As executive editor of Penguin Books, Meg Leder serves as the U.S. editor for acclaimed British artist Johanna Basford, whose coloring books for adults have become wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Basford’s latest book, Lost Ocean, has just been published in time for gift-giving season, and her contract with Penguin calls for another new coloring book in 2016.
Basford's intricate drawing style has already generated two blockbuster hits, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, and many bestseller lists have been dominated recently by coloring books for adults. (Currently, six of Amazon's 20 best-selling books are coloring books.)
We checked in with Leder to learn more about the explosion of interest in coloring and what's driving this surprising trend.
Have you been surprised by the sudden popularity of coloring books for adults?
I don’t know that any of us could have predicted the coloring-book craze, but at the same time, I’m not totally surprised. It’s so easy to pick up, it’s relaxing to engage in, and it lets readers put their own creative spin on something gorgeous.
Adults find coloring "a welcome respite from the screens we spend most of our lives in front of."
How would you explain the appeal of coloring books?
Johanna Basford attributes it to the analog nature of the activity, and I agree. It’s a welcome respite from the screens we spend most of our lives in front of! I also think coloring is a very democratic activity. It’s not expensive to participate in, and you don’t need to spend weeks honing your skills. It’s great for those of us who are insecure about our own drawing skills . . . we get to collaborate with these artists in bringing something beautiful to life.
How did you get involved in coloring books for adults? What was the first coloring book you acquired?
I acquired a book at my previous imprint, Perigee Books, called Outside the Lines by Souris Hong. It’s a collection of pieces to color in from various artists. We published that in 2013 and saw very steady sales. I was personally hooked as well—I still have my own copy in which I’ve colored in numerous pages!
What is the process for developing a new coloring book? Do you work closely with the artist in developing themes and/or patterns? Or do you prefer to give each artist free rein?
Johanna is one of the most collaborative and conscientious authors I’ve ever worked with. That being said, she knows her fans so well and she has such an established track record that we decided to follow her lead with content and development. My goal was to help get the project into place as a book and to support Johanna with what she needed, but she has such an innate sense of style and a gorgeous aesthetic, we let her run with it.
Best-selling coloring book artist Johanna Basford
What upcoming coloring books do you have “on the drawing board” so to speak, that you're especially excited about?
Johanna’s working on a new project for Summer 2016. Without divulging too much, I can say that as someone working on the book, I’m eager to see her new designs, and as someone who wants to color in the book, I can’t wait to get started.
Do you personally like coloring? Do you find it an effective way to de-stress?
Yes! I love it! There are a group of us at Penguin who occasionally get together at lunch to color. I love being able to periodically step away from my desk, and find I come back to work feeling refreshed. I’ve been working on a particular image in my own copy of Lost Ocean and like taking small breaks throughout the day to color.
Penguin employees take a coloring break with Basford's latest book, Lost Ocean.
Is this a predominantly female pastime or do men enjoy coloring books, too?
There are quite a few male colorers at Penguin! While I think a lot of women enjoy it, I don’t think it’s exclusively a female pastime at all.
Do you think this will be a short-lived craze or a trend with staying power?
While I think there is an element of “of the moment” to this, I think the new fans who have discovered coloring are around to stay. It’s too addictive to quit, and people are always looking for gorgeous new designs to color in.
Photo of Johanna Basford by Sam Brill.