Interview: Lionel Bender-The Ins and Outs of Book Packagers
Lionel Bender is the editorial partner of Bender, Richardson, White, an editorial, design, and production team headquartered in the U.K. Having produced over a thousand books since 1990, BRW has earned a reputation as a quality book packager.
After some recent email communications, I had the great pleasure to meet Lionel Bender at the Texas Library Association Conference in Austin. He was in town for only one day, making the rounds among exhibiting publishers, authors, and related professionals before flying on to Washington where he was scheduled to present at an SCBWI conference. Lionel is a regular speaker and consultant on the subjects of children’s book publishing, self-publishing, getting the most out of book fairs and exhibits, and publisher outsourcing. He is also the author of 70+ books.
Lionel, thank you for allowing me to interview you here.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your company, Bender, Richardson, White (BRW.)
I got into publishing by accident, having done a science degree (medical microbiology) at university. My first job was as a researcher, working with a designer to create natural history and medical illustrations for an encyclopedia. I was then asked to write the encyclopedia articles. After a few years, I started moonlighting, writing and editing for book packagers. On one project I worked with a designer, Ben White, and soon after, having been laid off from my company, we teamed up. We did work-for-hire writing, editing, and designing for many companies. A few years later, Ben and I searched for a business partner, and were introduced to Kim Richardson. We formed BRW and are now 20 years old. We produce nonfiction products for publishers in the UK and North America.
On average, how many books does BRW produce annually?
Around 40 books a year, primarily for U.S. and Canadian publishers.
What is a book packager and how do they differ from traditional work-for-hire publishers?
A book packager is an editorial, design, and production team, developing and creating books. It does everything a publisher does except market and distribute books. Book packagers are often known as creation houses, development houses, and full-service providers.
Why do publishers use book packagers?
For two main reasons. First, to increase the number or range of books a publisher produces. Rather than take on extra staff or staff with different skills and experience, a publisher will outsource work to a book packager. Second, to buy in ready made projects from packagers. Some packagers develop new ideas and present them to publishers, who license the right the publisher those books.
When commissioned by a packager, does the author work strictly with the packager’s editor rather than the publisher’s editor?
Yes, almost always.
What kind of parameters might an author expect when working with a packager?
A packager, working on behalf of a publisher or in its own right, will usually specify or dictate most of the parameters for the author (or illustrator). These include: overall structure, such as chapters or spread-by-spread; word count; age/grade/reading level; images or artwork to integrate and write captions for; fee, often expressed as $000 per 1,000 words; schedule. The author may also be asked to write the book map or synopsis, with a chapter or spread breakdown and suggestions for images or artwork.
What kinds of books do packagers most often produce?
Mostly they are highly illustrated information (nonfiction) books but there are packagers that do only fiction—mostly but not exclusively non-illustrated—and others that produce novelty books, such as books with fold-out pages, pop-ups etc.
Who owns the copyright for a packager-produced book?
Almost always, the book packager or the publisher owns the copyright. The author’s name often appears on the book.
Are authors ever offered a royalty contract when working with packagers, or is it strictly on a work-for-hire or flat-fee basis?
Rarely is the author offered a royalty. This is because a book packager uses a team of people to produce books, and no one person is deemed to have more creative input than another.
Do packagers develop book and series ideas in house or are they assigned by the publisher?
Both, as mentioned above. Some book packagers work only on assignments from publishers. Traditionally, book packagers developed lots of ideas in-house, but the industry is not so open to this now.
Is it ever appropriate for authors to pitch book ideas directly to a packager?
Yes, but only if you know the packager’s speciality and client-base. A book packager is unlikely to take on an author’s idea unless it knows of one or more publishers it can easily present the idea to.
How are publishers adjusting to digital publishing and electronic media?
In nonfiction, many publishers are seriously cutting back on output for fear that the Internet is replacing books. They are also investigating electronic media without really seeing a clear way forward.
In general, what are the best ways to contact a packager for potential assignments?
To meet face-to-face at book fairs, SCBWI conferences, and exhibitions. Generally, book packagers do not advertise to authors or illustrators, nor do they have anyone able to look through submissions. If you contact them by email, do your homework first. Somehow, find out their individual areas of expertise and niche, and focus on those.
Is Bender, Richardson, White looking for specific qualifications or credentials from interested authors?
The more specialist an author’s background or writing skills and experience, the better for special projects. But often being able to research well, write to length, for the correct age range, and on time is as important as anything else.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your company, or about book packagers in general?
Potentially, book packagers as a group are a significant source of work. In children’s nonfiction, we produce some 30 to 40% of publishers’ output.
For more information about book packagers, pop over to Harold Underdown’s esteemed blog, The Purple Crayon. He kindly added a link to this post.
For more information about educational publishers, check out my blog Q&A with Laura Purdie Salas.