WHY WE NEED A NEW WAY TO PUBLISH BOOKS
Unbound was founded by three writers: Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard & John Mitchinson.
We think people who love books – primarily readers and writers – deserve a say in what does or doesn’t get published. You may not be aware of it, but even best selling authors are beginning to have very restrictive parameters imposed on the kinds of books they get to write. Put simply, there are lots of potentially great books we’re not getting the opportunity to read.
Creating bestsellers is the main focus of all the major publishers. This is why celebrity biographies, TV tie-ins and genre fiction dominate the displays and promotions in major book retailers, but what do you suppose happens to the books that don’t fall into those categories? Very little is the honest answer.
Nor does the traditional publishing process give readers any insight into the writing process or help to build a closer relationship between a writer and their readers. Unbound has been developed to do just that.
THE UNBOUND MODEL
The Unbound model is very straightforward: the author pitches an idea and if enough readers support it, the book goes ahead. Unbound is both a funding platform and a publisher, fulfilling all the normal publishing functions but also splitting a book’s net profit 50/50 with the author. Under the traditional model an author is lucky to earn 10% of the cover price, whereas retailers are regularly expecting discounts of over 60%, plus a contribution to the costs of display and marketing. This is why books with print runs of fewer than 5,000 copies make less and less economic sense – even though it is precisely these books that contain the most innovative and challenging ideas.
Unbound will keep the process transparent and simple: a reader helps great ideas get published, and in return receives an insight into the writing process and has their name printed as a patron in that and every subsequent edition. The current process is much more complicated.
THE CURRENT PUBLISHING PROCESS
If you have ever wondered why the stock in bookshops is becoming more and more homogenised, its worth considering the process a new book idea currently has to navigate before it sees the light of day.
- The author has an idea and suggests it to his/her agent.
- The agent persuades the author to tweak the proposal slightly to make it more commercial, and asks for more material: PR ideas, a social networking strategy, and other marketing ideas to help in the pitch to publishers.
- The author does this extra work and then re-submits it to the agent who sends it to a number of potential publishers.
- If one of the editors who gets the proposal likes the idea they begin to build a case for its publication. This is like a legal brief and includes as series of arguments as to why the book is a good idea in the current publishing climate (which is why so many books simply imitate the look and style of books that have already been successful). The editor also pulls together the author’s previous sales figures. This can deal a fatal blow to writers who sell fewer than 20,000 copies; in fact it is much easier to start with a new author, because then anything is possible.
- Once this pack has been compiled the Editor takes the proposal to an acquisitions meeting, where they argue the case from an editorial/marketing/PR and sales standpoint. If they succeed then the Sales, Marketing and PR Directors have their say. At this point each of these departments make their own enquiries and will report back at a later date.
- The Marketing Director sets the marketing/PR budget. In almost all cases, unless they are a high-profile celebrity, an already-bestselling author, or a new author that looks like a carbon copy of an existing bestseller, the answer will be nothing.
- The Publicity Director works out how PR-able the book and the author are. Can we get them on the Today programme or This Morning? If it’s a big enough name then it might be The One Show or a spot on the sofa next to Graham Norton? If the author isn’t already famous, this isn’t going to happen and then everything depends on the author. Are they likely to get their own PR? If not, and they are not experienced at appearing on the radio and TV and aren’t good at social networking, then the book will be rejected.
- The Sales Director or Key Accounts Manager rings the buyer for that particular type of book at Waterstone’s, Amazon and the major supermarkets and wholesalers – usually no more than 8 people in all. If the majority of those 8 people are negative, or even lukewarm (‘No, don’t really fancy that, we wouldn’t order many’) then the the book will be rejected. At this point some retail buyers might suggest changes to help make the book more commercially successful: changing the title, say, or even altering the content.
- If a book fails at any of these hurdles, it will be rejected – regardless of literary merit. If it does get through then the Sales Director is asked to estimate the likely orders. These are likely to be far less than 10,000 copies if the author is not well known. The Editor then works out what kind of advance they can offer for projected sales of 10,000 copies. They ring the agent and apologise, but say that £4,000 is all they can offer (this happens to be the the average annual writers’ earnings for all but the top 10% of writers in the UK). They will, of course, want the rights to publish the work all over the world for the full term of copyright (70 years after the author’s death in the UK), along with other rights such as serial, film and TVl – just in case it does turn out to be a hit.
- The agent persuades the author to accept it.
- The book is published a year later and the expectant author goes into their local chain bookshop. Unless they received a decent advance, they won’t see their book in the window – publishers pay thousands of pounds for that privilege. Nor will they find it on one of the tables at the front of the shop as part of a 3 for 2 promotion or in the Christmas catalogue. With a bit of luck they might spot the spine of their copy on a shelf in the back of the shop, but they only found it because they were looking for it. Most potential readers won’t even know it’s there (they were probably put off from going into the shop in the first place by all those over-familiar faces gurning at them from the window).
Unbound on the other hand, is very different. If you want to read a book, you can pledge to support it. If you REALLY want to read it, you can help promote it to other people you think will want to support it too. We want to give a better deal to readers and a better deal for authors so more great books get written.
Justin Pollard - Justin is the author of nine books including Alfred the Great - the Man Who Made England and Secret Britain. He has also worked as a historical consultant on numerous feature films including Elizabeth and The Golden Age, Atonement, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Agora as well as all four series of the BBC/ Showtime hit series The Tudors. He writes monthly columns for History Today, BBC History Magazine and E&T. He has twice been nominated Columnist of the Year.
John Mitchinson - John is an author and publisher and amateur pig farmer. Having been the first Marketing Director of Waterstone’s he moved on to become a publisher at the Harvill Press and then Cassell & Co. His authors included bestsellers like The Beatles and Michael Palin, to prize-winning literary writers like Richard Ford, Alan Garner and Haruki Murakami. John is a Vice-President of the Hay Festival and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He writes a weekly QI column in the Saturday Telegraph.
Dan Kieran - Dan is the author and editor of nine books including; Crap Towns - the first viral internet phenomenon to turn into a Sunday Times bestseller,I Fought The Law - an exposé of the Blair Labour government’s use of anti-terror legislation to crush lawful protest and Three Men In A Float - the story of his journey across England in a 1957 electric milk float in homage to Jerome K. Jerome.