Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Unbound by Alice Jolly @JollyAlice

This week's guest post from award-winning author Alice Jolly deals with a new way of being published - crowd funding. It's an interesting concept.
Being published by Unbound – or how I got out of my cave

I am a writer and until very recently I lived in a cave.  Well, not literally.  But I do spend many hours locked up on my own in a small, gloomy room.  And for me that’s absolutely fine.   

One benefit of being a writer, I’ve always thought, is that you don’t have to deal with other people.

This isn’t just about my need for solitude.  It reflects my deeply held beliefs about what it means to be a writer.  Proper writers write.  They don’t have time to do Twitter and Facebook, literary parties, marketing.   No amount of profile raising will be of any help if your book is no good.

But over the last few months I’ve had to revise my view.  It all starts when discussing with my agent my new book, a memoir of stillbirth, surrogacy and seaside towns.  The surrogacy bit, I know, will be easy to sell but the stillbirths?  Problematic.

I think we should consider Unbound, she says.

I don’t know anything about Unbound and I’m not enthusiastic.  My two novels were published by Simon and Schuster before and that’s the kind of publisher I want.  I am also surprised that my agent should suggest an alternative approach.  Clearly things in the publishing industry are changing even faster than I thought.  

Unbound?  Who are they anyway?  I visit their website and immediately I’m impressed.  Unbound publish by subscription which means they get a certain number of people to buy the book before it is published.  Writers in the nineteenth century were often published by subscription.  One modern name for this is crowd funding.

That might imply that anyone can have a go – but that’s not the case.  Unbound guard their gate as carefully as any traditional publishing house.  The difference is that they have covered all the production costs of the book before they publish, so they can afford to take risks that other gatekeepers won’t. 

Luckily for me, Unbound are excited by my memoir.  And so I get out of my cave and meet John Mitchinson, one of the three writers who founded the company.  ‘For years writers and publishers have complained about the publishing industry,’ John tells me.  ‘I just knew there must be a better way of doing it.’

And it seems to be working.  Unbound were shortlisted for The Independent Publisher of the Year Award in 2013 and 2014.  They had a huge success with Shaun Usher’s Letters Of Note.  And The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth, is on the Booker Long List.

For writers, one clear advantage of the Unbound model is financial.  Once the target subscriptions have been raised, the writer gets 50% of the cover price.  As all my proceeds from the book are going to charity, I take a leap in the dark, sign up with Unbound.

Has it been a success?  Well, the jury is still out.  I’m only at the stage of raising the subscriptions which is a challenge.  It’s hard to imagine a less cave-like activity.  But overall, up to now, Unbound has certainly been fun.  What’s fun got to do with it, I hear you ask?
Well, in my opinion, despite my cave dwelling preferences, fun is important.  The bitter truth is that 95% of books sell few copies, don’t get reviewed anywhere and make no money for the writer.  If the publishing process is miserable as well then even the most committed writer starts to ask – why bother?  

Simon and Schuster wasn’t fun.  I really like my editor but she was publishing thirty books a year so you can imagine how much time she had for me.  The whole thing felt bland, impersonal, corporate.  I felt passive and powerless.  All I did was stand by, feeling rather doubtful about some of their decisions, but assuming they must be right.

Unbound is different - it’s small, nimble, friendly, collaborative.  They tell you from the outset exactly what the production costs of the book will be, something a traditional publishing house will never tell you.  And I do have the feeling that I’m really going to be involved every step of the way, that I can ask questions, make suggestions, push for what I want.

A year ago I wouldn’t have wanted that.  Take your budgets and get out of my cave.  But increasingly I see an important truth.  For decades writers have sat in caves and talked to no-one – and because of that they’ve been consistently exploited.  As we all know, knowledge is power.  It enables you to ask for a fair deal.  Worth giving up some cave time for that?  Definitely.

Alice’s memoir is called Dead Babies and Seaside Towns.  50% of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).  To support her book, please click here: 

To find out more about Alice and her writing, visit her website:

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Home Page: Flash Fiction, Humour Verse
and Novel Opening Chapter and Synopsis Competitions

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