Modern-Day Publishing from the Writer's Perspective
and Why Syndicates Serve the Writer Better
The modern-day publishing industry is one that many believe has seen its heyday. The rise of e- and audio- books, the advent of new and shorter electronic storytelling mediums (movies, TV shows, Instagram, TikTok), and a simultaneous decline in book readership has led to fewer books being published and huge financial stress on publishing houses all around.
Unfortunately for us, this has had a flow-on effect to writers. To be clear I’m focusing mainly on writers of long form fiction in this post. Entry for a debut writer into book publishing (an already notoriously difficult market to break into) has been squeezed down to a tiny keyhole which is temperamental and risk averse (it likes potential manuscripts to come with a large social media following and good connections). And yet, if a writer spends countless hours networking and posting skits online to garner a following (instead of writing their books) and then eventually gets a publishing deal, there is still absolutely no guarantee that their social media gyrations will translate into book sales anyway!
So, what is an author to do?
Well, there are alternatives to getting your book published with one of the establishment publishing houses. First, there is self-publishing which has the wonderful benefits of no gatekeepers and full creative control over your books. However, the downside is that the author needs do source and pay for or do all the editing, design, promotion and sales for their manuscript alone, which is expensive and time consuming and often leads to an unpolished book that cannot compete with the products of big publishing houses.
This may seem like a terrible indictment of the publishing industry, and some might ask why they should bother trying to publish a book at all. But fear not, for there is another alternative. This method of publishing has been used to circumnavigate publishing houses for centuries and serves the writer rather than the house, or the literary agent. It deals in contracted payments for manuscripts rather than unreliable royalties and success with one book leads to loyalty and more opportunities for the writer to write.
This route is to write as a member of a Writers Syndicate.
Now I’ve talked about these Syndicates here before, but in this article, I’ll be looking at syndicates from the writer’s perspective and the benefits they offer the writer over traditional publishing.
The Traditional Publishing Cycle
First, let’s outline the long, laborious, and somewhat disheartening process of getting a book published with a traditional publishing house that all authors must go through unless they’re Lee Child or Stephen King (who undergo a different business-ified version of the book production cycle).
1) A Writer spends years writing and re-writing a Book
Writing the first draft of a book can take a person anywhere between six months to a year, and if you’re a first-time writer it can be much longer. Then getting a manuscript ready to query can take longer still. Most authors go through three to five drafts, which can take years to complete, before moving to the next step: submitting.
2) The Writer submits the manuscript to Literary Agents and Publishing Houses
First time writers usually need a literary agent to be properly considered by a publishing house, although a few houses take open submissions from authors. This means that an author should submit their manuscript to agents and publishing houses (which all generally require different formatting and documentation, and you must obey their submission requirements). Once again, depending on the manuscript and current market demands it can take years before a manuscript is accepted. For some writers, their manuscript is never chosen, and this is where their book journey ends.
3) After a (usually) very long time the Writer’s manuscript is accepted by a Literary Agent
The Writer is one step closer to publishing their book! At this point, the agent sometimes refines the manuscript to make it more marketable, and then continues to pitch it to publishing houses.
4) The Agent pitches the manuscript to a publishing house who then buys the publishing rights to it OR the manuscript goes to auction and the highest bid from a publishing house wins the contract
If an author gets to this point, they should feel very accomplished and proud of themselves. Only 1 % of books submitted to publishing houses ever make it into a bookshop, and if the author has lasted this long in the process, they have shown huge tenacity in an incredibly difficult market. For reference, JK Rowling queried her the first Harry Potter book for two years after she finished writing it, and it was rejected by twelve publishing houses before it was finally picked up by Bloomsbury Publishing in 1997.
5) The winning bid includes the ‘author’s advance’ which can range from a couple of hundred dollars to low 5 figures depending on the quality of the manuscript, the writer’s existing platform and the size of the publishing house
This is where that sneaky online presence comes in. If a publishing house sees an author has a following online, they can translate that following into higher sales and potentially offer the author a higher advance (however there are lots of potentiallys and maybes in this step). First time authors can be offered anywhere between $500 and $5000 for their book advance.
