(STOP! Before you read this post, please read "Starting Over from Scratch (A Correction)," which I posted on 10/30 to correct some of the information contained below.)
I was going through a publisher’s catalog a few weeks ago with one of our sales reps, when the discussion turned to a title on the spring list that will feature—yes, it’s true—a scented dust jacket. A scented dust jacket. The book in question is a novel largely set in a coffee shop, and the dust jacket will smell like coffee. I kid you not.
While I was rolling my eyes at this nasally invasive marketing scheme, Lorna—who buys our "grown-up books" at the desk right next to mine and had overheard the whole conversation—jumped in with, "I’m sorry, but I think scented book covers are a true sign of the Apocalypse." I get the giggles every time I think about that remark. Plague of locusts or scented book covers?
While it’s probably hyperbole to put odoriferous dust jackets on par with, say, famine and pestilence, I do agree that this is going too far. Can you imagine what bookstores will smell like if other publishers decide to follow this lead, adding whiffs to their wares? For us booksellers it’ll be like working in a pack of Mr. Sketch markers or the headquarters of Yankee Candle. Having colored with the former and visited the latter I can tell you that my nose couldn’t spend 8+ hours/day with either. Yankee Candle proudly refers to its South Deerfield, Mass., location as the "The Scenter of New England," and I’d prefer we didn’t rival them for that distinction.
I do find it funny, though, to imagine what scents one might apply to specific novels or (why stop there?) works of non-fiction. Of course books with an edible angle lend themselves to some obvious odors: The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, for example, or Sharon Creech‘s Granny Torrelli Makes Soup. But it’s much more entertaining to think of less obvious flights of fragrance. The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt could smell like the ocean, for example. And Looking for Alaska = cigarette smoke. (Mom: "Have you been smoking again??" Teenager: "No, just reading John Green‘s first novel.") Other suggestions?
There’s a reason I can associate these books with particular scents, though, that’s got absolutely nothing to do with their dust jackets—the writing in these books brought their settings to life. Their authors successfully followed that old "show, don’t tell" adage, which I suppose could also be restated as "tell, don’t smell."
If I’d written a novel that was largely set in a coffee shop and my publisher wanted to put a coffee-scented jacket on it, frankly, I’d be a bit insulted. While I’m sure this publisher’s very savvy marketing team never intended to suggest that their soon-to-be-scented book has any shortcomings, I can’t help but wonder whether scenting this book is giving it something it doesn’t have or forcing it to do double duty. After all, if the writing in this book is up to snuff, it oughtn’t need any help with setting the scene for its readers.
What do you think? Am I wrong? And if not, where do we draw the line? Vibrating YA novels, perhaps?