Shoreline Publishing Group, a Santa Barbara-based book packager that has produced more than 350 books over the past 11 years, is stepping into the publishing business with Beach Ball Books, a separate, independent operation. Shoreline’s editorial director, James Buckley Jr., heads up the new press, which debuts this spring with six releases. Given Buckley’s background (before starting Shoreline he worked at NFL Publishing and Sports Illustrated, and is the author of more than 100 books, most of them sports-related), nonfiction sports books will be a key focus of the new imprint.

“I believe that nonfiction sports is one of the genres that boys especially, but also girls, will always have enormous interest in, even in a vastly changing publishing world,” Buckley comments. “Kids’ nonfiction has undergone some enormous changes since the advent of the Internet, but I think sports will continue to be a super solid area.”

Beach Ball Books’ inaugural list bears out that conviction. Three of the six launch titles have a sports focus: Ultimate Guide to Basketball by Buckley, Weird Sports by Michael Teitelbaum, and First Pitch: How Baseball Began by John Thorn, who has just been appointed Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball. (During what Buckley calls “our soft opening—kind of like spring training,” the publisher released 2010 Fantasy Football Guide last fall.)

Rounding out the spring list are two concept books by Mark Shulman: AA Is for Aardvark and A Is for Zebra; and Beach Babies, a photographic board book. “We are located right near the ocean, and I wanted to make sure that there was a book on our first list that was directly related to the beach,” says Buckley. “We will definitely be looking to ocean culture as inspiration for future books.”

Beach Ball Books will release one such title in July: Surferella by Marni McGee, illustrated by Charlotte Alder, which portrays Cinderella as a surfer. “This is a very personal project, since my daughter Katie, who is now 10, originally had the idea for this story when she was younger,” Buckley notes. “The idea had been kicking around the house for a while and I finally wrote a draft of the story, which was rewritten—and written much better—by Marni McGee.” Building on this book’s sports theme, Buckley hopes to follow it up with Soccerella and Skaterella.

He anticipates that Beach Ball Books will release eight to 16 titles annually, and that the list will expand to include nonfiction that is not sports-related. “Shoreline has produced some terrific books for DK, Scholastic, and other companies, and we’ve learned a lot in doing those,” he says. “For Beach Ball Books, we will explore other areas than sports, whether it be reference, or nature, or popular culture.” Any fiction that the house publishes in the future, he says, “is likely to be sports-connected.”

Buckley, who is the sole employee of both Shoreline and Beach Ball Books, works with Thomas J. Carling of Carling Design as the main designer for both businesses, and relies largely on freelance writers, editors, and artists to create the books. “We have a great relationship with a solid core of terrifically talented people all over this country and in several other countries—people who, like me, like to be independent and flexible,” he says. Beach Ball Books titles are sold and distributed by Dave Weiner & Associates and The BookMasters Group.

Shoreline will continue as a book packager, Buckley emphasizes. “I have spent more than a decade developing ideas for other houses, and now I will be developing ideas for myself as well,” he says. “We will still do packaging, and will look at each project to evaluate if it is for us, or for another publisher. We’ve made some really neat books in the past, and decided the time was right to take a shot at publishing some ourselves. It’s a logical next step, and a perfect way to use our expertise.”