A Writer Collective
Hi! Dan and Nathan here. Early in 2020, we launched the Everything Bundle, a Substack devoted to productivity and business strategy. We started with two newsletters, Superorganizers and Divinations, written and produced by just us. Almost twelve months later, we now have eight newsletters in the bundle, written by some of the smartest, most accomplished practitioners in tech and startups: Li Jin, Tiago Forte, Nat Eliason, Jerry Colonna, and Sherrell Dorsey.
The response has been far better than we ever anticipated: the Everything Bundle has been read by over 750,000 people, it has almost 2,400 paid subscribers, and has cracked the top 10 on Substack’s paid newsletter leaderboard. To us, the signal is clear that there is value in a bundle like this. Readers want access to a place that consistently delivers business writing from a variety of perspectives—for one subscription price.
We’re proud of what we’ve built so far, but we think it’s just the start. Today we want to share where we’re going, what we stand for, and why we exist. But first, a few announcements:
The Everything Bundle is now Every.
We started by covering productivity and strategy, and our hope is to cover every industry and job role, every broad theme and niche interest. We’ve picked the name Every as one that reflects that scope.
We’re structured as a writer collective—a new model for a media company.
We’ve been doing it for almost a year, and now we’re ready to talk about it. A writer collective is a way to write that’s somewhere between starting a Substack and working for The New York Times. We give our writers financial upside in the work they do and the freedom to build their own creative vision, but we also support them with distribution to an audience, editorial support, and an advance on their subscription revenue if they need it. We’re excited to see ideas like this becoming part of the zeitgeist: we believe it is the best structure to support diverse voices, uncover undercovered topics, and create quality writing that can help our readers think differently about business and solve real-world problems.
We’ve moved onto our own homegrown platform.
Our business wouldn’t exist without Substack, and we think the world of them, but we’re excited to announce that Every will be run on a platform we built ourselves. We’re technology people. And as we’ve grown, we keep coming up with ideas to make our product and business better. So we decided to build our own CMS, one that works differently from anything that already exists, and gives us the freedom to evolve it however we want as we seek new ways to meet the needs of our audience.
We’ve raised a pre-seed round from Eric Stromberg at Bedrock and a group of ambitious angels.
We’ve known Eric for many years, and because he’s a former founder in the space and a current investor in The Athletic, Cameo, and Dipsea, we think he’s the perfect person to help us build our vision.
We’re building Every because we believe there is someone in every industry—from wealth management to waste management—whose eyes sparkle when they talk about their work. These people are ambitious, and they are curious. They think of business as a subject that is intellectually interesting, and as an activity that can be pursued not just for personal gain, but also as an expression of soul. They care deeply about what they do because they see how it connects to the lives of the people they serve: they can tell you how everything in the world depends on their job getting done.
You have never heard of most of these people, but they are out there. We hope to find them and bring them to our readers—by writing about them, and by writing with them. We believe by doing so, we can help build a better world: the stories told today become the businesses built tomorrow.
We’ve dedicated ourselves to this mission because we believe great business writing is currently too rare. We’d love to walk you why we think it’s rare, and how a writer collective can help make more of it.
Why is great business writing rare?
There is more business writing on the internet than a single mind can fathom. Much of it is amazing, but as we all sadly know, there’s a lot that is… not. We’re all burned and burdened by the glut of “think pieces,” advertorials, and hastily composed posts that don’t reach for nuance or complexity.
We think this happens for three primary reasons.
1 - Great business writing requires multiple skills
To write something great about business, you have to know something worth writing about, and you need to be able to write about it in a compelling way. Unfortunately, the number of people who can do both is vanishingly small.
Most of the people who know what they’re talking about don’t write. Writing is hard, it’s time consuming, and, honestly, it’s agonizing. You can’t take a magic pill and suddenly wake up as a compelling writer—you just have to spend years and years doing it. It’s a craft.
On the other hand, there are many skilled writers who don’t have enough business knowledge. Or they simply don’t have the time to dive deeply enough into their subject to do it justice. Which brings us to our second point.
2 - Writers are pressured to publish too often
Great writing takes time. Yes, there’s the time it takes to write and edit. But it also takes time to experience things worth writing about, to reflect, and to learn. There’s no shortcut or trick that can solve this constraint. That’s why the best writing, often found in books and magazines, develops over months, if not years.
