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An Interview with Patricia Stockland about Book Packaging

by Melissa Higgins

Note from Harold Underdown: Melissa Higgins sent me this interview she did in 2010 with Patricia Stockland, former Editorial Director at Red Line Editorial. She was taking down her blog, but as she said, "It's an informative interview about book packaging and people continue to access it. I hate to see it disappear completely from the internet." And so I have offered it here.

MH: What do book packagers do?

PS: This really depends upon the individual packager, but most share the common denominator of helping publishers offset some of the internal production overflow. Essentially, book packagers take an assigned project, manage the editorial and/or production work, and produce edited manuscripts or print-ready files for a publisher. This often includes hiring and overseeing authors, editors, designers, production artists, and photo researchers or illustrators.

In addition to book packaging, Red Line acts as a creative house, which means that we help publishers with list development, series oversight and style continuity, and some marketing work. Not all book packagers do that, but I think it's safe to say that all book packagers offer additional editorial and production assistance to publishers.

MH: Why do publishers hire book packagers?

PS: Publishers appreciate the flexibility that book packagers can offer, in that a publishing house doesn't have to "staff up" internally for one or two heavier seasons. If a publisher wants to do a larger list or a special project, they can move that work to a book packager and rest assured that the creative and production work will be handled professionally. The publisher doesn't have to bring on additional internal staff (and the associated costs) to take a risk on a project or longer title list. Also, many packagers have established freelance pools that the publisher doesn't have to maintain but can access easily through the point of a book packager.

MH: Are book packagers more common now than they used to be? (If yes, why do you think this is the case?)

PS: It's hard to say, really. I think with the changes in the industry and the economy during the past three or four years, we're seeing more start-ups on this front. But the handful of established packagers has been around for a decade plus, and each has a pretty solid reputation for their own specialized areas. It's a challenging role to fill, so I don't think we see a large number of long-standing entities. Book packagers need to serve and please a multi-tiered clientele, and it isn't a great fit for everyone.

MH: How many publishers do you work with? Can you name some of them?

PS: We maintain strict confidentiality contracts with all of our clients, but I think it's fair to say that we regularly work with many of the publishers in the educational market as well as some folks on the trade and textbook side of things and most of the large entities on the professional sports docket, in addition to the US Olympic Committee.

MH: What types and genres of books does Red Line Editorial produce? [e.g., nonfiction and/or fiction, for kids and/or adults, picture books, cook books, concept books, etc.]

PS: We're fortunate to be able to cast a pretty wide net on the genres front. With that, most of the work we do is nonfiction (spanning the curriculum) for the K-12 audience, but we also produce fiction, picture books, graphic novels, adult nonfiction, poetry, online sports content, some self-publishing projects, textbook production, and ebook conversions of most things.

MH: How many writers do you work with? What do you look for in writers you hire for Red Line Editorial? (What kinds of backgrounds, skills or qualities should they possess?)

PS: On the book side of things, we have a running list of about 200 authors. I can't say with exactness how many writers work with us on the sports content side, but we do have full national (and some international) coverage there. We really look for people who can work to spec (we don't currently represent authors as an agency would), who respect deadlines and know their own capacities, and who are polite professionals! Of course, good writing speaks for itself, and that's a baseline quality, but the other items really matter to us. Because a lot of the work we do is nonfiction, we really rely on our authors to be research pros, and we also look for authors who can work with editors during the revision process. A good sense of humor doesn't hurt either. From the edit side of the fence, we can often tell when someone has really enjoyed an assignment and been interested in the subject matter versus someone who's taken on a project because they had bandwidth but not necessarily any interest in the work itself. So a healthy curiosity is also a bonus!

MH: Are you currently seeking freelance writers? What should a writer do who's interested in working for Red Line Editorial?

PS: We're always open to bringing qualified authors into our pool. Submissions should go through the address posted on our website. Including a short writing sample or two from a preferred genre is really helpful.

MH: Anything else you'd like to say about Red Line Editorial or on the subject of book packaging?

PS: I think Red Line Editorial has developed a really great rapport with a number of freelancers over the years, and that speaks well for us as a company. But so much of what we're able to do well also goes back to authors who want to do well with this type of work. I think working with a book packager is an excellent way for authors to get their proverbial foot in the door with publishers. But many people have also made rewarding careers from this style of work too. So, I'd like to extend a thank you to the authors in our pool and encourage new folks to take a look at spec work. If you love researching and "writing assignments," this might just be the thing for you!

Related Article: Book Packaging, by Jenna Glatzer.

Copyright © 2010 by Melissa Higgins: please follow the copyright policy you will find on the policy page.

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