The Ins and Outs of Book Packaging

This Anonymous Author post is a little different from past ones in that it focuses on a single subject: Book Packaging.

Book packaging refers to the business of (surprise surprise) packaging a book. A book packaging company often comes up with an idea for a book, or helps develop it, and then finds a writer to bring that idea to life. When the book is done — or sometimes, when it’s still in its proposal stage — the packagers will sell the book to a publishing house. The writer is usually paid a “flat fee” along with some percentage of royalties. Most of the time, though not always, the packaging company gets the lion’s share of the profits.

The amount of control a writer has over and idea depends on the packager. In some cases, the writer has to stick to a very specific story that the packager wants. In others, the writer pitches the idea themself and has wide latitude over all aspects of the story. In nearly all cases, the intellectual property (IP) belongs to the book packager, not the writer.

Packaging companies include Alloy Entertainment, Cake Literary, Glasstown Entertainment and Dovetail/Working Partners. Popular books that have come out of packaging companies are Gossip Girl, Warriors, I Hope You Get This Message, The 100 and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky.

While I do not have any experience with book packagers, an author I reached out to very generously agreed to share their wisdom about packagers. HUGE thanks to that author, whose advice is below:

Why Writers Work With Packagers

I’ve seen more and more newbie authors interested in working with a book packaging company. And sometimes…more than one at once. Their agents even encourage this, which is a problem on its own. I’ll get to that. What I want to talk about is the pros and cons of going this route. These are the three main reasons to choose this career path:

1. You want to break into the industry as a debut.

2. You’re a mid-list author who wants to rebrand or reset your career.

3. Your debut was a success but as an author are looking to get into branded work and the *packager* benefits from this partnership just as much. Let’s break down the pros and cons of this direction.

The Pros of Book Packaging

  1. Packagers tend to sell to big 5 publishers. You’ll have an established relationship with that publisher and, if things go well, you’ll have a place to submit your original material.
  2. If you started out at a digital-only publisher or midsize publisher, this can be a great way to break out. Though there are no guarantees the book will do well.
  3. Packaged books means that there might be a better chance of selling abroad and TV/Film. Again, there are no guarantees (packager or no packager)
  4. If you’re writing for a brand like Marvel or DC, you will appear to a new audience. It will increase your profile.
  5. Twice the marketing. Because packaged deals *tend* to be in the six figures, a publisher has an incentive to recoup that money. And the packager wants their book to do well; which means they promote it to the best of their abilities. Like all things in publishing, though, even that isn’t guaranteed.

The Cons of Book Packaging

  1. Your name will be associated with this book (success or failure), so if you want to try another genre or age group you might have to change names.
  2. If you don’t have an agent, you’ll have to get an agent. Under no circumstance should you sign a contract without having a lawyer or agent look at it. No matter how much you jive with the company. You want someone to negotiate the fees so you get the best possible deal. More on fees in the next section.
  3. If you take a flat-fee, the packager is not obligated to tell you how much the book sold for.
  4. Just because you write the book doesn’t mean it will sell. But that’s the case in all of publishing.
  5. If you don’t read the option language section carefully, or you don’t have an agent who knows how to protect you, you might find yourself giving up a lot — like your next idea.

Money Matters

If you’re new to the biz, the packager can low-ball you. Some packagers do straight-up flat-rate fees, others do percentages. Here are some detailed observations:

  1. One large packager pays 20–35% of the advance to their authors on advance and royalties, plus subsidiary rights.
  2. Another, boutique packaging firm offers a competitive profit-share percentage, and also a stipend to write the sample pages (which most of the other packagers tend to ask you to do on spec or pay $1,000).
  3. In rare cases, the packager serves almost like an agency, and charges 15% of everything. In such cases, the author keeps most of their royalty. I would emphasize that this is rare.
  4. Yet another smaller packaging company seems to start at $15,000 flat-fee for writing the novel and 12–15% of subsidiary rights.

If you don’t have an agent to push them to increase the flat fee, you might be losing out on a potentially larger advance. For instance, if the book ends up selling to a publisher for $500K per book, then you’re relegated to that $15k.

Advice

  1. Do not take a flat fee for a book. Negotiate a percentage, escalators, and bonuses.
  2. Ask for a stipend, even if it’s $1000 to write on spec. These companies can afford it, especially when they make you revise the sample pages over and over.
  3. Read the option language carefully! Do not give a packager an option to your next idea!
  4. Never give them an original idea without getting compensated. They can take it and have another writer do it for less money.
  5. Beware of working with multiple packagers at the same time. Think about what you want from this. What are your goals? A packager only has so many editors to submit to. That means you’re eating your own sales and are competing with your own sale and then book!

Thank you for reading, and Anonymous Author will be back soon with a post on Query Letters, and more collected wisdom from Very Smart People!

Writer. Musichead. Book Junkie. Sock Aficionada. #1 NYT Bestseller. My books have long titles. A SKY BEYOND THE STORM out 12/1/2020.

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