You’ve all heard of the fairytale traditional publishing success story; author writes a book, author sends book to publishing company, publisher loves it, book gets published and becomes a national bestseller. Okay, so maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
And here at CCPI, we love to talk to you about self-publishing, so if you’ve been following our blog, you’ve probably heard all about that, too. (If you’re a newcomer to the blog, welcome! Come check out all of our cool stuff!)
But traditional and self-publishing are just two ends of a broad spectrum. You might think the choice between the two is something like a fork in the road, where you can take Path A or Path B. But there’s actually a lot more nuance involved. Though it’s not often talked about, book packaging can also be a viable option. Book packaging is actually a fairly common practice that involves various pros and cons for the writer.
But first: What exactly is it? Book packaging companies basically function like miniature publishing companies, minus the sales, marketing, and public relations end of things. Book packagers focus on content, often coming up with storylines and plots and developing overall outlines for a book or book series. They then they hire writers, who are paid a flat rate upon acceptance of the manuscript.
Sounds pretty cool, right? It can be, especially for writers who want to be able to do their thing without stressing out over developing a plot. It reminds me of a coloring book. The packager provides a general outline and shape, and then the writer is free to make it come to life using whatever colors, designs, or patterns he or she sees fit.
Packaging can be a great way to break into the overly saturated book industry. As author Lee “Lainey” Bross explained in an interview on Pub Crawl, “The plot is already there, which I found freeing. I could just write, and refer to the outline to be sure I was on track.”
Bross goes on to say, “It wasn’t so constricting that I felt like I couldn’t use my own voice, and if anything, my ideas and comments were always met with enthusiasm and respect.”
Unfortunately, not everyone shares this same, positive outlook on book packaging. Many industry professionals view packaging as a rip-off to the author, because typically, if an author writes a packaged book, that author doesn’t hold the copyright to his or her material. The packager does. This essentially means that the author gets a flat rate, regardless of how much the book actually sells for, and packagers get the bigger slice of the pie.
The author also doesn’t get any royalties if the book hits the big time and gets turned into a major motion picture, and he or she may have little say over the fates of the characters and the direction of the overall story. As in Bross’ case, editors at packaging companies are sometimes very open to the author’s suggestions, but sometimes they’re not. And at the end of the day, the packager always gets the last word. Sometimes book packaging companies actually fire the original author, and then just hire another author to produce books in the same series.
Often book packagers will ask writers to ghostwrite books or publish them under a pseudonym, and they rarely allow writers to publicly discuss what they’re working on. I know, it sounds way too cloak and dagger, right? But I actually did reach out to an author of a packaged book (whose name will remain undisclosed) while writing this post, only to find that said author could not, in fact, talk to me about it. If you think that’s a little spooky, you’re not alone. But at the same time, I get it. These companies want to maintain the illusion that the same author is producing all of the books in a series. While packaging isn’t necessarily a big secret, if it became a more talked-about thing, that spell would be broken.
To put it bluntly, book packaging is not the big scary thing that some people might like you to believe. Packaging companies get things done, often handling trickier, more detailed projects to make sure they’re well-done. They even have their upsides, allowing writers to break into the industry and connect with professionals, often editors in a more collaborative and personal way than they would get to otherise. It’s also a steadier, more predictable income for many writers.
All of that’s not to say that book packaging doesn’t have its flaws, but it does give you a slightly more rounded view. Book packaging is a personal choice that authors make, and it doesn’t work for everybody. It is out there, though, and it’s definitely something to watch as we move forward as an industry. — Jessica Demarest
Photo Credit to Alloy Entertainment.