Of course that timescale is rare on the internet. Writers who work for ad-supported digital publications often need to produce daily, if not multiple times a day. Solo paid newsletters need to publish at least weekly, if not 2-3 times a week. We’ve done this ourselves, and some of our favorite writers do it with a level of quality and consistency that boggles the mind—but it’s grueling. You get burned out. We did.
When you’re burned out, you forget what inspired you to start writing in the first place. You scroll through Twitter “looking for ideas” and contemplate a career change to carpentry, until, defeated, you curl into a nap. You realize that your sense of curiosity, rather than driving your work, is currently in hiding—which brings us to our third point.
3 - Most writing is chasing clout, rather than insight
Every writer wants clout. But when you prioritize clout over curiosity, the work suffers. You try to play up popular narratives. You worry about keeping up. You look at what everyone else is writing about, and you try to write the same thing—but better. You opine on every trending topic—even when you don’t have anything new to add to the conversation. You say dumb things to get attention. (Okay, to be fair, we have done that ourselves, but at least hopefully in an interesting way 🙈.)
This strategy can attract attention, but it leaves readers unsatisfied, and doesn’t age well. It’s like blowing counterclockwise into a hurricane and claiming credit when it reaches a Category 5. Aiming directly for clout is all about profiting from trends, rather than creating them. It’s about answering questions that have already been asked, not about asking new questions.
When you put all of these forces together—an arena that requires multiple skills to succeed, the incessant pressure to publish, and the human tendency to chase clout—you end up with a lot of writing that’s kind of like cotton candy. It tastes good at first, but it gives you a stomachache after a while. Worse, it creates a narrative ecosystem that rewards folks who already have money and an audience, rather than reflecting the best of what our community knows—and wants to know—about the world.
So, what to do? Write together, rather than alone.
How writing together solves these problems
Writing together isn’t trending right now, but it’s actually pretty great.
- When you write together, you don’t need one person to have both business knowledge and writing talent. You can find one person who has business knowledge and another person who has writing skill, and then create systems that support them writing together. Now you’ve unlocked both business experience and writing talent in a way that wasn’t possible before.
- When you write together, you don’t have to publish so often that you risk burning out. Instead, the group can share the load. That means each writer has time to produce higher quality work, but readers still get content on a consistent schedule.
- And finally, when you write together, you can form a culture that pushes you to write from a genuine sense of curiosity, expertise, and interest, rather than clout-chasing. You can hold each other accountable to this when you veer away from it, and you can encourage each other to pursue the fragile little sparks of inspiration that turn into the best pieces. You start to care more about the respect of the community you’re part of than about mindlessly moving numbers.
Of course, we’re not the first people to discover the merits of writing in groups…
Magazines. You’ve invented magazines.
Turns out, traditional publishers have already solved this problem! Wouldn’t it be ironic if the future of media looked exactly like the past? A great unbundling, resulting in a speedy rebundling into the exact same structures that existed before?
We don’t think that’s what’s happening. The internet really does change things, and we really do believe that free and limitless distribution has consequences that have permanently changed the equilibrium between writers, publishers, and readers.
In the past, you couldn’t publish your own work, so you had to go through a publication. This comes with downsides. Editors assign stories that you may or may not be interested in. They retitle your piece without asking you. In the name of coordination, a rigid house style is enforced. It might be a perfectly lovely style! But it is not your style.
More serious issues are at stake. As a writer you are always paid a flat fee—either by the word or the hour or the year. This denies you the upside in your work. If you produce a hit that draws millions of readers, you’ll probably get a slight raise, but the link between success and remuneration is flimsy.
Furthermore, you’re not really developing your vision. You’re supporting the publication’s vision. This can be great, especially early in a career. But where do you go when you have something you’re dying to say? And even if you were to develop that vision in-house, what happens if you wanted to leave? You can’t take your audience with you.
We realized that if we wanted to write together as a group in 2021, we’d have to fix these problems too. The solution we came up with is a writer collective.
Writer collectives—a primer
A writer collective is a set of editorial and financial structures designed to give writers the autonomy and upside that they get from writing alone, and the support and security they get from working for a media company.
In broad strokes, the writer collective we’re running has two key features:
- An editorial structure that balances centralization and decentralization.
- A financial structure that balances risk and reward.
These structures allow us to create a media company that functions more like a network than a hierarchy. It’s a publisher that has entrusted more of the power to writers, which means it has some platform-like qualities:
When you write for Every, you’re not just writing for Every. You’re writing for one of the publications in the collective. Each publication adheres to a central set of editorial values to ensure a bar for quality, but also has its own specific creative vision and audience. With this structure, we think we can create an overarching editorial brand that lends credibility to the individual publications within the bundle, each of which covers their own specific topic from their own specific perspective.
