Working with Packagers/IP Projects
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Tara Kennedy: This is Tara Kennedy from the WriteOnCon team. I’m thrilled to chat today with book author Anna Meriano about writing for hire and IP work.
Anna Meriano: Hi.
Tara: So for those not in the know what is book packaging or writing for hire?
Anna: So working with a packaging company or writing for hire is basically just any time that somebody approaches an author and says hey we have an idea would you like to write it? And you know sometimes depending on who the person is it might be actually a publishing house themselves who comes up with the idea in which case it’s like called IP because it’s an Internal Project. I just found out that acronym yesterday just in time for this interview. And so they they kind of come they go seeking out authors and saying like hey we have an idea and we will publish it. So you kind of have that built in our relationship with the publishers. Or it can be a book packaging company like the people I work with Cake Literary who kind of exists as a separate entity where they’re just coming up with the ideas partnering with the writers and then they have an agent and they go out and sell the pieces once the projects once they’re finished.
Tara: And then I think there’s some IP work that’s also existing properties and that you’re writing in that world?
Anna: Oh yes, definitely. For like the Marvel and the Disney YA adaptations that have been coming out recently. Yeah. Certainly there’s like series that have different, yeah. Yes. Those also exist.
Tara: Okay and then I know you said you’re working with cake literary for yours and they’re I think among other things officially a book packager.
Tara: Okay, so, talk about what that is.
Anna: Yeah so book packages are companies that like I said, they kind of generate ideas for novels that they think will be it’s something that they want to see most for most places that means something that they think will be a good seller. For Cake, they’re also interested in getting more diverse especially fantasy but diverse stories in general out on the shelves. And kind of like you know putting more of that into the world. So they’re coming up with ideas that they would like to see and then finding the writers who can’t write that authentically. So they have sort of a dual outlook but there’s other companies that don’t have that and they’re mostly just kind of interested in generating what they think will be a good idea, or an exciting idea, or an idea that will sell.
And once they have the idea then they kind of either put out a call or approach agents or sometimes they just have applications in general for writers. To say like hey I’m interested in writing for you. And they’ll try to match a writer with the project that they think they can write well.
Tara: And so I know you’ve touched on this a little bit already but for your case what was the publishing process to start writing your stories with cake?
Anna: So it was all very kind of a lucky way that I met them. Which was they the two women who founded Cake Literary Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra were alumni of my grad school program. And there was kind of an event where they came back to the school and they were talking along with some other alumni. And I was bad at mingling. So I actually wasn’t talking to them afterwards but my friends were. and either, I’m not sure who exactly, but either Dhonielle or Sona mentioned like that they were looking for a they had a project in mind for a Mexican American family with a bakery in Texas. And my friends were like hey we have a Texan Mexican American writer over there. And they came and dragged me over. And I was able to kind of say, “Hi like what is this project? Tell me more about it. And then set up a meeting with Dhonielle and Sona.
And so they basically I sat down with them and they told me their, what they were imagining for this book. They had basically like, a skeleton of an outline. But they didn’t…first they just sort of told me the general concept the book is Love, Sugar, Magic A Dash of Trouble. It’s actually now going to be a series but at the time we weren’t 100% sure that that was gonna be the case. So they were telling me sort of what they saw for the first book which was kind of like practical magic but for middle grade. And set in Texas. And I was very excited by that idea because it was an 11-year-old girl discovering magic powers. A lot of things that I’m interested in writing about anyway. And when we talked they were very open to like hearing what I thought about these the kind of issues that would come up.
They mentioned that maybe they weren’t sure it would make sense for Leo to not speak Spanish. And I said oh absolutely. Because if she’s the youngest sister it’s very easy for her older sisters to know you know to have been closer with her grandma and then she didn’t get it she didn’t get to spend as much time with her grandma. So she doesn’t have as much Spanish. Like that’s I know that happens lots of times. And I can write that feeling because I you know had to learn Spanish myself growing up because I didn’t like, get it fluently. So I have a lot of feelings about that particular experience. Or they were telling about, you know, different things. Like the some of the family magic things where they were saying oh we were imagining that you know girls are supposed to find out about their magic when they turn 13. And I was like, that’s cool but what about 15. And we kind of you know, because of the quinceanera. And the it’s an important age.
