I don't want to add to the breast-beating and blaming going on in the Viswanathan-a-thon. I think we all have our own opinions on the incident - deliberate plagiarism, privileged-girl stupidity, "perfect minority" myth teen manipulated by adults, etc. - Truly, we'll never know what really happened. There's a detail in all of this that is interesting to me, however. I want to explore the idea of "packagers" in YA lit, what they do, and why they exist.
As I'm going through the process of getting published by a major imprint, I find that there are a lot of things behind the scenes that I didn't realize existed. There is a huge machinery of movie tie-ins, product tie-ins, and marketing that stands ready to swoop on anything in your book that looks like it'll help it sell. Publishers are in the business of making money, and they're good at it; so good they're kind of scary. (I honestly do not trust that they have my best interests at heart. This is business.) Some of the editing comments I received early on have to do not so much with the book or strolling, but how it will be perceived, and ideas on how to market it.
The American Book Producers Association explains that book packagers are responsible for some of the best "high profile" book projects and that they exist to make sure that "complicated" projects can go forward. Complicated, in that these books often are compilations among authors and researchers, involve non-print materials (apparently the publishing company has nothing to do with the coffee cup, canvas tote and CD that comes with your new novel) and labor are intensive to the point of involving more hours and work than may be worthwhile to the publishing house. Often packagers are brought in to flesh out in-house projects.
Alloy Entertainment, the self-professed "most successful marketers and merchandisers to the youth market" already had a checkered past before it met with Viswanathan. According to the New York Observer, Jodi Anderson, a member of the editorial staff at Alloy had an idea for a novel. She put together a book proposal, and pitched it to her fellow editors. It was well received and it was group-thinked - but then sent out to writers other than the editor, and when all was said and done, there was a novel - and the originator of the idea had her name appearing in the "special thanks" page of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann Brashares was co-editor at that time. Jodi Anderson's departure for her own novel and work in other companies is understandable.
How much is any writer willing to pay for "success?" (What is that, exactly?)
I want my novel to sell. I want it to be read. I want to make enough money to live on, at some point, or else to support my small family. I guess the question comes down to how much of your artistic input you're willing to give up to editors, agents, book packagers and others. Do you want action figures, coffee mugs, tank tops, stickers, and tote bags along with that movie contract? Do you want your readers to be "merchandised" with more stuff? Are you willing to do what it takes to be Harry Potter-huge? Does it any longer have anything to do with how good your story is??
It's certainly something to think about before the contract gets put on the table in front of you.