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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XLII Syndicate Writers

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XLII Syndicate Writers

DURING the last few years, there has been established an entirely new department of journalism and of general writing, technically known as the syndicate.

More than seventy-five per cent of the special articles and stories appearing in the daily newspapers are furnished by these syndicates.

The syndicate maintains an office of its own, has its managers and editors. It covers every department of literature and of newspaper work, including news and even book manuscripts, but not the publication of the books themselves.

The syndicate purchases of authors, and of writers of every class, anything which would be of interest to newspaper readers, and sells copies of it to the newspapers.

The matter, whether it is a short story or a serial, or a special article, or even news itself, is set in type, and proofs of it sent to the newspapers.

The newspaper purchases this matter at specified price, per column or page, setting the matter in its own composing room; or it may, in many cases, obtain stereotyped plates or matrices, which reduces the expense of composition.

There is no standard price for syndicate matter. It is sold for what it appears to be worth, with an additional price for furnishing it in the form of stereotypes or in matrix, and at astonishingly low figures. The stereotype plates of an entire page of seven columns can be purchased for a few dollars, with a rebate of fifty per cent upon return of the plates, which are melted up, and the metal used over again.

Matrices, which are made of papier-mache, and from which any paper carrying a stereotyping plant can cast, are very inexpensive.

Syndicate writers receive, as a rule, rather more than would be paid them by any one newspaper. Let us suppose, for example, that a syndicate purchases an article at a certain price; it offers it to the newspapers, either in the form of proofs, or in plates, or in matrix. If in the form of proof, it charges the newspaper for its use anywhere from fifty cents to three hundred dollars, the average price for a column article hardly exceeding a dollar and a half.

The newspaper, then, obtains quite an acceptable article at not far from one twenty-fifth of what it would have to pay if the article was written especially for it. While the average price paid by the newspaper does not exceed a dollar and a half a column, occasionally very high prices are paid for syndicate matter.

I recall a series of humorous articles, each of which occupied about a column. The author obtained about twelve hundred dollars for each of them, and the newspapers paid from twenty-five to three hundred dollars per article.

The discoverer of the North Pole, for example, would experience little difficulty in getting from five hundred to a thousand dollars for a single chapter of his story, and each newspaper publishing it would pay from twenty-five to two hundred and fifty dollars for the privilege of using it. The newspaper frequently purchases exclusive rights for its own city, and when it does so it pays more, per column, than it would if the matter was "at large."

Syndicates purchase newspaper rights to a story, either before or after it is published in book form; and the book appears, chapter by chapter, in the newspapers which subscribe for it.

There is no standard price for the author. So far as I know, the largest sum ever paid for the newspaper-publication rights to a book was a dollar a word, but I doubt if this has been given to more than two authors. Usually the syndicate pays from one hundred to two hundred dollars for the newspaper rights to a book, which sum is divided between the book publisher and the author.

Strange as it may seem, the publication of fiction in the newspapers, before or after its appearance in book form, increases, rather than decreases, the sale of the book; and many book publishers are anxious to have some of their books appear, chapter by chapter, in the newspapers, either before or after book publication.

The syndicate offers the special writer more remuneration than he can possibly receive from any one newspaper, provided that he has the ability to produce something which is acceptable to newspaper readers, and is seasonable, and appears to have a special value to each community, although it is published in a hundred different places.

Some authors maintain their own syndicates, handling the matter themselves, and with success; but, as this is an age of specialization, they come in direct competition with the great syndicate companies, who can easily furnish plates and matrices. I do not think that the majority of these writers do as well as they would if they sold their matter direct to the syndicate companies.

Several of the great newspapers maintain syndicates of their own. For example, a Chicago paper runs a series of articles, or stories, or humorous illustrations with text, the matter being written or drawn by a member of its staff. The matter, illustrated or otherwise, is made up into pages, and the paper furnishes a certain number of papers, one to a city, with matrices of the page or pages, the expense being proportioned between the papers subscribing, the paper originating the matter naturally making a profit.

Two or more pages in every great newspaper are produced or obtained in this way. The writers receive practically what would be given them by any syndicate. While the syndicate is labor-saving and money-saving, and represents progression and modern efficiency, and while it enables the author to obtain more for his work, it is obvious that it materially cuts down the demand for special articles and stories. By its use, the newspapers, which otherwise would have to pay individual market prices for miscellany and stories, can obtain just as good material for about ten per cent of what it would cost if it were not for the syndicate.

I could not consistently give the names of the leading syndicate companies, but the editor of any good newspaper would undoubtedly furnish them to inquirers. Some syndicate companies pay a royalty, based upon the sale of the articles. They send out an announcement of it, with price given, and pay the author from ten to twenty-five per cent of the receipts of the sale of that particular matter, but most of the articles used by syndicates are purchased outright.

The syndicates give preference to humorous or to illustrated stories and articles, and pay higher prices for them than for others. To be acceptable they must be seasonable or sensational, yet there is an increasing demand for good literature.