The increasingly popular Warrior series, based in the
forests of North America where four clans of feral cats fight to survive, launched in
2003 with Into The Wild. Four years later there are now 13 books in the
series with more in the works. This begs the
question, who is Erin Hunter, and how does she get to be so prolific? The
answer is a little complicated. According to the series website in 2006,
Erin Hunter was the pseudonym for two authors who take it in turns to write the
books. Revisit the website this year and it turns out that Erin Hunter is
now three people! When I asked someone at the publishing company where the
third author had appeared from I was told that the new author had always been a
key member of the team, responsible for keeping track of the plot lines, but had
come to the fore recently because she was the most comfortable doing author
Dig a little deeper and you'll find that there's even more people behind the Warrior series because, like many successful children's series, the Warriors series is created by a "book packager". Book packagers, also known as book producers, are behind many of the "complex" books you'll see in bookstores, such as coffee table books, pop-up books, heavily illustrated books and how to books - in other words pretty much any book that requires a team of people to create the initial concept.
Sometimes publishers hire a packager to develop a book they've originated, sometimes book packagers pitch their own ideas to publishers. Increasingly, book packagers are behind many of the most successful children/teen series. One of the largest book packagers is Alloy Entertainment who describe themselves as "a creative think tank that develops and produces original books, television series and feature films". Alloy are behind any number of bestsellers such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. They're also responsible for a few projects they'd rather forget such as How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, which was withdrawn from market last year following allegations of plagiarism (Boston Globe article).
How can you tell if a book has been "packaged"? One way can sometimes be to look at the copyright notice. For example, the copyright in the Warriors series belongs to Working Partners Ltd.
Should you be concerned that a particular series is the product of a book packager? On the whole, probably not. Firstly, because one could argue that a good book is a good book however it was created; and secondly, the chances are that some of your best loved childhood books were "packaged" and you haven't suffered any lasting trauma as a result!
Although the term wasn't used then, Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1932) was arguably the first book packager when he formed Stratemeyer Syndicates to create books from his ideas. From this root came classic series such as The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Stratemeyer hired ghostwriters who worked from his outlines, paying them a flat fee and publishing under several pseudonyms. He established a policy, still used in many projects today, that the writers were given no credit in the books and were not allowed to speak about the books they'd written - thus maintaining the illusion that each series was written by a single author.
Having said that, publishing a book under the authorship of a person who did not originate the idea will feel wrong to many reading this, which is no doubt why the book packaging industry does not go out of its way to publicize itself. When one buys a book with an author's name on the front one tends to assume that the author created the original manuscript that became the book, even while recognizing that a team of people (agent, editor, proofreader, printer etc) were involved in the transformation from manuscript to finished product. However, in the case of a packaged book/series, it is more likely that the original concept developed in a meeting room of marketing types and researchers who, having ascertained a particular market niche to target, seek out a suitable author/team of authors.
When we watch a movie we expect to see an exhaustive list of credits at the end. Recognizing that no book is the work of a single individual, perhaps it is time that the publishing industry started publishing a list of credits for each book produced that acknowledges not just the role of the author, but also editor, publisher etc - irrespective of whether the book was created in the traditional sense or packaged!
This review was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the July 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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