I was perusing old college newspapers a few weeks ago and reading some of the columns I used to write. It’s probably not entirely shocking that I wrote a lot about books back then. As I was rereading, I stumbled upon a story I wrote that I remember finding endlessly fascinating at the time and one which still captures my interest: ghostwriters. I can’t put my finger on why ghostwriting is so interesting to me, but whenever I hear about a book or series that’s been ghostwritten, I can’t help finding out as much as I possibly can about the book, the “author,” and why it was published that way. Most of the time, there aren’t answers. But I find a lot of satisfaction in the questioning process.
Which leads me to a topic I’ve been thinking about now for a while — book packagers and “literary development” companies. Like ghostwriting, it’s a topic I seem to have more and more questions about and fewer and fewer answers to. The excitement and interest to me is in that mystery and in that endless series of “what about” and “why” questions.
It’s likely you’re well aware many big franchises in the YA book world are the result of book packagers. Packagers are companies that come up with concept and hire someone either within the company — though more usually outside the company — to write the concept. Pretty Little Liars, for example, isn’t the original concept of Sarah Shepard, but instead, it was developed at Alloy and she is the name at the helm of the project. Other well-known older and more recent books from Alloy that might sound familiar to YA readers include Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, Shadowlands by Kate Brian, The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, and plenty of others you can check out over on Alloy’s page. Many of Alloy’s projects are meant to go beyond print, which is why many of these books do end up on television or made into movies — they exploit the rights of as many avenues as they can in order to bring in bucks.
What readers want is a good book and a good book will make them want to try the next book by that author.
Wildcard Storymakers, spearheaded by author Veronica Rossi (of Under the Never Sky), her husband, and their friend, editor and ghostwriter Lorin Oberweger, kicked off earlier this year. Like Paper Lantern, Wildcard Storymakers develops concepts and chooses writers to develop them. Also like Paper Lantern, it was created by an author herself, one who, like Lauren Oliver, saw success with her own YA series.
Wildcard plans to focus on middle grade, young adult, and “new adult” titles. They’ve had one deal pop up so far, which was for a book called Boomerang, a “new adult” that will published through William Morrow next year. It’s being written by Rossi and Oberweger under the name Noelle August, and you can learn a little more about it on Goodreads. As of this writing, that is the only book under contract so far from the studio.
The second development company to spring up recently is Cake Literary, which made its announcement last week when founders Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s first book from Cake was announced in Publishers Weekly. The book, titled Dark Pointe, will be authored by the pair who founded the company, and you can read more about the book over here.
Unlike Oliver or Rossi’s companies, Cake wasn’t founded after the authors had published. Instead, this is the first book the two have developed and written and it’s the first sale for the company. Likewise, the focus of their company differs a little bit from that of Paper Lantern and Wildcard — the goal is to develop, produce, and publish more diverse titles within the middle grade, YA, and women’s fiction arenas. The company’s site, which isn’t complete yet, suggests their vision is for books that are highly commercial but also decidedly literary, an interesting use of terms that have, for a long time, been used as binaries to one another, even if they aren’t necessarily so (in other words, many believe a book is either commercial or literary, rather than a combination of the two, though such combinations certainly exist and get published). The pitch for Dark Pointe likens the book to Pretty Little Liars — a highly commercial book (…developed by Alloy).
What does all of this mean? In all honesty, not a whole lot when it comes to reading books and getting them into the hands of the readers who will love them. But I find the growth in packagers/development companies recently to be fascinating, particularly because two of them are headed by authors who’ve had success and made connections within the industry. It’s clear they’re looking at this from a business perspective and proceeding with that in mind. I’m interested in seeing what comes of Cake, too, particularly as their goal is to develop more diverse titles and have them published — and I’m curious, too, whether the backing of a literary development company such as theirs really adds more diverse titles to the YA field. What is it they’d be able to make happen that, say, other authors who’ve been writing these stories are not as successful at achieving?
There’s a lot more complexity to packagers and the non-reader end of the industry I’ve not even touched on (such as pay and exploitation of rights) that interest me, too. And why now? What’s the field of middle grade, YA, and “new adult” offering at this moment that’s brought these development companies out and what will keep them going? How many authors who get their starts here will continue with them through their careers and how many will go on to publish independently — and how different will their works read and feel?
It’s an endlessly fascinating series of questions that don’t have answers to them yet and that might not ever have answers.
Have you read any books from the packagers or literary development companies? Does knowing their origins change the story for you as a reader? Does it change how you approach selling the book to other readers, especially teenagers? I’d love to know your thoughts!