Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Packaged Fiction

Can you talk a little about the practice of "book packaging" in YA? For example, in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, author Ann Brasheres is not listed as the "copyright" but Alloy entertainment (I think) is. Under what circumstances does a "packager" get to usurp the author for the copyright, what does this mean in terms of money lost for the author, and do you see this as a growing trend?

Packaging fiction has always been popular in the YA and middle-grade markets and I’m seeing that it’s becoming a growing trend in genres like mystery as well (to learn more about packaging, please refer to my previous blog post on the subject). Be aware that a packaged book, or one in which the copyright is in the name of someone other than the author, does not usually mean the copyright was “usurped.” What it usually means is that the idea or book’s concept was actually created by someone other than the author. Publishers, packagers, and sometimes literary agencies often come up with ideas of their own—a great YA series, a fabulous mystery idea, or even an idea for a new romance series. If they are truly passionate about it they’ll often write up what’s called a bible for the series. This includes a rough storyline, character descriptions, a title, names, and even setting. Once a bible is established all they need is an author. Someone able to write in the style they’re seeking and create the book they dreamed up.

I have a difficult time in a situation like this saying that the author actually loses money. She probably doesn’t earn as much as she would have if the idea had been hers to begin with, but it wasn’t, so there’s no guarantee she would have a book contract without this packaged deal. However, unless the offer/idea comes from the publisher directly, she will receive less than the total advance, royalties, or sub rights. What she actually receives I can’t say—that would depend on the deal she agreed to. In some cases the work is done for a flat fee only and the packager receives all royalties and sub rights. Sometimes she’s able to negotiate a small percentage of royalties, anywhere from one to three percent. Again, I’m sure there are authors who can say they’ve gotten a lot less or a lot more, it all depends on the contract signed.

While I have mixed feelings about packaged books I do feel that in many cases the contracts are negotiated fairly. The author is often approached with a contract that will guarantee payment, sometimes whether or not the book sells. Like writing an article for a magazine, the work is a writer-for-hire deal and the packager should also be paid for his part in creating and selling the book. While I think it’s certainly difficult to see a book you write become a major success and receive little to no royalties, it can be an opportunity that can launch your own career in other ways.

Making the decision to write for a packager or writer for hire is a very individual decision. I know a lot of writers do it because they are happy to be making a living at their writing, while others argue vehemently against it. Because of that I’m interested to hear your thoughts on writer for hire. If you were looking to make a living as a writer and this was a very real opportunity that would guarantee income, would you consider it? What sort of contract points would you agree to or not agree to?