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Writing for a Book Packager: How-to cash in on an often under-exploited market

By Rusty Fischer


The editor of The Buzz On series reveals how to find work (and lots of it) at book packagers.

Many writers are under the misguided perception that writing for a book packager is somehow ‘shadier’ 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, I’ve found that my company’s 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? Here’s how:

What’s in a Name?

So, we’re not Dell or Harcourt, St. Martin’s or Ballantine. Tell that to our workload! Over the past few years I’ve edited everything from preschool arts and craft activities to erotic poetry, from financial profiles of today’s hottest stocks to the year’s best pick-up lines. I’ve edited newspaper articles and magazine features, anthology entries and entire books. I’ve sorted through scores of query letters and sent out just as many rejections. I’ve 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 you’ve ever responded to an ad in Writer’s Digest or on Inkspot.com, I’ve 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, you’ll 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, it’s editors such as myself who are going to be teaching you the ropes in this frustrating and rewarding world of freelance writing.

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 I’ve 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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, that’s 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 children’s 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, that’s 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 doesn’t prevent us from taking on projects such as The Buzz On series or other books, magazines, and products for various interests and groups. So don’t 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:”Fireplug’s Fortitude,” appearing in True Grit anthology, December 2000, published by Red Rocks Press

– An assortment, no more than five, of various types of writing. Doesn’t 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 Children’s Writers Marketplace, etc. That way I know where they’re coming from.

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

One last tip: Don’t give up. If you send me a query/sample packet in January and haven’t heard from me by October, I don’t mind getting a postcard asking me to keep you in mind or even another query/sample packet with your most recent clips inside. (Don’t just send a repeat. If it doesn’t add something, a postcard will do.)

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

*****

Rusty Fischer is the author of FREEDOM TO FREELANCE: The Editor of The Buzz On Series Reveals How To FIND, GET and KEEP Your Next Freelance Job, available for sale as an eBook from www.athinapublishing.com/fischer.htm.

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