Getting published is a real be-yatch! Hear about my ups, downs and a few random rants in between.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Much Ado, About Packaging

A moment of silence for my last ounce of innocence.

:::heads bowed, eyes closed:::

Thank you.

The world is a crazy place. We spend half our time here just riding the bull hoping we don't get flung off into the dust.

Since world issues are a big mouthful to swallow, many people - me, for example - take small bites out of the world and spend the majority of our time simply trying to digest the things we're well connected to or come into contact with on the regular.

If we're lucky, we'll retain the knowledge we gain along the way and broaden our horizons.

Until I sat down to write my first novel, I happily read without much thought to how the book was published or even who published it, most times. My focus was on the author and the story.

I'm terribly loyal and because I have less time for pleasure reading than say, eight years ago when I only had one little Princess and a hubby who worked nights, I tend to read two types of books: those by my very favorite authors or books that catch my eye within very specific genres.

And I could have gone on living in a Literary Neverland if I hadn't started my own book. Once I started down the road to publication I had to educate myself on the process, jargon, people, and industry.

So went my innocence. Because a few things came to my attention that would have never crossed my mind, otherwise:

1) Just how much friggin' work goes into refining a book. Authors aren't prolific - they just work themselves silly until they get the prose right! The very first person diagnosed with OCD had to have been a writer.

2)Authors do a great deal of their own marketing and promotion. Hah, so you're saying you won't spend a quarter of a millon dollars to market my first novel? I'm no Judy Blume, you say? The nerve!

3) You do not secure an agent like you would an attorney, accountant or other professional service. THEY have to pick YOU.

4) Three of five top-selling YA books come from a packager.

And here, I begin the rant, or at least a mild diatribe.

Packagers have been around for a long time. It's not the practice, per se, I'm annoyed about.

When I found out my favorite teeny-bop series, Sweet Valley High, was the product of a packager it surprised me - mainly because until that point, it never occurred to me that any fiction book was written any other way except by one single author pouring a story from their head or heart onto paper.

But as a teen reader I sucked up SVH books like melting ice cream. So packaged books work. Teens love them.

Witness success of Gossip Girls and the like.

They work!

More power.

Also, packaged books are written by writers. Many, probably trying to make a living like me. Ghostwriting is a well-respected profession. I did lots of it in the corporate jungle. So it's not like they have a team of monkeys in the back pounding away at a keyboard producing best sellers.

No, those aren't my issues. This is - how, I ask you, are first-time authors and mid-list authors supposed to compete with an entity that will 1) put a big splash behind a book and 2) churn said books out at the rate of several a year?

Back in the day, seemed like SVH books came out damn near every month. Could be the warped sense of perception had only by the very young...but it truly felt that frequent.

With the whole Viswanathan madness swirling around the publishing industry like a swarm of African Killer Bees, I'm only trying to strategize my way to success without copying someone else's work or a bazillion dollar advance to off-set my promotional activities.

And I know what you're thinking. I'm a selfish Beatrice. Here, Kaavaya Viswanathan sits, her career in the balance, her six-fig advance on the line and all I can think about is how all this talk about packaged books vs. non-packaged books will affect me.


Other writers don't scare me. We're all, for the most part, starting out on even ground trying to reach readers and rise above the literary noise. It's a waste of energy for debut authors and mid-listers to fight amongst themselves. That energy is better spent supporting one another. Touting one another's books if we truly believe the book is worthy of a read.

But packaged books have the feel of the tail wagging the dog. Of the marketing being done before the book is written. Like someone said "ooh write this." Then later realized "that" would sell better. So they go back and tell the author - "No, no. Right that, instead."

It's like my old job with an emerging tech company. We'd sit in meetings and the marketing staff would trot out an elaborate chart strategizing the promotion of the next "hot" product in our arsenal.

The conversations went like this:

Me and the only other PR person in the company: "So, tell us what's different about this iteration from the last?"

Marketing: "Ummm...nothing."

PR: "Okay, what are the hot features? Company XYZ has a similiar product but it can do Cool Thing A, B and C."

Marketing: ", our product can't do that yet. But we're going to re-package it."

PR: "When will our product do those things?"

Marketing: "Soon. Probably next fall."

PR: "Shouldn't we wait until next fall to promote it?"

Marketing: "Why?"

PR (nudging at each other to ensure we're not dreaming): "Uhhh..cause it's not really improved or new. Right?"

Marketing (getting excited, cause we finally get it): Right, exactly! Look, can you guys get us a Wall Street Journal article, top of the fold?

Packaged books are like that. They feel like they're good books because the marketing tells us so. Because the concept of the book is good i.e. the book has to be good.

Now, now, before you say I'm sucking sour grapes...okay, I sort of am.

Can you blame me?

Without a scandel to propel sales or a packager to sustain a marketing buzz, I'm left standing on a good story, a solid book and my squeaky clean reputation.

Dammit! How boring is that?!


Blogger writeaway said...

Hey Miss P.,

I was just reading something about the SVH travesty. (and no, I'm not using that term lightly) Boy, when they said ignorance was bliss, they weren't kidding. I had no idea how the cogs of the machine churned in order to spit out a finished product--in this case, a packaged novel. That stinks. Reading books was so much fun back in the day I just had to be a writer. As I get deeper into this field, I'm finding out how things really work. I'm not complaining, I just had no idea.

10:16 PM

Blogger Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Oh do pass along the article you were reading about SVH.

Nothing like reality to punch you in the stomach. When I went to Francine Pascal's series workshop at Mid-Winter, it was all about how to propose a series to a packager. Me and a lot of other writers were disappointed.

Here we're thinking she was going to talk about tips to WRITE the thing.

She also taught me something else -that what I'm writing are just a set of sequels to my original book. It is not a series.

Now that I truly understand how it works I couldn't agree more. I couldn't churn out a book a month if someone stood behind me with a whip. Unless of course I was getting paid enough to do nothing else!

7:40 AM

Blogger writeaway said...

Man,oh,man. I wish I could've been at that workshop. I had never even heard of packaging until this whole thing happened. I'm lucky in respect to the fact that all I do is write BUT dang, even I couldn't write all those books like that. My brain would blow-LOL. Eventually, I think the quality drops. I sometimes feel that way with James Patterson. He comes out with a book in what feels like every other month. If I can't keep up reading them, how the heck does he churn them out like that. (Also note, I haven't been too impressed with his latest.) Coincidence? I think not.

8:27 PM

Blogger Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Hate to bandwagon, but I feel the same way about Patterson lately.

And what is the deal with him co-authoring so many of his books lately? Nearly every book in the last...four years he's written with someone else. It annoys me because I can see the diff in tone.

I'm a fan, but haven't felt the same about his books lately.

8:45 PM


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