John Briggs Books

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How Putting Together a Picture Book Is Like Managing a Baseball Team

When I was a kid, I was passionate about two things: baseball and reading. There were summers where I barely missed a Phillies game on the radio. I either watched or listened to the All-Star game, the World Series, the playoffs, and was not above catching the odd spring training game or two. I even scoured the paper the next day to check out the box score… of a game I’d already listened to!

I also loved reading. While I was known to play baseball for as many as four hours a day, I also, and quite often, put in as many hours reading. And although I eventually moved on to middle-grade books, young adult, and tons of non-fiction, once upon a time it was all picture books.

Now that I write picture books, it suddenly occurred to me how much the team putting together my book (Leaping Lemmings!) is really like a solidly built baseball team.

The Picture Book/Baseball Team Line-Up

  1. Writer. No surprise here – the writer hits lead-off. He gets the ball rolling (so to speak…)
  2. Illustrator. The illustrator advances the story just like the number two hitter advances the lead-off runner. The illustrator keeps things moving along.
  3. Art Director. The art director has some power and makes the illustrator a real threat. She can advance the story and improve the artwork. In baseball terms, the illustrator is playing small ball while the art director can play long ball.
  4. Editor. Another no brainer. The editor hits clean-up. She ties everything together, from acquiring the story to editing and improving the text, to having some ideas on the artwork, the cover, the paste down, you name. She’s the heavy hitter. If there’s a grand slam, it’s coming from her.
  5. Sales Team. The sales team hits in the five hole. They can still save the inning and produce some runs (that is, a hit book), but the better the front four do, the easier their job is.
  6. Distribution. Distribution is that transition hitter going into the back of the line-up. You expect good things, but they’re often overlooked. Distribution holds together a good inning. If the runners are on (that is, stores are ordering books), they need to deliver (literally) to keep the inning alive.
  7. Bookstores. Bookstores fill in nicely at the number seven spot. They can cap off a big inning (produce a successful book) because they are the link to the public. They are customer service and placement and recommendations, and they can make a difference. They are no easy out, and though we think of them as more small ball (that is, one book at a time), they still have some pop and power.
  8. Readers. Readers represent the number eight hitter because, like them, you don’t always know what to expect. It’s famously said that the reading public is “fickle,” which in baseball terms means that he can be the last out of the inning, or he can get on (that is, enjoy your book) and make it likely the pitcher will be the last out of the inning (letting you start the next inning at the top of the order (National League rules), meaning a new book. Maybe even a sequel!).
  9. Book Reviewers. Reviewers and critics are like the pitchers. Honestly, you never know what to expect from them at the plate, or what kind of review they will write. Sometimes it might even feel like they must be playing for the other team. But like a pitcher throwing a good game, a good review makes the top eight look good, making it easier to win the game. A bad game means the everyday players have to play harder and better to put up runs (sell books). Even a middling review (think sacrifice bunt) can produce a run or keep an inning going. A pitcher alone doesn’t win games, but what they bring to the mound and the plate sure does help!

So there it is – how the picture book process is like a manager’s line-up card. Everyone has a role to play, and when the team is running on all cylinders, from a good story (lead-off hit) to great artwork (advancing the runner) to getting it out to the public (scoring runs), there’s a good chance you’re going to win.

Now excuse me while I break out into that classic song…

Take me out to the bookstore

Take me out with the readers

Buy me a picture book and cookies, too

I could stay here the afternoon through…

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