FAQs (and Answers)!

1.  What is a packager?

A packager basically acts like a publisher with one added role, that of agent/project manager, and one distinction, which involves sales and distribution. As an agent, I find the publisher who will essentially put their name or imprint on the book and distribute it as they would any other book on their list.  As project manager I supervise the process of conceptualizing, designing and producing the book, and delivering finished copies to the publisher or distributor, who can also be a museum or other institution. The difference between a packager and a publisher is that while I may assist in publicity and marketing, I rely on the publisher to handle sales and distribution; their name or imprint is on the spine of the book; they apply for the copyright in the Author’s name, and are listed as publisher on the copyright page and with the Library of Congress. The work of the designer and I and any others who assist with the book such as a mapmaker or editor, is acknowledged with a credit on the colophon page and/or the copyright page.

2. What exactly is involved in packaging a book?

The steps involved in packaging a book are the same as those involved in publishing a book. They are listed briefly below.

  • The packager finds (or acquires the book, in publishing parlance), typically through a referral, gallery or museum curator, or review event;
  • Helps the photographer/artist refine the concept for the book, and determine what kind of text or other materials are needed and who might provide them;
  • Contacts potential writer(s)/contributors, mapmakers and others as needed and negotiates their fees;
  • Hires and work with the designer (who in my case is David Skolkin), and together works with the photographer in determining the specifications for the book so we can obtain competitive printing bids.  The designer then sets the schedule, obtains the printing bids, makes pre-press arrangements and works with the printer and other providers throughout the production process.
  • Once the printing costs are known, I then create a budget for the project that includes all design and editorial fees and royalties as well as printing costs;
  • Work with the photographer/artist and designer in photo/art selection and final sequencing of the book;
  • Hire and supervise copyeditors and proofreaders as necessary;
  • Present the book to potential publishers and/or distributors to arrange for them to add the book to their list and put their name on the book.
  • As a good agent would, I work closely with the publisher/distributor as long as the book is in print to monitor sales, and decipher royalty statements.  I also work with the publisher’s publicity department on promoting the book.

3. Who pays for the cost of producing the book?

In some situations it’s the publisher, in others a sponsoring gallery or institution or combination or organizations with a vested interest in promoting the artist and having the book produced—in those instances usually to accompany a show.  In other cases the money is raised through the artist’s connections or through grants.  There are a lot of possibilities and options. It is no longer uncommon for a book to be completely funded and then turned over to a publisher/distributor who will sell the book and provide payment to the photographer for each book sold, usually in the form of a flat fee per-book-sold that can be larger than a normal royalty in acknowledgement of the fact that the artist is bearing the lion’s share of the financial risk.

4. If I pay for my book to be produced, isn’t it then considered a vanity publication?

Not necessarily.  As the cost of producing art books has skyrocketed, even traditional publishers, especially smaller ones that specialize in print runs of 1500-2500 copies, need financial assistance to provide the services that they do.  This assistance can come in many forms, as noted above.  The crucial distinction between a vanity publication and a book that has been fully funded by someone other than the publisher is that the book still has been carefully evaluated by the publisher and his colleagues, and found to be a worthwhile addition to their list. In other words there is a selection process, the publisher has chosen to publish it from the vast array of books presented to it, choosing some and rejecting others.

5. What does it cost to produce a book?

The cost is determined by a combination of the factors noted above, including but not limited to design and editorial fees, project management fees, and printing costs.  Production costs are the largest expense. The cost of producing a book can vary widely based on a number of factors including paper stock, binding (hardcover or soft, for example), number of images and whether or not they are all four-color, and print run. That’s why we create the budget after we have determined the specifications and gotten printer estimates. Sometimes in a distribution-only deal there is a fee for the set-up.

6. Why would I use a packager instead of just going directly to a publisher?

Many people do not enjoy, or have the time or connections to find the right publisher for their book. Working with a packager gives you the best of both worlds: it will save you the trouble of finding a publisher, and will also allow you to have much more involvement in the production process of your book. While most publishers try very hard to include the artist in the design and the production process of their book, contractually they have the last word.  Working with a packager is like having your own personal atelier and support team.  Ideally you can also develop this relationship with your publisher, so sometimes it’s simply a preference for working with a particular group of people.  Publishing a book is a very labor intensive, even intimate process, and it’s a lot more fun when you feel comfortable with your colleagues.

7. Why would a publisher work with a packager?

It’s a question of time and money. In this era of shrinking budgets and staff, publishers’ production departments and in-house designers often do not have the time to pay the kind of specialized attention necessary to an art book, especially one with a show schedule involved. The publisher loses sales and money if the book is late, and also loses money if the book takes staff time away from other projects. The packager is often able to be more nimble, and can deliver a gorgeous book at equal to or less than the unit cost the publisher would pay––and on time, creating a win-win situation for all concerned.

8. How do you choose the projects you work on?

That’s the easy part: I choose projects that I really like and believe in, and for which I feel I can find the right publishing partner. In some cases it has taken me several years to find the right situation for my clients, but I don’t give up easily! The process of publishing a book is a little bit like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, or falling in love: you have to have the right constellation of factors at the right time, as well as a lot of patience and an appetite for discovery.

Please note: I welcome your questions and comments, but time may not always permit me to respond to them individually.  The ones that seem to be especially helpful for many I will either add to this page or address on my blog.