Turning readers into publishers: Introducing ‘Unbound’

When I (lol) used to work in publishing, one thing I was always being asked was whether you can ever just submit an idea to a publisher before you have to write it. With my first book I was lucky that I got to pitch the idea in its early stages and it was sold on that basis, but that is a little rare these days. Generally, the stock advice people usually give is ‘go away and write it’ before sending it to an agent.

However, you might say that this is all about to change, with the launch of a new initiative called Unbound that basically kicks the proverbial bottom of traditional book publishing.

It is the partial brainchild of John Mitchinson – one of the geniuses behind QI. He’s also a mean guitarist, chef and member of the writer’s collective 26 (who I have blathered on about here before).

Unbound launched a few weeks ago at the Hay Festival. It’s very early days but they’ve already got Terry Jones and Amy Jenkins, creator of This Life on their books, among others. It promises to be a very exciting way of connecting authors and readers. This is their model:

What’s different is that instead of waiting for {authors} to publish their work, Unbound allows you to listen to their ideas for what they’d like to write before they even start. If you like their idea, you can pledge to support it. If we hit the target number of supporters, the author
can go ahead and start writing
(if the target isn’t met you can either get your pledge refunded in full or switch your pledge to another Unbound project).

So it’s essentially pre-ordering on a massive scale, with the potential for ‘the people’ to be an investor, both financially and creatively, in what you love to read. It’s supply and demand, in a hugely collaborative way that puts the reader at the heart of the process and cuts out a lot of the normal overheads.

All good news then. Although, one thing that people might say is, what about the prestige that comes with being published in the traditional way? There’s one thing Unbound can’t give you, and that’s the cache of a publisher picking up and promoting an author because they believe in them, or giving it that prestigious stamp of approval. John’s response to this was savvy. ‘Fair enough. If the traditional model still works for you then go with it. This is just another option.’ Also, there are still a lot of brains behind Unbound, it’s not totally anarchic – there is still a lot of quality control that goes into it.

Another worry could be author IP. How safe is it sharing your ideas before they’ve been written? Again he says it’s up to you. But more often than not, the uniqueness of an idea is in its execution. As we know there are only seven basic plots. Or according to Philip Pullman there are eleven, says John.

Unbound is not a million miles away from the way that the Kaiser Chiefs just put the consumer at the heart of the production of their latest album. In essence, Unbound is opening the closed door of publishing, and letting the readers wander around.

It’s an exciting time.


2 thoughts on “Turning readers into publishers: Introducing ‘Unbound’

  1. Hi Stephen.

    At last, someone has discovered our secret. You have guessed it, we do not exist in human form. We are in fact Campaign fembots preprogrammed to generate blogs on command. They built us a few years ago, due to the lack of female creative teams, in the brand republic basement. After welding various pieces of scrap metals and human hair together we were born…

    At last you know the truth.

    Better go, our internal memory needs wiping.


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