Besides the fact that they’re some of the most successful YA books, the titles shown above have one very big thing in common: They are the products of a practice known as book packaging, wherein a person or company creates marketable ideas, develops outlines or synopses, then hires writers to write them. The packager—whether it is Alloy (Gossip Girl, The Clique, The Probability of Miracles, the Private series), Full Fathom Five (I am Number Four), or Paper Lantern Lit (Venom, Fury).
In most cases, a writer is paid a flat fee, along with a share of royalties and subsidiary rights sales. Most often, the packager’s share of the advance and royalties are much larger than the writer’s share. The packager retains the copyright, meaning they control the intellectual property even though someone else wrote the book.
My client, Lee “Lainey” Bross, works with Paper Lantern Lit. Here, she details her experience:
Okay, so it was really weird how this all played out. I’d been reading a lot of hype about this new packaging company, Paper Lantern Lit, and it sounded really interesting. I thought about emailing Mandy to ask what is was and how it all worked. The weird part was that before I could, SHE emailed me about this new packaging company called Paper Lantern Lit., and would I be interested in “auditioning” for them.
We talked over the pros and cons, and I decided to go for it. Mandy sent them a short sample from one of my projects, and they liked my voice. Next, PLL sent me a “spark” page for a book idea they had. Basically they chose 2 chapters from the middle of the book that I had to write. There wasn’t a lot of back story available, because they wanted to see what I was able to do with what they gave me.
I submitted the chapters, they sent them back with comments and I revised them. But the thing was, I didn’t really fall in love with the idea and didn’t think I could do the book justice if chosen. So I withdrew from consideration. Fast forward a couple of months alter, and PLL contacted Mandy with another “spark.”
I LOVED it. I wanted to write that book. I did the sample chapters, and after a couple of back and forths, they contracted with me to write it!
The process of writing for a packager—at least in my experience—is different, in that you are given a complete outline of the book to be written. 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. 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. No thought was too dumb.
There were challenges at times as well. When you are used to writing for yourself, by yourself, it can be hard to collaborate! The deadlines were tight and there was a lot of back and forth between me and my editor before the book was good enough to be sent out on submission. It sold not long after and my debut, Fates, comes out from Random House in the summer of 2013!
I learned more about writing in that 4 months than I did in the entire previous 4 years, and it has only strengthened my own writing. My writing was always good, but now, it’s at the level it needs to be to benefit my career going forward . That was what sealed the decision for me back when Mandy and I talked about it, working one-on-one with an editor during the entire process.
It’s not a typical way to break into publishing, but for me, having this opportunity gave me invaluable insight and experience that I will profit from for years to come, and it’s a decision that I’m glad I made.
So, as Lee said, we discussed the pros and cons right up front, and I wanted to detail them here, too. It’s important that the writer is fully aware of both sides before they decide whether writing for a packager is right for them.
- Writers who have felt like they are “on the verge” of breaking in, but haven’t quite landed that book deal, this can be the moment that tips the scales. By partnering with a known company with a successful track record, you’ve substantially upped your chances of finally breaking in.
- Getting paid while getting an education! Working directly with editors on the development of a book can be like an MFA program, except they are paying you.
- Earning a steady income. I know several authors who write/publish an original book every year, but they make their real income from churning out packager or write for hire jobs.
- Making connections with industry insiders. Once you’ve worked with a publisher doing packaged stuff, you’ve worked with editors, publicity, agents, etc, who are all familiar with your work, which can only help you down the road.
- You may, at some point, be forced to relinquish control of your characters and world. Say you write a smash success, and your packager wants to turn your book into a series. There is no requirement that you write later books. Or maybe you want to focus on your original fiction, and don’t have time for more packaged books. Most packagers, of course, would like the same author to write them for continuity purposes, but it’s not required. L.J. Smith was famously “fired” from writing further Vampire Diaries books. Alloy can continue to release Vampire Diaries books without her involvement.
- You might be a ghost. Meaning…you could be writing books as Kate Brian, or L. J. Smith, and no one will know who the real person is behind that name. The packager may not allow you to publically take credit for it, as readers generally prefer to think the books are penned by the same person.
- You may not feel that you got your “fair share” of the money. This one is oft debated by readers, writers, and various industry folks, because it’s not usually the writer who gets the majority of the funds, it’s the packager. Is that fair? The book could sell for $100,000, and your flat fee may have been $10,000. This is one of the things I always talk to my clients about up front. I don’t want them to be surprised and feel taken advantage of.
Packaging is not for everyone, and you can see there are pros and cons. I think it’s very important for folks to know exactly what they’re getting into before jumping in. I, myself, wrote a NASCAR novella for Harlequin that was arranged as a write-for-hire. I didn’t get rich off it, but I enjoyed dipping into an adult romance and learning from a romance editor.
So, I hope all this helps you decide whether packaging work is right for you!