And so like they were very, even from the first conversation, they were very open to listening to me and to my ideas and how I wanted to kind of make the story my own which I think gave me a feeling of safety to go into this project. Because I think a lot of people do have legitimate concerns or fears about writing something that they don’t think of as their story. Or it’s not, you know, I didn’t come up with the idea. I think it’s really interesting too because it’s more from what I understand. okay I don’t actually know much about Hollywood. But from what I understand it’s more common in Hollywood to kind of somebody comes up an idea and then they find the writer to write it. And I think it’s like everyone expects it to happen. Where in books we’re still kind of like, you want me to do what? I don’t know about that. But what I what I found at least was that ideas are almost like the least important part of the process. That sounds a little bit mean, because obviously, we all love having shiny new ideas. But I think at the end of the day like the work that you put into it and the the writing that you do and the sitting down and fleshing out the characters when it’s not a fun sparkly new idea anymore is probably the the more important part of the writing and that’s what you do when you’re the write for hire person. So it really does end up becoming your story. As long as you’re working with good people who are you know, not trying to stifle you.
Tara: Was middle grade something you were already interested in writing?
Anna: Yeah, definitely. I had done more why a mostly because I was a little young and so I’d been mostly reading YA. I just never stopped. But also because in college I was kind of having to fight even to write YA. People were saying like, you know, why aren’t you writing about grownups and serious topics? And I was sort of fighting to keep that. So I had done more YA recently, but even then for my like College thesis, I did a middle-grade story about like an 11 year old and his best friend and they think that there was a dragon in his attic that’s actually a furnace that explodes. But you know.
Tara: Wow. That sounds so great.
Anna: I wish it was I was in college so it wasn’t it wasn’t as great as it could have been.
Tara: Yeah you could make it. There’s still time. You can.
Anna: And I really like, middle grade is such a nice, it’s such a nice thing to write. Because it’s like you keep your you keep your head in a certain place that’s like more fun to be. I don’t know. I really like, there’s some really great especially TV shows. I mean there’s obviously really great middle-grade out in the world. But I feel like there’s some really great TV shows recently that I’ve found that have been like you know these are cartoons for children and yet look what they’re doing. Look at the emotions that they’re exploring. Look at what they’re I’m in the middle of She-Ra right now. And then also Steven Universe is like, how are you doing this all and keeping your like joy. And your your cute jokes about bubbles while dealing with like the traumas of war and but yeah it’s great. I think middle grade is a fun place to be because you can deal with these tough topics but keep the hope and the wonder in the world.
Tara: So it seems like there’s been a resurgence in IP projects? Or I don’t know if resurgence is the right word, but there seem to be quite a lot of them right now.
Anna: Yeah, yeah I kind of noticed that too. And I think it’s interesting and there’s different like definitely people have different opinions on whether it’s a good direction for the whole industry to be heading. Or whether it’s like you know, oh no we’re gonna become too much like, too much like Hollywood. Again, I don’t know anything about Hollywood. So I don’t know why I’m like using that as my example. But I think it’s I think it makes sense as far as you know publishing houses that want, that know what they want. They have a feeling that like, you know it would be a great book to have? This book. If only someone would write this book. And it kind of makes sense. Rather than from a writer perspective to rather than what we basically the more traditional route is throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Which is why you get people who would have shelved you know seven novels or drawer seven novels until they finally find the one that that connects with people. And by people I mean like publishers and gatekeepers and that sort of thing.
So it kind of makes sense to make sure that somebody wants what you are writing before you write it. And then from the from the packaging company side, it makes sense that you know you can have a lot of industry expertise. You can know what needs to be out there and what you wish was out there more. But still not be the right person to write it. I think we’re seeing that with Rick Riordan a lot. Where he has become, it’s not quite a packaging company. It’s not quite IP as I understand it. I’m not a hundred percent sure. I’ve only spoken with one author who worked with Rick Riordan. But I’m pretty sure that she said she wrote it was not a they didn’t give her an outline. They didn’t give her a concept. But it’s a similar idea in that you’re sort of getting people who know the landscape and the industry to kind of like cosign. Like, yes. This one will be good. This one is good.
