As a subscriber who is usually impressed with INC's sharp reporting, I was surprised to find so many seemingly gratuitous and just plain wrong statements in "Bookmakers" (Spotlight, May).
Book packagers have been around since just after World Wr II, and they produce some very fine, award-winning books. They don't just produce what you describe as "inexpensively printable ideas . . . sopped up by the millions . . . pot-boilers, fad-oriented how-to instructions, fact-stretching biographies, and the like." And from a list of book packagers I keep for the American Book Producers Association, I can assure you that there are nearly 200 companies, most of them on the East Coast, not the "perhaps 50 practitioners" your writer guesses. The claim that Cloverdale Press produces 75% of today's packaging deals is absurd.
Most packagers do not just try to sell an idea, as you suggest. Detailed research and analyses of competing books go into a proposal before it is presented to a publisher, and lengthy samples of content accompany a well-prepared proposal. In short, no all packaged books are schlock, and your readers ought to know it.
The author replies: True, book packaging has long been a distinguished arm of publishing. But my article is about business sagacity, not literary merit. Cloverdale titles continually dominate the B. Dalton juvenile best-seller list -- an awesome fiscal, if not aesthetic, fact that is unequaled (although possibly envied) by other packagers. Cloverdale has scored heavily by obscuring taste with profit. Maybe there are 150 packagers who don't, but my article explicitly focuses on that fast-buck end: "Tracing an openly commercial path . . . the company caters to what the trade terms the mass market . . . a recent and acutely dollar-conscious branch of the business." In that light, it is far from absurd to state that Cloverdale is striking the majority of package deals. Indeed, since each contract can call for a dozen titles, it accounts for an even higher percentage of dollar volume. "Schlock," perhaps, but more than $4 million in 1984 sales makes choice reading by the Weisses, whose motto sums up the point: "We're not in publishing, we're in business."
Robert A. Mamis