New Yorker Amber Jones was walking home from work one day. After working a 3 to 11 shift as a concierge in a Times Square hotel, she was hungry and stopped to look into the window of a pizza joint, not realizing she was stepping in horse manure. She walked to the corner to check the damage to her shoe and was immediately engulfed in shish kebab smoke.
“This city needs a scratch and sniff book,” she muttered.
The rest is history.
Jones decided to pursue her idea, writing the book, hiring illustrator Tim Probert, creating a website, and launching a Kickstarter campaign that netted more than $22,000 from 317 backers. The result is “New York, Phew York,” a kid’s picture book laced with 19 scratch and sniff scents that represent the various odors of the Big Apple. Not everything’s coming up roses, with smells ranging from pizza and pickles to sewer steam and garbage. Jones is self-publishing and plans on getting the book out in time for the holidays.
While self-publishing is the current buzzword in publishing, scratch and sniff technology is making a comeback as well. Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper creates scratch and sniff wallpaper with scents like banana and cherry so your home can smell as tasty as it looks. Odor artist Sissel Tolaas smell-maps cities, creating scratch and sniff maps of cities ranging from Paris to Kansas City. The technology may not be new, but the applications certainly are.
While scratch and sniff has been kicking around since the 1970s, it’s not a common request and therefore Jones had a hard time sourcing her project. “It was so difficult to find a print house that would even touch this project,” she said. With no prior publishing experience, Jones learned as she went, opting to self-publish for several reasons. “Cost was a huge issue with large publishing houses, who said scratch and sniff was too expensive to produce, who wanted to limit the number of smells as well as kind of smells. I felt that it took away from excitement of the project. And it was a dishonest way to portray New York. It’s not all Lucky Charms,” said Jones. Anyone who has been in a New York neighborhood on trash day knows this to be true. In fact, certain smells had to be custom-made for the book. Jones told one printer, “That fish smells way too nice to put in the Chinatown picture.”
While there are several ways to add scent to printed materials, Jones opted for the classic S&S method of micro-encapsulation—each smell is surrounded by capsules that break when scratched or rubbed, releasing the aroma. Smells can last years in scratch and sniff products.
In “New York, Phew York,” Jones showcases the sights and smells of the city through the story of a family on vacation. They befriend their hotel concierge, who sends them to 19 different neighborhoods, each with its own smell hidden on the page. Calling it a “love letter to New York,” Jones expects kids and adults, tourists and New Yorkers to embrace the whimsical book. “It matches the elusiveness of New York. I want people to ask, ‘What IS that smell?’”
New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Worick has published more than 25 books. Also a publishing consultant, she can be found at The Business of Books.