Behind the Page with Paper Lantern Lit #1: Writing and Publishing with a Book Packager

Here at Pub Crawl, most of our articles are about traditional publishing, since that’s the route we’re most familiar with. However, there are other routes as well. Self-publishing is one most people know a little about. Book packaging is another route, and one that fewer people may have heard of. We invited Paper Lantern Lit, a boutique book packager, to write a series of 3 guest posts to elucidate the process a little. Their first two posts will talk generally, and the third will be made up of their answers to your questions. So please ask away in the comments, and welcome Tara Sonin, the Marketing Manager for Paper Lantern Lit!

(PS: We always want the blog to talk about things our readers are interested in knowing! Please tell us if there are other aspects of publishing you’d like us to touch on here at the blog.)

Book Packagers are one of the most interesting components of the publishing industry. At least we think so, because we’re one of them! (Hello, we’re Paper Lantern Lit.) But there are also lots of questions about book packagers, such as:

  1. What are they, exactly? What do they DO?
  2. Why would a writer choose to work with a packager over the ‘traditional’ publishing model?
  3. How does the editorial process differ from working directly with a publishing house?

At Paper Lantern Lit—which was co-founded over five years ago by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver and author/editor Lexa Hillyer— we want to unveil the mystery behind literary development and share why we think it’s the most exciting part of publishing for us, and for writers. That’s why we’ll be hosting a series of three columns on Publishing Crawl to share a bit about what we do, and hopefully answer the questions above in the process.

Traditionally, here’s how the game goes: you write a book. (Yay!) You revise, and revise, and revise said book. (Ugh.) Then you get an agent, and possibly revise it even more. Then that agent tries to sell the book to a publisher, and if that happens, everyone celebrates.

But a packager, or literary development company, is not a publisher. We are more like a highly-trained, business and plot-savvy publishing partner. We work with writers, and together, we sell a book to a publishing house.

Let’s make like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and start at the very beginning.

The Spark: How we get ideas and how we work on them

At PLL, we are the ones who come up with the story ideas! That’s what we call a ‘spark.’ How do we come up with these ideas? Collaboratively. While working in solitude can be productive for a lot of writers, we have found that stories are strongest when we collaborate on them together, and later, with our authors and publishing partners. We have brainstorms multiple times per year, and we build the blueprints of the spark from there.

After a major brainstorm where we figure out the basic elements of the story (character, wants and needs, etc) the concept gets shaped and molded into a Three-Act or Outline. At the same time, we seek out the most promising writers to work with, and try to match our best ideas with the best voice.

The Blueprints: why work with Paper Lantern Lit?

Say you’re a writer who loves to write but hasn’t been able to finish a book. (Raise your hand if you’ve been there; you’re not alone.) Maybe you struggle with keeping a schedule, your ideas lose steam by the middle of Act 2, or you’re having trouble finding an idea in the first place. By working with PLL, you know exactly where your characters and the plot are going, and where they’ll end up.

There are plenty of other reasons to work with a company like PLL: you want to transition from your current genre to writing children’s or teen books, the manuscript you worked on hasn’t sold, you just finished writing a book and want to keep writing while you wait for a new idea to strike you…PLL is a great place for writers of all walks of life and experiences who want to refine their craft in a safe space, with people who teach you with patience, challenge you to reach new heights, and work with you long after the manuscript is sold to grow your brand.

The Architecture: Building the best story, as a team.

We find writers in a variety of ways: Sometimes by holding auditions, sometimes by partnering with a writer earlier on and tailoring the project to him or her. We often ask for samples and revisions before making a match.

So, once we’ve found our writer, they get to work on the initial chapters, with our guidance and input. Using some of the story material we’ve generated, plus an agreed-upon chunk of written chapters, we then set out to find the perfect publishing home for the project and the author.

Here’s where a lot of writers have questions: what happens after PLL sells the project? (Answer: we celebrate.) Does PLL just forget about it and leave it up to the publisher to do the rest? (Answer: no way.) Does the author get sidelined, because they did their job? (Answer: Double no way!)

