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    How to Cash In On An Often Under-Exploited Market

    Many writers are under the misguided perception that writing for a book packager is somehow Ďshadierí than writing for a book publisher. I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth. As an editor for a successful and thriving book packager with offices in New York and Orlando, I can tell you that the only thing separating a book packager and a publisher is the added responsibility of advertising, distributing, printing, and selling the books or products that firms like mine produce on a daily basis.

    In fact, Iíve found that my companyís workload has been steadily increasing over the years. As a result, we have packaged books and products ranging from The New Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy series, picture books for Disney, album cover and copy for Kenny Rogers and much, much more. Want in on the fun? Hereís how:


    What's in a name?

    So, weíre not Dell or Harcourt, St. Martinís or Ballantine. Tell that to our workload! Over the past few years Iíve edited everything from pre-school arts and craft activities to erotic poetry, from financial profiles of todayís hottest stocks to the yearís best pick-up lines. Iíve edited newspaper articles and magazine features, anthology entries and entire books. Iíve sorted through scores of query letters and sent out just as many rejections. Iíve seen slush piles come and slush piles go, only to come and go again and again.

    You may not have heard of me, but chances are, if youíve ever responded to an ad in Writerís Digest or on Inkspot.com, Iíve heard of you. Why is what some measly, little editor at some tiny, little book packager has to say important?

    Simple: Before you get to work with Mary Ann Hotshot at Harper Collins or Billy Bob Bigshot at Penguin, youíll most likely be working with lots of little, "no name" editors such as myself. From Web sites to huge corporations, from small aircraft pilot trade manuals to toy store catalogs, itís editors such as myself who are going to be teaching you the ropes in this frustrating and rewarding world of freelance writing.


    But what is it you do exactly?

    Think of a book packager as a "regular" publisher without a printing press, a marketing department, or a delivery truck. While youíre at it, take away the fancy office, the snooty address, the daycare for kids, and that secretary with the headset in the lobby. A book packager is a collective group of talented, hard-working, industrious folks who get impossible things done for clients on a daily basis. Those clients just happen to be publishers with printing presses, a marketing department, etc.

    Still confused? Hereís how it works: A publisher needs a project completed in a timely manner. Most of the time that product is a series of books, since most publishing houses are swamped with single titles from hopeful authors such as yourself. Letís say the series is about space travel, aimed at the educational market, more specifically 4th and 6th graders. Fine. Great. The big, busy publisher reaches out to a small, busy book packager and discusses the proposal for the series. Or vice versa. A fee is agreed upon, as is a reasonable schedule and a basic set of editorial guidelines for the series.

    Now the fun part begins. Depending on the structure of the book packager, several in-house writers/editors begin work on the new series, or freelance writers are assigned from a pool of talent located in the handy filing cabinet. (Can you say, "slush pile?") The series gets written, then edited, then designed, then laid out, and finally turned into the publisher, who promptly finds fifty things wrong with it and sends it back. When all of the proofs have been approved, the book packager gets a nice, big check and another set of books for their trophy case, and the publisher gets a brand new series on space travel to print, market and distribute as their own.

    Hint: To see which big-name publishers use book packagers, check out the copyright page of any book. If a company has used a book packager, it will usually say something like "Prepared for Big Name Publisher by Little Book Packager, Inc." Check it out sometime, you might just be surprised!


    But where do I find them?

    By necessity, book packagers are a secretive bunch. As you can see from the above example, most big name publishers donít want to shout it to the rooftops that a book packager has produced a product for them. In fact, several of our clients donít even list our editorial and design credits, in order to protect their reputation as, what else, big name publishers! So finding a book packager is often just a little bit trickier than finding a publisher. (As if that wasnít tricky enough!) However, as word spreads about this private, and profitable, industry, addresses and contact names are slowly being made public.

