I was tootling around on the internet today, and I came across this article in the Guardian: James Frey forced to defend literary ethics, four years after Oprah attack. I had never heard of Alloy before, so I did some more research and found out what they’re about.
First, Alloy is not the only ‘book packager’ out there. There are several, mostly based in the US, and a large number of YA (Young Adult) books and television shows come from these type of operations.
Book packagers manufactor books in a factory style manner. The story is usually created in a boardroom along with the plot and characters. The company then contracts out the novel to new (and often unpublished) writers. These writers usually get a flat fee and write under a pseudonym. Sometimes they can negotiate a royalty fee as well, but the copyright remains owned by the book packager. Alloy specifically owns ‘Vampire Diaries’, ‘The Travelling Pants’ and ‘Gossip Girl’ series.
Certainly, this sort of scenario can help get a new author some publishing credits and experience in the industry. Also some people have argued that the idea of writing by committee has been around since the 1950s with books like ‘The Hardy Boys’ being one of the first. Also, some people argue that this is no different than how television programmes are written, a form of media we are all used to.
However, I don’t know if I do agree that these sort of publishing scenarios are in the best interest of the publishing world. It hard enough to get a book published today. The average unsolicited unpublished author is already up against so many barriers: publishers and agents who won’t read unsolicited manuscripts, there are more people submitting books (albeit often poorly written) but publishers are commissioning less, and the internet is threatening the book industry in the same way it threatens the music industry. And book packagers could be just another one of these barriers.
Book packagers are run by large corporations with marketing, funding and connections. If an editor had to choose between an already polished book from a book packager or some new struggling author, which one do you think they’d choose? According to the Alloy website: ‘Between 2005 and 2007, approximately fifty of Alloy Entertainment’s titles have achieved New York Times best seller status.’ I think I know which one MNM would choose if one day a book packager pitched-up on our doorstep.
I want to be torn on this. Working for a publisher, I know how hard it is to make a profit, and a publisher needs all the help it can get. And I understand that this sort of enterprise helps give authors their start as novelists. But what about those writers who have original ideas with strong new voices? Are they simply shoved aside? I just can’t decide.
PS-I asked today if there was any way we can track whether or not our authors are being reguarly checked out of libraries. The answer was, ‘No we don’t have a way to find out if our authors are being checked out of the library’ and ‘I don’t care if our authors are being checked out of the library, as that doesn’t bring MNM any money.’ This answer seems fairly short sighted to me, but I guess that’s why I’m just the intern.