Choosing an Agent versus a Packager

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 28 2008

I have a book idea, a self-help feel-good book, with a line of products. I am not a writer, so I am not familiar with this industry. I have obtained much information from your site, I just found out about book packagers, but am still in need of a direction. I believe I need trademarks, etc. The line of products compliment the book, and visa versa. My vision is enormous. I was researching the team that put together The Secret, but Beyond Words Publishing only want to hear from agents. It’s still just an idea, but I have this burning desire to try and bring all this to fruition. Do I contact a book packager with this idea? Do I need an agent? Do I need an investor? Any advise would be helpful.

If you are writing nonfiction it never hurts to think big-picture and imagine the products, calendars, and other merchandise that can go along with your book. In fact, that’s why an agent can be so important, by negotiating a contract that allows you to control all of those possibilities when the time comes. However, this is not the job of a packager and not necessarily the job of the publisher. Let me explain each role a little bit further and then explain how these products based on books come about.

Typically a packager is an idea generator. Usually they come up with their own ideas in-house and approach licensees to put their name on a project. The ASPCA, for example, has a guide to dogs. I would have to check the book, but I would bet that’s a packaged product. In other words, someone approached the ASPCA about their idea, hired the writers, photographers, and designers, and sold what was essentially a finished product to the publisher. This contract probably did not include things like calendars or pads of paper since that’s something the ASPCA might want to pursue on their own.

In some cases packagers will approach a company to do a small line of products that are sold in bookstores. They might approach a blog like (I’m making this up, folks) BookEnds, for example, and ask us to put our name on a mini-writing kit or the copyeditors cards. Again, they would do most of the work, while we would supply them with the known name.

What you are looking for, however, is a literary agent. Rarely, very, very rarely—in fact, I could probably say almost never—does a book sell alongside all of the merchandise ideas. The Secret, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, or even Chicken Soup for the Soul, whether packaged or agented, were only dreamed up as books first. Once they took off and had the successes they did, merchandise followed. No one would have ever bought the calendars, games, or other merchandise for any of these titles had they not been bestsellers first.

So my advice to you is to start slowly and build big. Your first task is to write an amazing book proposal, find an agent and a publisher, and sell the heck out of it. Once you’ve made that book a major national or international success, you can easily move on to products and the other merchandise ideas you have.


6 responses to “Choosing an Agent versus a Packager”

  1. Avatar Jodie W. says:

    I love The Secret. I watch it several times each week, along with The Teachings of Abraham. I just wanted to send good wishes to the person who had this question and wish them well in this endeavor!

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    May I chime in here? If the poster is not a writer – yet has a book idea — perhaps he/she is more of an idea person with an entrepreneurial bent for merchandising. If so, finding a writer with an interest in collaborating on the project would be your first step in creating the amazing book proposal. Perhaps you want to consider raising your own funds and self-publishing. You might also want to dig a little deeper into your own motivation and get clear about which of the necessary pieces you bring to the table. The more you break it down and focus, the greater your chances for success.

  3. Avatar Kelly says:

    And what if you’re a truly good writer, in need of income while writing your own book(s)? Is there a place or agency at which one could register to find the non-writer and his/her project? For pay, of course. Too often, it’s ‘I’ll share the profits with you, if you do the work.’ Oh, right. Work a year or so for nothing, to end up with even more nothing.

    I’m referring to serious projects, such as ghost-writing, etc. Any suggestions would be helpful to many of us, I’m sure.

    Thank you!

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I liked this entry, especially as it relates to a project that we have in mind. However, I kept reading waiting to see the word ‘platform’ mentioned.

    It is my understanding (maybe misguided) than authors of non-fiction are required to have standing in a particular area?

    Your correspondent doesn’t mention a high standing in a particular area, but hey, the author of ‘The Secret’ was a screenwriter, I believe. Go figure.

  5. Avatar bookfraud says:

    i’m with “anonymous” (second poster). the poster needs some seriously radical advice — write the book. this person reminded me of the lawyers who pester scott turow about writing a legal thriller, but ask about movie rights before writing a word.

    either write some sample chapters or hire someone to do it for you. if this is as amazing as you say, the world will be at your feet.

    i don’t know if non-fiction writers need to have “standing” more than fiction writers — if you’re writing about foreign policy or string theory, maybe so, but not about “the secret.”

    uh, did wanda b. wander here by mistake?

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What intrigues me about this post is that it’s not really about choosing a book packager over a publisher…

    …it’s about getting a grip on the question of marketability.

    I have written successfully for money, for publication, for personal self-expression, for healing, and for sheer joy. My efforts at bucking conventional publishing wisdom have netted results that cover the spectrum.

    In a perfect world, every writer’s personal passion would walk hand-in-hand into an eagerly-awaiting marketplace. Truth is, the dovetail isn’t always quite so clean.

    That’s when it’s time to get clear about your writing: why you do it, what you hope to get from it, and what role you assign to the marketplace in the unfolding story of your own life.