Monday, September 10, 2007

What Is a Packager?

I knew the time would come when eventually someone would ask me to explain what exactly a book packager is because, yes, when Jacky and I originally started BookEnds we began as packagers, and so many of you let it slide for so long that I guess it’s time I explain what that means.

Book packaging—sometimes referred to as book producing—has been an integral part of publishing almost since the beginning of publishing time. Just like writers need agents, publishers need packagers. Packagers essentially make a very complicated book project easy for a publisher to take on.

In some ways a book packager is a mini publisher: they do everything a publisher does with a book except distribute, sell, market, and publicize. A packager’s primary job is to make complicated books easy for a publisher to publish. In other words, the packager takes on the responsibility of editing, designing, hiring writers, getting approvals, and finding artwork for a book. While many packagers deliver books to publishers only when they are printer-ready, others work to put the project together but still rely on the publisher for final editing and design. Obviously how much a publisher pays for a book will determine how much work the packager is required to do.

One perfect example of a packaged product is New York Public Library Desk Reference. Just one of the many reasons why this is a prime example is that it’s a licensed book. In other words, because you’re putting someone else’s name on the book you’re going to be required to get approvals and permissions throughout the process. A royal pain for anyone, and especially a publisher, but something packagers do very well. While I don’t know the intricacies of how this particular book was packaged, what I can surmise is that when Stonesong Press packaged this book for Macmillan Publishing they took on all of the responsibility for hiring authors (in this case contributing editors), designing and editing the book, obtaining necessary artwork, and getting all permissions and approvals from the New York Public Library.

Most projects sold by a packager are sold on proposal alone. An agreement has already been reached between the packager and the licensor and a proposal is put together by the packager’s editorial team. Writers and illustrators are only hired after a publisher’s contract is in hand. Once a deal is made the packager will know exactly how much money (based on the advance they received) they have to hire the team necessary to create a great book. Rarely do authors writing for packagers receive royalties. Usually the advance is divvied out, almost in totality, to writers, illustrators, and designers, and royalties are reserved for the packager and licensor.

To learn more about packaging you can go to the American Book Producers Association web site, and for some interesting tidbits on packaged books . . . many R. L. Stine titles, The Pill Book, a series of books based on the television show Charmed, almost any desk reference you run across, and Backyard Bird Song.