PLL works with the author to figure out how to address any revisions and concerns the publisher may have. We’re there to explain the ins and outs of what’s going on, to help fix problems with the book itself, and to prepare for the actual experience of being published. We help keep the author on schedule, and of course, when it comes to marketing books and social media (a scary topic for a lot of authors) we have in-house marketing support dedicated to helping writers reach their goals. (Check back in January for our post on marketing from the packager perspective!)

So the answer to question #3 above is that the process isn’t very different. The only difference is that there is even MORE support for the author: between their PLL editor, publishing house editor, and both marketing teams, the goal is for them to never feel alone in the process. In the sometimes confusing world of book publishing, having that extra person (or five) to answer a question, send an email with an encouraging word, or advocate on your behalf is always a good thing.

The Unveiling: The final word on book packagers

One could argue that writing a book is as hard as constructing a building. (Bear with this metaphor.) You need a clear vision and a team with dedicated support and the proper skills to take raw materials and construct them into something beautiful. But when you work with Paper Lantern Lit, or any packager for that matter, the goal is to make the process a little simpler, by taking it one brick (or word) at a time.

There’s so much more we could say about literary development and Paper Lantern Lit, so if you have any questions, please post them in the comments! Our blog in February will answer them one by one. And next month: our post on marketing from the packager’s perspective.

Until then, you can find us online at or email us at

Tara PhotoTARA SONIN is the Marketing Manager for Paper Lantern Lit. She received her B.A. in Theater and English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Barnard College, Columbia University. She got her start in publishing as an Intern with Foundry Literary and Media. When not dreaming up catchy marketing campaigns and reading all the books she can get her hands on, Tara is usually found in Zumba classes or singing an eclectic repertoire of show tunes.

PAPER LANTERN LIT (PLL) is a boutique team of editors and tastemakers who create story content across multiple forms. Founders Lexa Hillyer and New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver call themselves the “story architects” because they develop fabulous concepts from the ground-up and nurture up and coming writers, building a platform for success. They are represented by Stephen Barbara of Inkwell Management, and can be found online at


5 Responses to Behind the Page with Paper Lantern Lit #1: Writing and Publishing with a Book Packager

  1. Mark Holtzen Dec 4 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Been intrigued with your company since I saw those videos you produced a couple years (?) back. I’m on my fourth MG novel and feel I’m finally getting to know enough to take a crack at a book without so many drafts (in theory). What I worry about is not having that connection with an idea that isn’t my own. I would guess that I bring the characters and setting and that might be enough to make it “mine” so the inspiration keeps coming? Can you speak to how your writers have gotten excited about your ideas? Do writers get to shop from your list of plots? Thanks!

  2. Mark Holtzen Dec 4 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    …and I guess one more: Have you ever found that your chosen author already had characters or concepts weirdly and coincidentally overlay with your developed plots? That is probably another way in which you can get on the same “construction crew.”

  3. Ella Dec 4 2015 at 7:28 pm #

    How do you choose your writers?

  4. Peter Taylor Dec 4 2015 at 11:18 pm #

    Many thanks for this, Tara and Kat.

    My first book was published in 1987 through Australian packagers. They knew that Allen and Unwin wanted a book on calligraphy for their list. By chance, the packager’s manager visited my friend’s pen shop and asked her if she’d be interested in writing it, but she put my name forward instead as she she didn’t have time. After my sample chapter was approved, the packagers kept me to schedule and organised the cover and printing in time for Frankfurt and Christmas sales.

    I’m not sure if it was the packagers or Allen and Unwin who signed an extra deal, but just before the internals were printed, it was also sold to Unwin Hyman/HarperCollins for a separate edition for the UK and NZ – sharing the same but now larger and more cost-effective print run for the pages, but adding a different cover and title.

    Do publishers still have ‘wish lists’ and their own content ideas for you to work with, Tara?

    Do you partner with overseas creators?

    I hope we can work together one day.

    All best wishes from DownUnder


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