A new publisher revives old mysteries

(Courtesy of Syndicate Books)
(Syndicate Books)

The publishing industry may be in the midst of full-scale upheaval, but intrepid souls are still setting up shop to offer good books to interested readers.

The latest example is Paul Oliver. Once a bookstore owner in Philadelphia, he dreamed for years of starting his own publishing company. This fall, he’s rushing in where angels fear to tread and launching Syndicate Books. (No fool, he’ll keep his day job as director of marketing and publicity for Soho Press, which has agreed to distribute his titles.)

Initially, Syndicate will focus on out-of-print mysteries and crime fiction. The first novel, coming in September, will be Ted Lewis’s “Get Carter” (originally titled “Jack’s Return Home”), which has been unavailable in the U.S. for 40 years. “Lewis is now considered a pioneer of the British noir school,” Oliver says. “Everyone from Guy Ritchie to David Peace to Dennis Lehane cites him as supremely influential. Lucky for me, their emphatic blurbs wrap the book.” Mike Hodges, who directed the 1971 film version starring Michael Caine, has written an introduction.

Syndicate plans to publish all nine of Lewis’s novels — the result of “a couple of years” of negotiation with the Ted Lewis estate.  

Oliver says, “Syndicate will target authors and books that have truly been lost or unavailable. I want readers to pick up a Syndicate title and say, ‘How didn’t I know about this?’ ”

Publishing is, as the old saying goes, a good way to make a small fortune — from a large one. But Oliver knows the business from all sides and plans to start cautiously. “I’m not going to be out-bidding Knopf for any projects in the near future,” he says. Syndicate will release five to 10 titles a year. Some will be only be released as e-books, which lowers the financial risk. For the first three titles this fall, he’ll print 7,500 paperback copies of each.

For now, Oliver is Syndicate’s only employee, but having his books distributed by Soho, which is, in turn, distributed by Penguin Random House, is a tremendous advantage that most start-ups don’t have.

Battling the flu and misspelled jacket designs and the thousand natural shocks that publishing is heir to, Oliver still sounds overjoyed: “A dream I’ve had for the last 10 years is being made a reality.”

It’s no mystery why.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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