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.



Kate Douglas said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I've known for years you were book packagers and didn't have a clue what that meant...but figured I was SUPPOSED to know so I never asked! I really appreciate the explanation.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Not at all what the title of book packager suggests--I'd never have guessed! Thanks for broadening our minds. :-)


Mark Terry said...

I knew some of that and not all of it, so thanks.

What I was wondering as I read it, though was, as a fulltime freelance journalist who is also a novelist and technical editor, would it be worthwhile as a freelancer interested in contract work, to contact packagers and let them know I'm available as a contract writer?

Anonymous said...

That's really impressive. I had been thinking that book packaging was some sort of shipping and receiving job, or something that involved manual "packaging" of books. When you mention this in your agency's about us section, it would be a lot more impressive to newbie authors if you linked to what a book packager actually does.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jessica! I've been wondering about this ever since I first discovered Bookends.

Anonymous 9:51 is right. It wouldn't hurt to link this explanation into your "About Us" page. It shows yet another facet of your knowledge of the publishing industry.


Anonymous said...

If I can ask a question, for Jessica, or even other posters if you know -- Why are the writers of "packaged" YA's not listed as the copyright holder.

I'm thinking specifically of the very poplular "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" sweries, whose author is listed as Ann Brasheres. The copyright lists "Alloy Entertainment" (I think -- Alloy something, anyway).

Does this mean that the roylaties of all those millions of copies of the Traveling Pants series don't go to the author?

If so, what a shame. Really.

How is "packging" good for an author? Seems a way to cheat them out of a whole lotta cash if the book hits big.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


The writers of packaged books are not listed as copyright holders because they aren't. Typically, since the publisher came up with the idea and usually writes a bible, or outline, the idea and therefore the copyright is theirs. However, royalties and copyright don't necessarily go hand in hand. Sometimes the packager will share a portion of the royalties with the author. Other times the author only gets the writer for hire fee she is initially paid. This would really depend on the book, the packager, and the author of course.

Packaging isn't really cheating the author out of anything since the author isn't typically the person who came up with the idea. Many packaged books are so successful because the idea is terrific or there is a licensed name attached (some of the R.L. Stine books for example). It gives the author the ability to build a name and audience for herself and, probably, go on to a bigger career with her own books.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

And thanks for the suggestion. We will be adding a link to this post on our Web site.


Anonymous said...

Bookends --

I'm the Anon you responded to. Thank you for your relpy.

Still, though, I understand that if the publisher, packager, whoever, came up with the idea they'd be entitled to extra cash, but as we all know, "ideas" are a dime a dozen, it's the execution of that idea that makes the book enjoyable or not. And the writer is doing all the "executing" even with heavy editorial or "packaging" input.

I'm not really arguing with you, though.

Packaging is what it is and if a writer wants to do it they absolutely should. Still, in the case of huge bestselling books series like the "Pants" it seems a shame to sell all those books and only to have gotten a one time payment. You know, as opposed to being an instant gazillionaire.

Thank you for your blog. I'm always amazed at the stuff I don't know. I do learn quite a bit from you.

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