I spoke to Rachael Davis about her experience of working with the children’s book packager Storymix, for the Writing for Children slot in Writers’ Forum issue #253 19 Apr 2023.
Rachael explained book packagers are companies that essentially put together books for publishers by pairing up the right talent with the right ideas. They are NOT a publisher. Once they create a book idea, they commission a writer to do a sample. This sample is submitted to publishers and the book packager will hope to get a ‘traditional book deal’. The writer may receive a percentage of the royalties the book packager is paid by the publisher, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the writers work for a fixed fee.
In some cases, a publisher may approach a book packager with an idea of the type of book/series they are looking for. The book packager will then work up a plot and outline, bring on an author to write the sample, and then the publisher will be given an exclusive first-look opportunity to acquire the series from the book packager. If that particular publisher doesn’t move forward with the project, the book packager would then have the right to try to sell the project to other publishers.
In all cases, it is important to realise that the intellectual property of the book/series belongs to the book packager, not the writer. The book packager is the creator of the series. The writer’s job is to bring their unique creative flare and voice to the project.
Jasmine Richards is the founder of Storymix. She isn’t a fan of the word ‘book packager’, she prefers ‘book incubator’. At Storymix, they have a unique mission to centre black and brown children in super fun, often fantastical adventure stories. Previously, Jasmine worked at a book packager called Working Partners, who developed Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic.
After working as an editor for 15 years, she founded Storymix to bring about positive change in the industry and make sure books on the shelves reflect all children. Jasmine works exclusively with diverse writers and illustrators, providing many of these unagented creatives with an unparalleled opportunity to work with the biggest publishers in the industry.
Rachael told me that back in November 2020, Jasmine reached out to Rachael’s agent to see if I might be interested in sampling for Storymix. She explained the opportunity as a ‘paid creative writing course’. It’s an opportunity to be paid to work with brilliant editors, learning about plot, characterisation. If the book is commissioned, you get to experience the publishing and editorial process. But it is not the same experience as getting a traditional book deal as there is less input at later stages. Jasmine told Rachael about a few different projects and as soon as she described Secret Beast Club she knew it was a project she wanted to be a part of. In Spring 2021, Jasmine commissioned Rachael to sample for Secret Beast Club.
“Thankfully, she loved my sample and it went on submission to publishers in the summer 2021. Puffin snapped up the series in a three-book deal. At this stage, Jasmine brought on the wonderful Clare Whitson to work as my editor who kept me updated with proofs and cover choices, alongside Puffin editor, Jane Griffin.”
Unlike with a traditional publishing deal, when you work with a book packager you don’t have the same level of responsibility for planning, plotting and story arc consistency. This is where the brilliant team at Storymix come into their own. As the writer, your role is to bring the voice and develop strong characterisation.
Often when working with book packagers, you receive less rights and lower royalties. However Rachael would absolutely recommend Storymix. She has found their rates and treatment of authors to be exceptional. But Rachael stressed this is not true of all book packagers and you should make sure you know what you are signing up for. While you can be unagented, having an agent or the Society of Authors check any contracts is important.
The Secret Beast Club series is written under the Pseudonym, Robin Birch. Rachael explained series developed by book packagers, particularly for young readers, are often written under a pseudonym. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as mentioned the concept is the intellectual property of the book packager, not the writer. Secondly, if a series becomes successful additional writers may be brought in to write subsequent books.
Robin Birch is the collective pen name for children’s writer, Rachael Davis and series creator Jasmine Richards, who is the founder of Storymix and the Inclusive Children’s Fiction Studio. Together with their editors, Clare Whitston and Jane Griffiths. The Secret Beast Club adventure took shape and was brought to life by illustrator Jobe Anderson, designer Jan Bielecki and text designer Anita Mangan.
Rachael’s advice to writers wanting to work with a book packager is to work out who the book packagers are and what types of books they publish. Working Partners is a good place to start, and if you are a writer of colour (agented or unagented) she definitely recommends getting in touch with Storymix.
Some people can be a bit snobby about writers who work with book packagers, because the series plot is developed by the packager and not the writer. Rachael said this kind of collaboration is used all the time in other creative industries such as film and TV, and I personally have had a fantastic experience.
“Not only have I got to be part of a fantastic, ground-breaking chapter book series, but I have also had the opportunity to work with talented editors and hone my writing skills. I would highly recommend writers (agented and unagented, published, unpublished or self-published) consider whether working with a book packager is a good fit for them.”Rachael Davis
Working with a book packager is not for everyone. Some writers will absolutely thrive, while others might find the lack of creative freedom to deviate from the book packager’s plot line constraining. You also have to be able to work to tight deadlines and not be precious about edits. It is not uncommon for a book packager to make changes to the text after the writer has completed their final draft.
However, if you can embrace the collaborative approach, working with a book packager can be a fantastic way to develop your skills as a writer, and go on to get traditional book deals later down the line. When you submit a sample to a book packager, they are looking for a fresh, original voice. Always keep in mind – what makes you the right writer for the project? Once the plot is created, technically any writer could write it, but what is it that your unique voice will bring to the project?
“At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.”Rachael Davis
The first book in the series Secret Beast Club: The Unicorns of Silver Street is out this month and Secret Beast Club: The Dragons of Emerald Yard is released later this year, in July 2023. At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.
To discover more about Rachel Davis and her writing see her website: www.rachaeldavis.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @RachDavisAuthor & Instagram: @RachDavisAuthor
To find out more about Storymix go to: www.storymix.co.uk
To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.
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