But, you know. Sometimes it’s just, it’s nice to have that support and that help of somebody who knows a little more about how. Cause it’s such a scary process as a new writer just to be trying to understand your way into the industry while also having this kind of like little book creature that you’ve created. And you feel so you know you put your heart and soul out there on the line and it’s it’s a really stressful process. And I think there is a benefit to saying you know, to having someone sit down and say, hey here is a thing. We will work on it together. This is our collaborative activity. Nobody is rejecting your heart and soul. We are just working together on a project. It just takes a lot of a lot of the pressure and stress off of an already really stressful pressure filled experience.
Tara: Well that leads nicely into my next question which is that, given that it is a really collaborative process. Do you think it is somewhat more collaborative than the more traditional process?
Anna: Interesting. I think—
Tara: Or is some of it you would have to you know you’d still have to submit edits even if you can.
Anna: Yeah. I think it’s almost like it makes the collaborative myth. The collaborative nature of writing more transparent. Because, yeah, I think all books that end up on the shelves are a collaborative effort. But I think even where I was before I started working with Cake. Like I thought I knew the industry. I was doing my MFA. I was like ready to you know thinking that I wanted to publish. That was my goal. I still think I didn’t quite understand how collaborative it was. And how much you know the right editor could change and shape your book and make it just a better piece of work than you could make it on your own. And I think so packaging companies or like IP projects in general kind of make that more obvious. And they definitely put, for me at least, because if you’re working directly with the publishing house then it might be different. But for me at least it put more cooks in the kitchen.
So you can kind of like I can put up when I do school visits I like to put up a slide that’s just the pictures of all the different people you know the people from Cake who were working with me, the agent who’s working with me, the editors. To kind of say, like, look at all these people who touch the book and made the book great. And of course there’s a lot of invisible people on that slide people who I just don’t know them because if there’s a lot of employees that HarperCollins and I don’t know all of them and I can’t find pictures of all of them online. So you know, there’s a lot of invisible people as well who did lots of great work. But like, even just the ones I know well and the ones I’ve met I can put them up on a slide and you can see like well there’s like 15 people up there. So yeah I think it makes it more, more open to the world to realize like hey this is the collaborative process. Hey it’s not just one author sitting alone on a mountaintop being struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration which it hardly ever is. But it makes it easier to see.
Tara: I read that um the recipes in your book came from elsewhere. Can you talk a little bit about what that collaboration was like?
Anna: Yeah well so really I just I’m not a baker. At all. Which is I always, I find it hilarious because everyone is just like, oh so like you know, does your family own a bakery? Are you making these recipes? Like, what’s your favorite thing to bake? And I’m getting honestly because of all the research I’ve done I’ve done I’m getting more into it. I just made my first like meringue which was a big deal for me. And I’m you know, trying out some new stuff. But like you know,it’s like my friend who wrote, my friend Laura Silverman, who wrote Girl Out of Water. Which is about a surfer who becomes a skateboarder. And she does not surf. And she does not skateboard. Sometimes writers just do a lot of research. And for me luckily my research was to eat a lot of baked goods from bakeries. So that was some really fun research.
Tara: Sounds like great research.
Anna: Excellent. Like, I yes and Houston has really good you know we’ve got a great food scene. We’ve got great bakeries. Both like panados de pando da rias. And also like I’ve got a Taiwanese bakery really near where I tutor now so I’m always like eating the red bean buns and all that stuff. But anyway not to just wax poetic about the bakeries. But that’s not what the question was. So the recipes…
Tara: Bakery data is always good data.
Anna: So the recipes actually came from mostly from Dohnelle because she does a little bit more baking than I do. And so she tested them all out and like made sure that they were viable. And I think wrote them all out too. I think I hope I’m not like erasing somebody’s work but I’m pretty sure Dohnelle. As far as I know Dohielle wrote them. And so the only ones that I wrote were the ones in Spanish in the text of the book. And they are not tested. So unfortunately, don’t use those. Although you could try it and see what happens. But yeah the ones in the back in English are the ones that have been tried and tested and we feel confident in them. The ones that has magical ingredients like eyelashes have not been tested.
