult coloring books have more detailed and intricate line drawings. Popular themes are flowers, animals, mandalas, inspirational, spiritual, and geometric shaped designs although all kinds of themes appeal to adults.

Adult colorists tend to use colored pencils, gel pens, and fine tip markers more than crayons. Many of the books are printed on thick paper with the design on only one side of the page so that gel pens, and fine tip markers do not bleed through. Also the thicker paper is more suitable for framing the finished colored image. Some coloring books use vellum to mimic the look of stained glass. Coloring books come in all sizes and shapes including postcard sizes that can be mailed to family and friends. Some companies offer coloring book kits that can be used for parties.

And even though colorists claim that they welcome getting away from their computers and other electronics, there are apps that will allow a person to color designs on computers, tablets, and smart phones. Read "Adult coloring books: yes, there are apps for that" for information about the apps.

Publishing Coloring Books
The adult coloring book trend has spread worldwide and publishers are going crazy publishing coloring books that are marketed to adults for the benefit of reducing stress. Even Hallmark is producing coloring books with sketches created by their in-house artists. Freelance artists are creating and publishing coloring books and marketing them on social media and e-stores. Or, they license their work to literary publishers.

• Self Publishing and Marketing
Artists can publish and market coloring books they created by themselves or with the help of the many companies found on the Internet such as Create Space, Speedy Publishing, and WMC Publishing. Most sell their books on, other e-stores, and social media sites.

According to the article "Color Me Happy" artist Jenean Morrison has self-published six intricate designed adult coloring books on since 2012. "In all of last year, she sold 15,414 books on Amazon. This year, in half the time, she has sold 43,420."

• Companies that Publish Adult Coloring Books
Numerous publishers are already selling adult coloring books or plan to. Many publishers only accept manuscripts (coloring books also) from literary agents so if an artist wants to submit art for a coloring book they need to hire a literary agent. However, not all require agents so look for submission guidelines on the publisher’s website or contact the publisher to find out how to submit. Note: Do not forget to ask about the licensing fee. I've heard that at least some publishers only pay a flat fee per project. The fee may not be cost effective when you need to produce many designs for one coloring book.

Below are some publishers that produce adult coloring books.
Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC (introducing a line of coloring books in September 2015)

Design Originals (A Fox Chapel Publishing company)

Dover Publications (been publishing adult coloring books since the 1970s)

Fox Chapel Publishing

Global Doodle Gems (collaboration of artists around the world to produce coloring books)

Harper Collins Publishers

Little, Brown and Company

Penguin Random House

Quarto Publishing Group

Running Press Book Publishers

Sterling Publishing

– "Adult coloring books topping bestseller lists"

– "Coloring Books Grow Up" (what themes are popular, stats on books that are flying off the shelves, comments about publishers selling adult coloring books)

– "Health benefits of coloring books attracting adults to childhood pastime"

• Research by artist Peggy Toole 
8/9/15 After reading this article, artist Peggy Toole did quite a bit research on adult coloring books and the following is what she found out. "The Johanna Basford books were originally published in England and they did a lovely job.  I sell on Amazon so I was going to publish it myself and it ship directly to one of their west coast warehouses from China and let Amazon do all the distribution.

But to do a 'Johanna Basford' quality book would cost in excess of $6.25 per book at 1000 books and at even 10,000, the individual book price is about still close to $3.00 per book. Johanna's book cost about $4.79 in Amazon fulfillment fees for them to ship it. Plus you have storage on books that do not sell. Amazon is selling "Enchanted Forest" for $9.63, so there's little profit if I'm publishing something that large and complex.

Books that make the top 10 at Amazon are selling 4000-5000 copies daily.  I learned somewhere- maybe from the book I purchased that "Enchanted Forest" in it's 4th printing for 2015. So there's real money there but finding a publisher is probably like winning the lottery. I'm having some 2nd thoughts about doing it.  Maybe you could make a fortune, but then again maybe not.

Peggy contacted Ulysses Press (publisher of Wendy Piersall) and Fox Chapel Press) and was told that they are not taking submissions for coloring books.  Read more on what Peggy Toole has to say about coloring books in the comment section to this article.

Note: I imagine all publishers are inundated with artists wanting to license their art for coloring books so some publishers have put a temporary stop to submissions.  If the coloring book craze is not a fad and is indeed a trend, publishers will probably start looking at art again; especially if the art is what consumers want to color and is very unique to what is already published.

Your comments are welcome. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a "complete" URL address. For example: ).


  1. Loaded with lots of great info! Thanks Joan!

  2. What a great idea and places to submit our drawings. Thanks for the post and links

  3. Thanks Joan. I gathered drawings years ago to do this and never did it. Thanks for the update and reminder! Hope all is well!

  4. Great article Joan! I especially appreciate you taking the time to list publishers that offer adult coloring books. Thank you for this great reference.

  5. Thanks for the great info, Joan.

  6. Great Article Joan! Thanks for the information.

  7. Thank you for such an interesting subject, food for thought!

  8. What great information. My paintings from a while back would lend themselves to adult coloring books. I think this is worth a try.

  9. Thanks Joan. Haven't read your article totally yet but looks great- sent it over to my business partner to read. I may self publish as I have lots of inked designs from the past & inking is something I do well.
    I'm working with Print Ninga who has excellent ratings and are very nice and cooperative with good offset prices. But there's a lot of caveats re: coloring books and I may change my mind.

