WRITING FEATURE An introduction to book packagers

You've probably heard of book packagers, but do you really know what they do? Lionel Bender of Bender Richardson White explains.

A search for ‘book packagers’ on Words & Pictures and the SCBWI-BI Facebook archive unearths very few mentions and all of them are several years old. Yet book packagers continue to exist and together they produce a significant number of children’s fiction and nonfiction titles. My own book packaging company, Bender Richardson White, has existed for more than 30 years and in that time we have produced more than 1,400 titles. So book packagers as a group are important players in some niches of publishing. 


So what are book packagers, what do they produce, where can you find them, and how might you get to identify and secure writing and illustrating work with them? 


This is something I am planning to address in a webinar for one or two SCBWI regions in the USA and for the Society of Authors here in the UK in 2021. For this I will appreciate your help. If you are currently or have worked recently with book packagers and you know they are still active, I will appreciate you sending me just their names and what children’s books you produced for them, be they fiction, nonfiction, trade, school-and-library or educational materials. Email me at lionel@brw.co.uk I will keep all details confidential and use the information only generically. 

India Country File by BRW for Watts, U.K.

For those of you new to book packagers, here is an overview of the topic. It is largely based on a blog post from children’s author Moira Butterfield, who has worked for several book packagers. Moira gives a no-holds-barred overview, which I think is fair. That said, I believe my own company — for which Moira has not worked (for reasons I may well explain in the webinar) — does not exhibit the negative characteristics! I will elaborate on all points in my webinar. 


What is a publishing packager? 

A book packager is an independent company or editorial and/or design team that a publisher subcontracts to commission writers, artists and designers, and deliver a book or other related material for printing. In some cases packagers also print and ship the books, carrying the publisher’s branding. 


Type of work 

Packagers may generate new ideas themselves that they then sell on to publishers, or they may take on projects that publishers hand over to them. Generally book packagers work on highly illustrated books, though there are series fiction packagers, too. Licensed character work is often handed on to packagers because it is high-volume and often has pressurised deadlines to catch a popularity wave. 


Book packagers are active in both adult and children’s markets. For children, they mostly produce novelty books and products, big trade nonfiction books, and many school and library series of information books. 

Douglas Dixon's Dinosaurs Updated by BRW for U.S. publisher  sold 500,000+

Why do they exist? 

The publisher may not have the in-house resources to complete something, or may see a money-making opportunity from a packager’s new ideas. Packagers can be very small concerns or have quite a few staff doing the same editorial, design and sales roles as you would find in publishing companies. 


Why don’t you know about them? 

Being lean, and sometimes mean and hungry, they don’t put themselves about a great deal or spend much, if anything, on advertising. Also, their names never appear on book covers or title pages — and may not be credited anywhere (although not by choice) — so they are hidden. They rarely exhibit at book fairs or trade shows, and are not in lists and catalogues of British publishers. 

Developing French from BRW for A&C Black UK


Packagers inevitably offer fee-only writing work, and the writer is some way down the line as the money pie is cut between publisher and packager, so fees offered can be too low to accept. But they can be fair and provide a good extra income stream. Packagers may well ask you for new ideas, but be aware you will be giving these away for a fee so think twice before accepting that particular bait. 



You may wish to work using a pseudonym, or you may want your name out in the marketplace associated with something that you think will look good. Up to you. If you have an agent they may be fine with you doing this, but you’d need to check. If you work on licensed character material (Marvel or Star Wars, say) your name won’t be on it anyway. 


Plastics Dependency by BRW for a U.S. publisher

Sounds easy? No. If you decide to contact packagers you must be aware of the following: 


Hot deadlines

Deadlines are inevitably very tight, and you can’t mess them about. In fact, publishers sometimes hand projects on to packagers precisely because they are an obvious problem in terms of getting things turned around quickly. 



Some publishing sales departments notoriously have a tendency to change their minds about briefs halfway through and hand on the problem to their editors, who hand it on to a hapless packager. The packager will pass on the changes to you so you must — at the outset — agree that they will pay you more fee after one fair round of editing. Re-briefing means more money. End of. Never let anyone pressurise you out of that mantra. 


Clarify the brief and keep the evidence

You are getting a brief down a line and the confusion rule of Chinese Whispers can apply, so you must keep all evidence of the brief you get and make absolutely sure things are absolutely clear between you and the packager at the beginning. 


Low fee = high stress

Here’s an equation that inevitably holds true for a variety of negative reasons to do with clients down the line. The lower the fee offered, the more messing around you’re likely to get. So you must factor this in and say no if the fee is too skinny. Yes, you’ll lose the work, but you’ll save yourself a huge amount of grief. 

Space Encyclopedia by BRW for Kingfisher U.K

Payment terms

Rules of payment – Strictly 30 to 40 days – apply. You must put it on your invoice. Never let a packager delay paying you. They must take the risk of a publisher paying them tardily, not you. 


Licensed character work

If you work on licensed character material you must follow the world of the characters very tightly. There is no going off on any kind of tangent that won’t be accepted by the licence-holders, who own the characters and must sign everything off. It sounds mechanical but it can be fun to do if you are suited to it. 


Hands-on creativity

On the plus side, you’ll be working directly with creative people in a fast and fun hands-on situation. That may suit you, but if not then don’t go there.  


Header image: 5000 Awesome (Facts about Everything) by BRW for National Geographic USA

Text copyright Lionel Bender and Moira Butterfield, 2020


Bender Richardson White produces illustrated information books for U.S. and Canadian publishers who require North American writers and illustrators but is currently not seeking new creatives. For examples of its work see www.brw.co.uk 


For Lionel’s insightful webinar on 'Success in the Children’s Nonfiction Market' go to: https://tinyurl.com/yxctus67. In December he is set to do another Writing Blueprints webinar on 'Writing for the School and Library Market'. He will be doing various webinars on children’s nonfiction for SCBWI regions in the USA in 2021. Regularly look at the SCBWI website for details. Lionel's webinar on Book Packagers for the Society of Authors will be on Tuesday February 23 at 10.00 am., free to SoA members, and £10 to non-members 

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