Tara: Do you think there are things that authors who are looking to get into sort of packaging or IP work need to be a little cautious about before they dive into the product?
Anna: Definitely. So I think just going in with your eyes open about what it means. You know, you don’t, if you go this route you don’t have like the copyright on the material. You have to really think about like what the contract is. And I know the contracts can be wildly different. It can be from like the whole project you just get a flat fee and you just agree on that whatever you’re getting paid is what you get paid. And then you release the book out into the world and it doesn’t matter how much it sells ever. You’ve already gotten your payment. Or you can have things where it’s a little bit of more negotiation about like, oh, you get a certain percentage of the royalties. Or you got a certain percentage of certain rights.
And so if you hopefully it would be great if you have an agent that you can you know talk to you but a lot of I think a lot of people who work with packages don’t always come in with agents. So maybe talking to people who have done work like that before. You can usually talk to former clients. And talk to them about what they think is important. If somebody’s not gonna put you in touch with their former clients that doesn’t seem like a great plan. And then also making sure you talk before you sign anything. Before you, you know get your heart set on a project. Really think about talk about what the project is. What you see it as. What the whoever is hiring you sees it as. And make sure that those expectations match up. It’s kind of like the way you have to do anything. If you want to, you know, if an agent offers you representation but you talk to them and you’re feeling like they want to move it in a different direction.
That’s you know, something you need to be aware of and you might get yourself into trouble if you say like yeah this is great And then find yourself fighting their edits all the time. Same thing with an editor who you know wants to buy the book but wants you to completely rewrite the the climax of the book. And you know, we kind of know that those are red flags. Or those are things we should maybe turn down. So it’s I think it’s a similar not cut and dry but it’s a similar process about you know talking to the talking about the project. Seeing if it’s something that you feel like you have you can get into that world of the story and make it personal to you. And knowing in advance how constrained you are. Because like you said there are some places where you’re working within an existing universe.
There are some places where you’re writing with characters that are already very beloved. Yeah I keep seeing the like all the Disney adaptations. The YA Disneys. And I’m like, that would be so scary to write. Those people are amazing. But yeah and then so I didn’t have to deal with that as much again because it was a very new not only a new project but it was also kind of a new company. Cake is still pretty small. I was one of the first authors that signed with them that wasn’t the two founders. I think it was the first actually but Gauntlet came out first.
Anyway, so you know talking about that sort of thing before you sign on to the project is important so you can know what you’re getting into. If it’s, “Yeah we have a specific thing.” And you know sometimes people will have you write auditions. Which is another great way to test out how good of a fit you are. And also how well you can you know, when you give your audition in and if they say like, Oh like yeah your writings fine and we’ll hire you in all but make sure you don’t do this because that’s not allowed. You know that’ll give you a sense. I’m being very vague here because I can’t think of good examples. But hopefully you can get a sense as you kind of start walking into the project how you feel about it. Yeah.
Tara: And then what was the research like? I know you said you know obviously you jumped into this project for because it they were looking for you know a texas-based mexican-american. So those were things that you already were, but I meant in addition to the baking research were there other things that you had to take a look at?
Anna: Yeah definitely. So one of the things that it you know I maybe wouldn’t have done on my own was setting it in a small town. So my experience growing up in Texas has always been in Houston. And when they were like small-town Texas. I was like okay, okay, I’m mostly gonna write it like Houston and I’ll just make it smaller. Which I have gotten some interesting comments where people will say like this is not a Texas that I expected to see. And I’m like well it’s the Texas that I know.
So you know, in terms of well and some of it is kind of silly you know people just have weird stereotypes about Texas. In that they were like where were the tumbleweeds. Or why are there people of color here? I’m like we exist in Texas. It’s not unusual. Houston is the number one most diverse city in the country. You know I do think it’s it took me some time to kind of realize that I wasn’t I wasn’t just miniaturizing Houston. Because I think that’s where I sort of started. And luckily I have you know friends who did grow up in smaller towns all over the country. In Texas and elsewhere. I did have to check a couple of things like very odd things. I would message my friends with questions. Okay so is like giving food out to homeless people a thing in smaller towns? And they’d be like, no homeless people aren’t a thing in smaller towns. Really? Yeah, apparently not because you know everyone. So you can just like go home to your aunt. Okay I might be super misrepresenting. But that’s what I was told.
