Special Topics - Book Packaging

For my special topics paper, I wrote about book packagers, an aspect of publishing most people don't know about.

The American Book Producers Association equates a book packager to an indie film, where a small company puts together a movie and seeks distribution for it. The little guy did all the creative work, but the larger company is the one that puts it in theaters and handles the marketing. That is largely the same for a book packager. In most instances, the packager handles the creative aspect--the story, editing, writing, production--and the publisher takes the product, puts their name on it, and sends it out into the world.

Book packaging is far from a new idea. As early as 1899, Edward Stratemeyer produced the Rover Boys series and would later publish the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books as well. The Sweet Valley High series was as a result of packager, 17th Street Productions, which later became Alloy Entertainment--which is responsible for the Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars books and television shows.

In more recent years, authors have inserted themselves into the packaging game. James Frey (Yes, the Million Little Pieces guy.) runs Full Fathom Five, which is most notably responsible for I Am Number Four and its sequels. Other author-run packagers include Glasstown Entertainment and Cake Literary.

What's notable to me about book packagers is that they seem less than genuine in many cases. I see a book from a publisher, I expect that the publisher has taken the author in, edited the work, and put the whole package together. In the case of a book packager, the name of the author on the book isn't necessarily a real person or even the true pen name of an author. There are over 500 Sweet Valley High books from dozens of authors, but they all exist under Francine Pascal. The Gossip Girl books all are from Cecily von Ziegesar, but she only wrote the first few books. None of this is to mention that the author is most often not the originator of the idea for the book--though in some cases, they are--and the plot is the product of dozens of people working together to create it, rather than a one-on-one kind of collaboration between the author and their critique partner(s), agent, and/or editor.

I don't find anything inherently wrong with book packagers, but they are something I try to keep aware of. There's certain some power to be had from the minds of dozens of people who know the book business and what will sell, eh?

Comments

  1. This is very educational. I must admit I didn't know anything about this. I read Sweet Valley High years ago, and I can't help feeling a little disappointed. Having a far too romantic notion about writers and publishing books, this actually makes more sense with the amount of works published these days. I see that you say that you don't see anything inherently wrong, but did you experience anything similar to my disappointment when you became aware of the packaging process?

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    1. Oh definitely! I'm lucky enough that none of my favorites turned out to be packaged, but it's certainly something I keep an eye on and it will affect how motivated to read a book I am. I think it's good business for publishing, but I, too, have the romanticized view of books and authors!

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