In other words, this is not just a magazine. Here’s how it works.
Our editorial structure
We want to create a place where writers can pursue their own vision. To help them do that, we provide services for them to take advantage of—if they want to. We have editors who help source and develop ideas, ensure trustworthiness in what we publish, and who can make a piece shine. We have producers to organize live shows and cut them into podcasts. We also have an active internal Slack channel where writers can get feedback from their peers, and forums where writers can workshop ideas together—so that the community can help each other find and follow the spark of what’s most interesting.
We’re even building processes to make writing common newsletter formats easier. For example, we’re experimenting with a centralized system to source and summarize news articles to make writing news digests easier, and a system to summarize interviews. We’re building a knowledge base, so if one writer collects information for an article, their research is made available to the other writers in the collective.
But if you just change the editorial model, you haven’t fully addressed the problems that modern internet writing and traditional publishing pose. You also need to design a compensation structure that pays writers what they’re worth.
Our financial structure
Just as our editorial model tries to balance centralization and decentralization, our compensation model tries to balance giving writers a stable income with giving them financial upside when their work drives subscriptions. Here’s what that means:
The main voice and driving force behind a publication is an Every “Lead,” to whom we offer a few non-standard things:
- Leads typically make 50% of the profit from subscription revenue that we attribute to their publications—meaning they get upside in proportion to the value they create for the collective, with no ceiling or cap.
- We also fund Leads before they have subscription revenue, meaning we’ll effectively pay an advance on the newsletter they’re starting.
- If we decide to part ways, Leads can leave with a copy of their email list.
We hope this financial structure allows writers to reap the rewards of the great work they do, and makes it possible for us to support them and grow the bundle.
It’s worth noting that not everyone in the collective plays the role of a Lead. We work with many writers on a freelance or salaried basis, and they do amazing work. They aren’t ultimately responsible for the full weight of a publication, so their compensation is more stable: if they do the work, they get paid. It’s a great way to try new things, work with smart people, and learn about unexpected corners of the business world. And, because the publication and their identity is less intertwined, it’s a lot easier for them to come and go as they please.
All of this stuff is nascent, and we don’t know what will stick. But we do believe that this editorial and financial structure gives writers more of what they want (quality edits, a community of peers, and systems to help them do great work) and less of what they don’t (loss of autonomy, capped upside, and lack of accountability).
Indeed, we’re not the only ones exploring models like this, and that is exciting to us. We think the more options there are for writers to create work they’re proud of, the better. We hope this model and ones like it can enable the kind of writing we want to see more of. Which brings us to our last point.
What we hope for
We aim to build a writer collective to explore every industry, every topic, and every job role in business. We hope to gather all of this coverage into one place, and make it available to readers as a bundle—for one subscription price.
We hope to create writing that says something that’s new, that’s true, and that is useful for people in their business lives. But more than that, we hope that it reaches for beauty. We hope that by doing so, we can democratize access to the kind of thinking that will inspire curious, ambitious people to dream new dreams—and achieve them. And we hope to do it together, rather than alone.
Will this work? We will be the first ones to tell you that we don’t know for sure. But over the last year we’ve been using this model to work with great people like Li, and Tiago, and Nat, and Sherrell, and the early results have been promising enough to convince us to devote ourselves to it.
Indeed, we hope that this piece itself can be an example of what’s possible when writers work together, because, well, we did. This was a collaborative effort, not a solo act. And it was hard. We had to express all of our hopes for what this company, and this writer collective could be—why we exist, and where we want to go in the future. And we had to agree on it.
But we think that, without a doubt, the process of working on it together made it far better than it would have been if either of us had written it individually. And it was also far more fun.
Having a partner that can poke and prod, question and challenge, and push you to reach deeply into your own experience and express it as cleanly as possible is one of the most valuable things that any writer can hope to have. What’s more, having a partner who believes in you unfailingly can make the difference between a piece that becomes a classic, and an idea that gathers dust in a drawer—or is just dust in the wind.
What we’ve learned over the last year though is that that’s only part of the story. When we’re looking back on this essay decades from now what will matter to us most is not how many people read it, or who decided to tweet it. What we’ll remember is what it felt like to write it together.
In our best moments, the way we think about what we’re doing is this:
The magic of writing is that it can make readers feel less alone in the world. The magic of a writer collective is, perhaps, that it can make writers feel less alone in the world.
It has for us. And that is the point.