    To find the addresses of book packagers, start big. The latest Writerís Market, for instance, has a separate section on book packagers, complete with the full listings they usually give for "regular" publishers. Granted, the number of pages dedicated to book packagers is a mere fraction of what remains for publishers, but give it time. Additionally, Web sites are beginning to catch on. Check out the excellent resource at BookZonePro.com, where youíll find a list of packagers in their Services & Suppliers directory at http://www.bookzonepro.com/sources/.

    While youíre still logged on, try running an Internet search for "book packagers" and do a little exploring. After youíve logged off, hit the bookstores with a pad and pencil and check out publisherís series in your area of expertise. Check out those copyright pages like we discussed and look for the tell-tale "Prepared for" wording and write down the name of the company who did the "hard part." Then log back on and see if any of them have Web sites or more detailed address listings. With a little leg work and cyber searching, you should be able to compile a decent list of book packagers to approach.


    Success Stories

    To get an idea for how common it is to work (and work a lot) for a book packager such as myself, here are a few recent success stories Iíve been happy to witness:

    -- While working on one of our latest projects, The Buzz On series, I placed an ad on Inkspot.com for freelance writers to help the cause. The pay wasnít great, but the books were fun and glossy and I knew it was just the sort of project a beginning freelancer would be eager to sink her teeth in. The client wanted experts to have their names on the book covers, so that the sales force could push the books to customers with confidence that they were getting expert advice.

    While many of the freelance experts were talented, few had the credentials to helm an entire book. Until a young lady from Inkspot.com herself e-mailed a few samples, along with her resume. In no time, she was named as co-author on The Buzz On Travel. Sure, it didnít pay much more than being a regular contributor, but to get your name on the cover of a book just for being in the right place at the right time, thatís pretty darn good. The last I heard, she was only a chapter away from completing her very own Travel book!

    -- Another of our projects, this one a continuity project of arts and crafts cards for preschoolers shipped out weekly from a huge New York client, has provided unexpected opportunity for another fortunate freelancer. One day, unsolicited, we received a professional query letter accompanied by several wonderful childrenís poems. While we had no use for them at the time, it turned out that, weeks later, our preschool card client wanted to add a new section to their cards: Whimsy!

    Our unsolicited poet was the first person we called. Now, she earns ten dollars per line. At eight lines a poem, six to eight poems a week, thatís not too shabby!


    Proper Packager Procedures

    To improve your chances of working for a book packager, approach them in the same way you would for a book publisher. However, since book packagers often work on various projects for various clients, make sure to accentuate your well-roundedness in your query or pitch letter.

    For instance, while the company I work for specializes in educational books for kids, that doesnít prevent us from taking on projects such as The Buzz On series or other books, magazines, and products for various interests and groups. So donít limit yourself.

    Here is a list of things I like to see in a pitch letter/sample packet from a prospective freelance writer:

    -- A brief run down of personal information pertaining to their status as a working writer. For instance, how many hours a week are they available to freelance? What operating systems, Internet access, etc. do they have?

    -- A list of recent writing credits in the following format:

    "Fireplugís Fortitude," appearing in True Grit anthology, December 2000, published by Red Rocks Press

    -- An assortment, no more than five, of various types of writing. Doesnít have to be published, just a representative collection of their various styles and forms of writing.

    -- Where they learned about me. It helps to know if they found our name in the cover of a Buzz On book, from our listing in Childrenís Writers Marketplace, etc. That way I know where theyíre coming from.

    -- A full list of contact information. I prefer e-mail, but phone and mailing address are always important, too.

    One last tip: Donít give up. If you send me a query/sample packet in January and havenít heard from me by October, I donít mind getting a postcard asking me to keep you in mind or even another query/sample packet with your most recent clips inside. (Donít just send a repeat. If it doesnít add something, a postcard will do.)

    So, now that you know the hidden advantages of working for a book packager, whatís stopping you?

    Copyright © Rusty Fischer

    Rusty Fischer is the author of Freedome to Freelance, available at http://www.writers-exchange.com/epublishing/rusty.htm.

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