6) The Writer signs a contract to receive royalty payments for their book after the publishing house has earned back the author’s advance in book sales
The royalty payment to the author is usually 10-15% per item sold which translates to $2 per $20 book sold.
7) Publishers have a pipeline of book projects and yours will have to wait its turn. It will then undergo up to a year of revisions and edits, book design, marketing, and sales at the publishing house
The author is usually assigned to an editor, and they will work together to create the most marketable, clean book they can, taking up to 6 months to reach the final manuscript. The author has very little creative control when it comes to designing their book, leaving the publishing house to analyse market trends and choose the best look for the story so that it can sell.
8) The book is printed and shipped to stores; Bookshops then promote it or simply stock the book on the new release table
This step can be where the book process ends for some writers. Their book has made it onto shelves and they’re a published author! Although if the publishing house has invested a lot of money in the book’s creation, they may spend more money and time promoting it with promotional tours and advertising.
9) The book generally has One  month at the front of the bookshop to garner any attention and success before being relocated to the shelves or returned to the publisher if it doesn’t sell well
That’s it. That’s how long your book will usually have to blaze onto the market and Wow readers. Doesn’t seem like long does it after this multi-year process . . .
10) Once the author’s advance is earned back to the publishing house the author begins receiving their royalty payments.
And some books never earn that advance back.
Rinse and Repeat
The Syndicate Cycle
Now let’s consider the process of writing a book in a Writers Syndicate, which looks a bit different . . .
1) A Writer is commissioned by a Syndicate to write a book based on a given outline OR a member of the Writers Syndicate approaches the Syndicate with a pitch for a new book in line with the Syndicate’s genre/style/ideology etc.
As we have discussed, Syndicates work by employing ghost or contract writers to publish under a brand author’s name or a brand pseudonym. When a writer is commissioned to write for the Syndicate, they are provided with an outline for a book that may be part of a series. It might include plot points, recognisable characters and directions for a certain style of writing.
2) The Writer signs a contract to sell their intellectual property and publishing rights to the work they produce to the Syndicate for a one-off fee upon its completion (usually several thousand dollars, up to low 5 figures), or they are paid an amount per instalment they submit, for example a chapter per week.
The total amount the writer receives is usually more than an author would receive in an author’s advance to balance out the potential earning in royalties that they would be ‘missing out on’. (Although given the potential for further contracts and thus ongoing payment for manuscripts with the syndicate this shouldn’t be an issue for syndicate writers). This one-off fee is more reliable as it doesn’t have any hold over the author after the book’s publication (as an author’s advance would) and its size provides financial security for the writer.
3) The Writer completes the book within the given timeframe or takes as long as they need
Since the writer doesn’t have to worry about pitching or creating an online platform, they can focus on just writing. Syndicate contracts can be finished on any timeline from three to twelve months depending on the complexity of the book and the writer’s personal skill.
4) Once the book is finished, The Syndicate takes responsibility for the book’s publication and earns royalties for it after the fact
The Syndicate will deal with publishing houses to publish the book with him they may have stronger bargaining power or the Syndicate may publish it directly. Either way the responsibility for editing, designing, marketing, and promoting the book is taken by the Syndicate, leaving the author to take on another contract and continue writing.
5) The Writer is commissioned to write another book and continues to earn consistent, good money for their writing
And voila! There you have it. One added bonus: a writer may be schooled by a Syndicate to the point where they can venture on their own, or an established writer may join a Syndicate to boost their capability and allow them to focus on writing.
On the 4th of November I will be releasing my novel , Writ Large, about a Writers Syndicate here on Substack. It will be serialised, one chapter a week, in two or three posts each week, for about six months. It will be followed by another novel in the same series.
There is so much potential here for us as writers, to bypass the bureaucracy of an industry more focused on profit than getting our work out to the world.
I cannot wait to share Writ Large with you.