So like I had to change some lines about things. And yeah. And then also I do have family that lives in smaller towns throughout Texas so like I have visited them and that sort of thing. But that was still like I felt like I was doing research there. I also did some research for the Day of the Dead festival that they have at Rose Inn in Rose Hill Texas. Which is a fictional town. Although it is actually the name of some unincorporated territory in Texas. So I grew up learning about Day of the Dead. We didn’t like specifically celebrate it in my family but it was the kind of thing that like you know schools would have a special day. Or we’d do a worksheet. Or you know like, we’d watch a little movie. But I don’t think I felt like exactly the I didn’t feel like it was as big of a deal as we were making it in the book. I also feel like it’s kind of gained popularity both in Mexico and in the U.S. more recently. So I think that was part of it as well.
But so since my family didn’t have a lot of like our own personal traditions. I really wanted to look at like so how would how would a town celebrate this holiday. So I went to a couple of events in Houston that were like you know cultural events to try and get people excited. And then I also got to go down to Mexico City which was really amazing. And see Day of the Dead celebrations both in Mexico City in like more kind of urban areas where it was like a you know a big party that they were having. And then also we went out to I mean we went out to a kind of a smaller suburb of Mexico City. I don’t wanna say like village because that’s weird. It’s like it’s right by Mexico city. It’s very touristy but it does have like you know an actual like a church surrounded by a graveyard. And people are decorating the graves. And it’s a little bit more I think traditional even though it’s traditional in a touristy way.
So both of those experiences, like, or I guess, all of those experiences I kind of was seeing like okay what is where do we where did this start and how would it change as it got to like you know many generation Mexican Americans in Texas who have been living in Texas for a long time and are really just trying to kind of like have a fun celebration for the whole community. So it is a very different what I created for Rose Hill is very different than what you would see in like you know more remote parts of Mexico. Because it’s that’s not what it is it’s it’s something that is more about celebrating a background in the heritage and the end of thing so that like you can kind of show it to everyone. And that’s I think that’s consistent with what I’ve seen in Texas. Is that mostly Day of the Dead festivals and Day of the Dead celebrations are kind of like you know a little bit more informative. And a little bit more like celebrating what we are. And less like like we’ve actually been doing the holiday as we are doing it. Yeah. I don’t know. I feel like that went on a ramble.
Tara: No I think that makes sense. And then do you feel that book packaging is pretty invisible to the reader?
Anna: Yeah. I mean, so I was oh before this started I was telling you. There are a lot of books that maybe I didn’t realize or I still don’t always know when a book is coming from a packager or is an IP project with a with a publisher. Because, well, in some cases I think just because it’s kind of like the how the sausage is made. Like nobody, people don’t really a lot of readers, especially younger readers, don’t really know that much about how books are made at all. They’re just like here’s a book. It must have appeared. I know that’s how I felt when I was younger. I didn’t know that writing was a thing that you could do. I just knew that books existed and I loved them. So I think that’s part of it.
And then I also think you know it gets kind of complicated and it gets into the business see side of things when you start saying like, oh well yes I wrote this book. And I was you know contracted by these people. But then, you know I had my agent and you get to that part where people kind of zone out. And they’re just like okay, so did you write a pretty book? Cool I want to read it. The people who are interested are the people who are already in the industry. And you know, even then it’s a little bit funky because a lot of the of the places I think have sort of rules about what you can talk about while you’re working on the project. I know I had to sign like an NDA while I was working on it. So that I didn’t you know I couldn’t share it with my usual betas necessarily. Or I couldn’t use it for my workshop classes in in my MFA because you know there’s a little bit of like okay this is our project we want to keep it inside here so that people don’t.
