Friday, April 28, 2006

Book packaging

Well, Kaavya Viswanathan's book has been recalled and so the fervour continues. Megan McCafferty, who wrote the books Viswanathan is alleged to have copied from, says that "the past few weeks have been very difficult". I find it hard to get much sympathy for her with her latest book number 19 on the NYT Bestsellers List and I'm guessing rising with every day (and article about her books). Still, I promised we would talk about book packaging and so we will.

Book packagers have apparently been around for years and probably started with the Nancy Drew/Hardy boys series of books. They have done the Sweet Valley High series and others. They take a general idea or series idea and make it into a finished product, often with designed cover and all. They are partners with publishers and are increasing as publishers cut back on staff. Jobs with book packagers are great things for writers, as far as a google search for "book packagers" comes up with. Some of the top picks are all about how great they are to work for.

The telltale sign of a book packager is when you see an extra copyright holder with the author. In the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, she shared her copyright with Alloy Entertainment. Book packagers also share the royalties and advances for these books. The New York Times says that this Sunday "books created by Alloy will be ranked at Nos. 1, 5 and 9" on their children's paperback best-seller list. If you want to read more of the ugly details of this, check out the Times article on it. The gist of it is that these places churn out cookie-cutter books for publishers that the public will suck up with a straw. One editorial director likened it to working on a television show where everyone works together.

So, book packagers take an idea and work as a group to make something. The thing is, who gets blamed when things fall down as they have with Viswanathan's book? Everyone is denying that Alloy had anything to do with the plagiarism. Still, according to Viswanathan, her original manuscript was too dark for agents and the voice of the novel was crafted from chatty emails she sent the packagers. I can't help wondering if the plagiarised sections were in the "dark novel". Seems that book packagers are all for sharing the good stuff with regards to the books they "package" but don't look their way if the bad comes knocking.


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