The delight and whimsy of Jon Burgerman’s illustrations can be spotted everywhere from an Instagram-sponsored show at the Tate Modern, to the walls of Apple stores, to a children’s book called Rhyme Crime. Burgerman will be hosting a breakout session at the 10th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 9-11 in New York City. Since our 2018 conference is all about overcoming creative challenges, we asked Burgerman to reflect on a pressure cooker moment and share how he navigated it.
“My brain was sipping a beer, lying on the sofa, cooling down with a self-congratulatory glow. The publishers had signed off on final version of my book How to Eat Pizza. That little switch in my head that said ‘picture book for April’ had turned off.
Then, I received news that one of publishers wasn’t happy. The book needed to be completely revised. And done in time for an important book fair in two weeks.
Wait, hadn’t they read any of the previous drafts?
It’s not my fault!
It was a real shock. It would be awful to turn up at the book fair with a story with no ending! I had to rewrite half a picture book in two weeks.
There was no time to be annoyed. Normally, everything is slow and delayed in publishing; no one expects you to deliver the pages when you say you will. But, here was a solid, no excuses, if-you-miss-it-you-might-as-well-not-go-to-the-book-fair deadline.
I was of two minds as I tackled the challenge. One was: This is stupid. I should just put my foot down. Everyone had access to the drafts, they should have voiced their concerns earlier. But then, I thought: What the hell do I actually know? I should listen to people who actually work in publishing. I’m lucky they’re even allowing me to make a book.
How to Eat Pizza won’t be released in the U.S. until next year, but Burgerman’s latest book Rhyme Crime is on the shelves now.
Rather than fight the issue—which would have been futile—I tried to understand where the publishers were coming from. They wanted the book to be more ‘Burgerman-y’. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was probably the best person to resolve it.
There’s no magic spell. I just worked really hard. I swallowed my pride, opened up my sketchbook, my computer and my brain and went about it.
I learned that even when a book is “finished,” that doesn’t mean it’s finished. Always keep good documentation of your drafts. Organize everything clearly, so if you need to look up old notes or artwork you can find them quickly.
Trying to understand the root of the problem is key to tackling it. Often, we only acknowledge the changes themselves and not the thoughts that prompted them. Once you can frame the issue for yourself, then it’s much easier to solve it.
And lastly, keep an open mind. In the end, everyone wants to make the best thing possible. Sure, publishers want that ‘thing’ to sell—and you know what— so do I.”
See Jon Burgerman along with more creative leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, at the 10th Annual 99U Conference.