A book packager is a for-hire, out-of-house, publishers’ editing and production service. That means that packagers commission, edit, design and produce books on behalf of publishers—books which then appear with the publisher’s name on the spine, and with little or no reference to the packager. Packagers usually sell their services directly to, and only to, publishers, not writers or agents.
Packagers usually work in a very specific niche market, in which they have expertise and experience. By using a packager, publishers can bring out specialist books without hiring the specialist staff they require, and without investing the time that such books demand. Typical packaged projects include those long series of books for children and young adults, which are usually written by teams of ghost-writers; and beautiful, highly-illustrated, coffee-table books.
When I edited for a packager, it worked like this.
First, we’d have an idea for a book. We’d do a little looking around to see if there were any conflicting books available, and if we knew any writers who could write the book. Then we’d put together a synopsis and commission a few speculative illustrated spreads, and our sales team would show them to all the appropriate publishers that we knew of, in both America and the UK.
We did not sell every book that we proposed.
Once a book was bought by a publisher, our in-house editors would find and contract a writer, a designer, and a picture researcher to produce the book in accordance with the synopsis we’d produced, and the wishes of the publisher we had sold it to. We'd edit the text, and supervise the design and picture research, and as each stage was completed off it would all go to be approved by the publisher's own in-house editorial team. Once we had final approval on the complete project we’d send it to our production team for printing and delivery to the publisher’s warehouse.
The publisher’s only job in all of this was to approve the various stages of the book, deal with the publicity and marketing, and to sell the book into bookshops. They got a nice new book to add to their catalogue at minimum investment but at a slightly reduced income; we got our books out there at reduced risk to us, but usually without any acknowledgement that we’d ever been involved.