Our Brains Naturally Frame Events As Stories

"Stories are efficient summaries of reality, but that isn't all they are. Stories have an arc, they put constraints on the future - when you've heard the first half there are some things which are more likely in the second, and some less. I'm sure our minds use stories because they describe the way the world is AND because they say something about how the world could or will be."

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Stafford, psychologist at the University of Sheffield and author of The Narrative Escape.  See the rest of our conversation about our brains' narrative habit at the 40k blog.

Sally Feels Your Pain. Harry Just Points and Laughs.

You could say that fiction is about pain. When you boil them down, stories describe characters taking hits and trying to emerge as unscathed as possible. Neighborhood under attack by zombies? Run hard and hope you have some painkillers on hand if they catch you. Or what if it’s actually a friendly, attractive zombie who loves you? In that case, it’s all good -- until you realize that mortals and undead can never be together. Oh the agonies of unfulfilled love!

Read the rest of my guest post on pain, empathy, and fiction at Nathan Bransford's blog.   Older blog followers will recognize one of the studies. I also describe a new study about some interesting gender differences in empathy (Hint: see title).

Book Packagers 101

Congrats to Catherine Stine, winner of the Vordak ARC!

 I recently attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference, where I had the pleasure of meeting author Emma Carlson Berne. Berne is the author of over thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. Some are written under her own name (check out her recent YA romantic comedy Hard to Get), while others were ghostwritten for book packagers under a pen name. Since we rarely hear about working with book packagers in the blogosphere, I thought I’d share my notes from her very informative session.

What is a book packager? 

A book packager acts as a layer between the writer and the publisher. Usually they come up with a concept and recruit writers on a work-for-hire basis. The popular series Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girl were produced by book packager Alloy entertainment , and many nonfiction/educational book series for children are put together by book packagers as well.

How does the writing process work?

For fiction, the packager provides character sketches (sometimes with pictures) and a detailed plot outline. In nonfiction, the packager provides specification about style, content, and any limitations on sources to use. The writer is responsible for conducting the research.

What are the advantages to working with a book packager?

1.  If you’re hired on a work-for-hire basis, you’re paid a set fee. The amount of money you make is not dependent on whether a publisher buys your book or how well it sells.
2.  You're generally not called on to do any publicity or marketing for the books.  Your job is done after you write the book.
3.  Brene also found ghostwriting to be a good learning experience, comparing it to a paid apprenticeship in novel writing.

What are the disadvantages?

1. If you’re hired on a work-for-hire basis, the packager owns all rights, including rights to notes and drafts.
2. There are often strict noncompete clauses, so you can’t write anything else that is considered competition for the book.
3. After you finish te book, you have no control over what happens next. If the publisher doesn’t like what you wrote, they can hire someone else to rewrite it without consulting you. You can’t be too emotionally tied to your work.
4. Writing for a set fee can either work for or against you. If your book does really well, you won’t make any more money. On the other hand, if you’re writing a book that’s not particularly likely to become a runaway bestseller (say, a biography of a historic figure), that maynot matter.

How do you get a postion writing for a book packager?
Berne got her first job wirting nonfiction for a book packager through a personal referral from another writer. Since then, she’s also gotten a lot of work simply by cold calling book packagers to see if they’re hiring. When she cold called Alloy entertainment, hey looked at her resume, asked her to write a sample chapter, and hired her based on the writing sample. Now that she’s more established, editors sometimes contact her for jobs.

Is there a directory of book packagers?
Check out the American Book Producers Association at www.abpaonline.org for a list of members and contact information.