    Some of these publishers are not really accepting new coloring book submissions. I think I contacted Fox Chapel and Sterling and only one of them bothered to even answer the email.
    Creative Haven (Dover) I believe will only pay a flat fee. Marty Noble has worked for them for years and I think I got that info from her website or her amazon author page or possibly Tom Tierney (paperdoll books.
    If you already have a coloring put together maybe some these publishers may give you the time of day. But I'm pretty impatient with waiting on a publisher.

    Johanna's Bradford books are really quite classy and expensive to publish. I paid $16 for it at B&N. If you haven't seen the original books you should purchase one on Amazon ($9.63 + ship) to see what the competition is before embarking upon your own project.
    Bradford's book is not really very appropriate for coloring- very small spaces that are hard to color, pictures printed on both sides of the page (bleed-thru with markers), non remove-able pages (coloring artist like to frame these things), book doesn't lie flat for coloring etc.
    The dust jacket is beautiful with gold foil and overprinted black line. But Johanna's art is really not even that good. I know many baby boomer artists whose did gorgeous black and white artwork and publishers wouldn't touch B&W back in the 1980s.
    The whole phenomena is totally incredible to me.

    Coloring books look like easy money, but you really want to do your homework if you intend to pursue it. Read the reviews at Amazon to find out what coloring book fans want and check out the market. There are huge amounts of ugly books out there-- mostly clip art collections of little artistic merit. I done a little research on what's out there, but it may be an over saturated market already.

    1. "Johanna's art is really not even that good"? Huh? Says who, you? Johanna's art (and her last name is BASFORD, by the way. You say you have one of her books but you can't get her name correct?) is beautiful and great to color! Sounds like a bit of sour grapes on your part, if you ask me.

  10. Angela DeanZa StedhamAugust 10, 2015 at 10:57 AM

    Thank you Joan ����

  11. The caliber of information here is exceptional. Special thanks to Joan and Peggy. The facts presented here are the kinds of things that prevent me, an artist, from putting my work out there. However, not putting work out there gets me nowhere. I am going to go for it and expose my work but not in the arena of coloring books.

  12. Correction on my comments: Artist name is Johanna Basford- not Bradford.

    1. I agree with you Peggy. The art is uneven in quality. I think the "hook" with her books is in the title names - I recently jumped into the pot with my own book "Steampunk Fantasy". Sales are disappointing. The market is totally saturated. :(

  13. really great article. thank you for the information!

  14. I wanted to thank you for this great read. Your blog is one of the finest blog . Thanks for posting this informative article.
    adult coloring books

  15. I would love mmore info on publishing a coloring book.I have over 50 pages of designs ii would love to put into book form but i am wondering if self publshng is a better answer than to go with a publisher. I have had my designs out with companies such as Gibson. Kurt Adler, etc. when I was a licenced artist with Linda McDonald. I would love your advise and wondering abot selliing them at the trade show in New York as well?

    1. Maureen,
      Many artists are successfully self publishing their adult coloring books on 's company Create Space. But that means that their book themes need to be popular and they do the marketing (mostly with social media) of the book to guide consumers to their books. Amazon is swamped with adult coloring books from self published artists and publishers. Some artists are doing well by signing on with publishers but not all publishers give royalties. Or, they only give a flat fee royalty that is low paying. What is positive in getting a deal with a publisher is that the artist only has to produce the drawings and a few pages that are colored or partially colored and the publisher does the publishing and marketing of the book. Trade shows are expense to exhibit at. So you need to check out the cost and calculate how many books you must sell to make it cost effective. I doubt it would be if all you have is one book. Good luck!

    2. Maureen, one way to get your designs out there would be through etsy or a similar website. You could offer PDFs of your drawings, and people can download them and print them onto the paper of their choosing.

      I, and most people I know, refuse to purchase anything published by createspace (the Amazon self publishing company) because the paper they use is such poor quality and the printing quality is subpar, as well. The paper is very thin and see through with no tooth to it. The printing looks like the design is a copy of a copy originally printed on an old mimeograph machine. That's the best way I can think to describe it! The lines of the design are often very faint in places, or missing altogether, and very often, there are extra weird ink blotches all around the page. I tried so many createSpace published books, and each and every one had these issues, making me think it was a publishing problem, not a problem with an artist's designs. I finally gave up on createSpace products. However, if I see an artist whose work I like, I will contact them to see if I can purchase downloads of the coloring book instead. This also allows me to print the design out on paper of my choosing.

      If you decided to put your designs on etsy (or a similar site) for purchase, there are a few really well known adult coloring book review blogs, and I would venture to say if you sent copies of your designs to them and asked them to review your work it would be some of the best advertising you could ever think to want. I hope that gives you-and anyone else-ideas for a different way to go to get your designs out in the eye of the public!

  16. Hi! I run a small publishing company and am working with an artist on a coloring book with submissions from multiple artists. I was hoping there would be more info here about art licensing, do you (or anyone in the comments) know where I can find release forms online? Most of the submitters are friends, but I like to keep things neat to protect all parties involved.

    1. Meghan, I'm not sure what you mean about release forms. If you are looking for art licensing contracts, do an Internet search of "art licensing contracts". I used the bing search engine and there seems to be a lot of free licensing contract available. Whether those contracts are any good is another matter and that is the reason why I hired an attorney (expert in art licensing) to provide me with the one I use. Joan

  17. which greeted them on the first day, but due to a computer crash last October, I lost all my files- including the cute coloring page! Crayoon