Chip MacGregor

May 31, 2010

Defining a Packager


Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend. For today's post, we have a question from Gladys. She asked, "Are compilers (Allison Bottke, Chicken Soup, etc.) considered packagers?"

Nope. Let's define terms. Somebody who requests stories from you in order to create a compiled book on a theme (God Allows U Turns, Chicken Soup, etc), which they then sell as a manuscript to a publisher, are compilers.

A packager is somebody who creates the entire book for the publisher. They come up with the concept, hire the writers, get the work done, design the interiors, create the cover, and complete the entire book for the publisher. Normally at the end of the process, the packager turns over a disk that has the entire book on it — not just the text, as an author would do, but the entire book, complete with page spreads. All the publisher has to do is hand the disk to their printer and push a button. (And sometimes the packager will even have the books printed, so the publisher is simply purchasing pre-printed books.)

Some of us have done packaged books before. I have done it with more than one magic book (that is, books of card tricks for magicians — PLEASE don't write to me with your concerns about card tricks being the tool of Satan). I concepted the book, wrote it, solicited tricks from other magicians, created the interior, hired the artist and approved the interior drawings, worked with a cover designer to create the cover, edited the whole mess, got bids from printers, and got the books printed and shipped. I then sent a couple sample copies to distributors and sold the entire print run to a magic distributor, who got them into retail stores. In a way, I was my own publisher (but I didn't actually sell them, so really I was just the packager).

Most publishers do packaged books at some point. The benefit is that they get a completed book that requires almost no editing effort, very little creative energy from the team, no time from the art department, etc. All the publisher has to do is to slap the cover of the book into their catalog and sell it.

Packaged books in CBA have basically focused on themed gift books, devotionals, and general inspirational titles. Usually packaged books are high design (that is, they have a lot of interior design elements), and they often are high concept (a line of books around a theme; books aimed at very specific audiences; a one-event type of gift book).

The downside of packaged books has been that they often have a sameness to them, and they sometimes have less than stellar writing. They are not generally author driven, but concept driven, so the publishing house isn't building an author platform with these books. Because they are not driving a particular author, there can be a bit of a flatness to the voice (in my opinion). I suppose one could argue they rarely have great depth, but they exist to inspire or encourage a reader, not to educate readers on systematic theology — in other words, you get what you pay for, and readers aren't paying $9.99 for "Hugs for Moms" and expecting Brennan Manning.

We've all seen a million little packaged projects: God's Little Instruction Books,Sunshine for Grandma, God's Roadmap for Grads, etc. Each book follows one concept and is intended for a specific audience. We're starting to see some new directions from packagers, particularly with things like Bible studies and books aimed at the teen market. There is also a trend toward books aimed at business professionals.

Does that make sense?

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