I don’t know, the same way that anyone feels about their ideas. We don’t want people to steal our ideas. So yeah there’s a little bit of quietness about it. I think that with Cake Literary because they’re like maybe trying to advocate for more. They’re, I know closely connected with We Need Diverse Books. And they’re trying to kind of publicize more. They might be a little louder about the fact that we are Cake authors. We are you know, a group together. I haven’t seen that as much for things like Alloy. I haven’t seen like we are Alloy authors and we are a family. I feel like Cake has that a little more because again we’re smaller and we have like a different mission as well. And then I think within the publishing houses there’s a lot of books that I just like I don’t even know how you would know. Because, you know, how it doesn’t look any different than if you wrote the book and sold it to the publisher versus if the publisher said hey write this book and we’ll buy it. So I don’t I don’t know how you would be able to tell.
I just I was reading a book recently. I was like halfway through and then happened to be speaking with the author and found out that it was packaging or that it was an IP project. I was just like Oh, fascinating. Okay cool. But it didn’t like you know change my reading experience. It was just like oh cool we are now we are we have shared that similar experience. But yeah, I don’t think it changes much in terms of like what the book is. What the book becomes when the writer gets on board. Though yeah it’s a little bit invisible.
Tara: Okay and then um what are some favorite recent reads that you have.
Anna: Well, of course I have to mention all the great Cake books that exist. The Gauntlet which is the other middle grade fantasy that they’ve done. And then they have another one coming up which I haven’t gotten to read yet but I can’t wait for it. It’s The Trouble with Shooting Stars. They have a couple other books coming out actually I can’t remember which ones are middle grade, though. And then see so I’m in the middle right now of The Resolutions by Mia Garcia which is I’m loving it so far but I’m not finished with it. And I just got to read oh my gosh, it’s not out yet. Am I allowed to say something that’s not out yet?
Anna: Okay cuz I’m gonna. The Moon Within by Aida Salazar. Its, oh my gosh I forgot the name of the book that it’s being compared to but basically it’s the it’s the nice way of saying it’s the new menstruation book. Whatever the old menstruation book was. I forget. But it’s being compared to that one. It’s the new menstruation book and I’m so excited. And it has some like like moon ceremonies. And it has a character who is not cis. And I really am excited to see that in a book about menstruation. Yeah very exciting. I also just read the that so that’s a novel in verse. The Moon Within.
And then I also just read another novel in verse that is set in Texas in the border Rio Grande Valley type area. Called, They Call me Guero by David Bowles. Which is another novel in verse. It’s really, really fun and I could read both of them recently because they were short. Not short, but fast reads. Novels in verse are amazing.
And then I’m also just started You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P. by Alex Gino. Which I’m really excited about because it seems to be a book that is exploring how white children deal with white privilege. And also possibly, yeah and also definitely, how abled children deal with that kind of privilege. So I’m really interested in where it goes. That seems like a cool book to have existing. Yeah.
Tara: And there are two books in your series out right now. What are you planning? So the second one’s actually not out yet. It comes out in a couple months. Yeah but we’re excited. You can pre-order it already. So it comes out in February. The very beginning of February of next year. But that’s in like a month. No yeah, yeah.
Tara: [The release] will be pretty close to when I think they post this. Yeah, so the first book’s out. The second book’s either out or about to come out and the third book I think I’ve been officially told that I can tell people it exists. There will be a third or there is probably going to be third. I’m writing a third book. Hopefully, maybe by the time this comes out actually I don’t know I don’t know when we’re planning to announce. But there is a third book in the works. And I think I expect that might be the end of Love Sugar Magic. But actually I’m not really sure I haven’t talked to anyone about that so maybe I shouldn’t say that. And then I have other projects that are not IP currently that I’m looking into. I have so with when I signed with Cake Literary I didn’t have an agent of my own. Since then I’ve completed my manuscript that is not what Cake. So I queried and got an agent for that manuscript. So now I am represented by Patricia Nelson. And so yeah, doing that kind of thing.
Tara: That’s exiting. Well thank you so much for chatting with us.
Anna: Thank you. Thanks for interviewing me. I hope that was helpful to people who are interested in doing some IP work someday.