Unbound, a London-based publishing company, recently helped fund Stuart Ashen’s Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of using their unique crowdfunding method. TenEighty speaks to Dan Kieran, CEO of Unbound, to discuss the current state of the publishing industry, what makes them different, and how YouTubers of all sizes can get involved.
The second week of October was a big one for YouTube publications. As Dan Howell and Phil Lester’s The Amazing Book is Not On Fire sat pretty as a Sunday Times UK Number One Bestseller, Zoe Sugg, Tyler Oakley, and Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg all released their new titles on the same day. It currently seems that every YouTuber and their grandmother is writing or publishing a book!
Dan Kieran is an author, most popularly known for his comedy book Crap Towns, which collated thoughts, musings, and photographs of what our nation’s cities had to offer. Unfortunately for him, though, its success came back to haunt him.
“There was a photo in there of a wall with a phone number on it saying ‘For a good time call…’ sort of thing,” he says. “We hadn’t checked it was real – turns out it was. He sued and probably walked away with more money than we did for that book!”
But the main thing Dan walked away with after his foray into writing was the lack of information he had by the end of it. “It was frustrating,” he says. “I had an audience, but knew absolutely nothing about them.”
So in 2011, Dan, along with John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard, created Unbound; a service that allows potential authors to make a case for their books to a wider audience. And if enough people pledge, that book was then able to become a reality.
Since its launch Unbound have published an impressive library of books, such as a science-fiction trilogy by Red Dwarf’s Robert Llewellyn, historical correspondence collection Letters of Note collated by Shaun Usher, and Paul Kingsworth’s The Wake, which won a number of acclaimed awards and may be turned into a series by Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall), who’s bought the rights.
Compared to other crowdfunding services, Unbound is unique, as it gives its users a dashboard which shows not only how far they are towards their targets, but also the ability to monitor where donations are coming from. We were shown an example where a single tweet directly generated almost £500 of that final book’s funding. “It’s kind of fascinating, looking at all this data.” says Dan. “One person put out a tweet, didn’t have many followers, but generated quite a bit for the campaign because the people that did follow him were high-spenders.”
Once the book has reached its goal and can be published, profits are split 50/50 between Unbound and the author. Traditional publishing usually only rewards a fraction of that, but will often offer an advance to the author beforehand. “Our deal is designed to be as transparent as possible,” says Dan. “We’ll never make more money than our authors would.
“Where the average price of a book bought in a store is £5, the typical amount spent on Unbound is £40. What we’ve discovered is people will pay a lot more than if they were to pay for just a crappy looking paperback,” he continues. “It’s why in a digital era, vinyl sales are going through the roof. People want beautiful things and experiences.”
Working in a similar way to a typical publishing house, Unbound helps proof-read, copy-edit, aid with developmental issues within the book. All this helps shape it into something both sides are happy with publishing. As well as this, the book still ends up in stores, thanks to a unique deal between Unbound and Penguin/Random House.
Unbound pride themselves in helping authors maintain a high level of creative control of their work in a way publishing houses don’t typically offer, including the final say on the book’s cover design and the way it’s eventually marketed. The company will also work with the author to create and distribute all the rewards available to the people who sponsor, as part of its service.
“We’ll advise them,” says Dan. “Say to them ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’ – but we’re not going to stop them doing what they want to do. I think that’s really important if you’re working in a space where you have control – you don’t want to give it up in order to make a book. You want to retain that ownership.”
He believes that it is a combination of these things that will attract YouTubers looking to publish their work through them. “We see all these people, who might not have thought of a book, but publish content regularly,” he says, “and we think ‘We can make this happen for them in a way that wouldn’t require them to get involved in a traditional process’. A process that is such a lottery and that might not recognise their worth.
“We’re trying to do for publishing what YouTube has done for TV, in that we’re trying to take away the need for this old bureaucratic approach. In the same way that no-one who wants to be on television now just writes to the BBC, they go onto YouTube and do it, they don’t care about the old bureaucracies that used to run it.
“Publishing is the same – and the only thing that really matters is the relationship between authors and readers.”
And it was something that eventually took the fancy of Stuart Ashen, who launched the campaign to fund his book, Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, in May this year. Ashen’s book now stands at 414% of his goal to get it published and smashed crowdfunding records – which is impressive, for a book that no other publishing house was willing to sell, for fear it wouldn’t make a profit.
Those who subscribed and donated will be receiving their limited edition copy, complete with their name in the back, in November; a month earlier than the general public on 3 December.
“Philosophically, it’s just about democratising the process,” says Dan. “If you have an audience you love, and that audience loves you, then you shouldn’t have to go through such a rigorous process to get something to them.”
YouTubers who feel they have a book inside them can pitch to Unbound here.
Stuart will be appearing Hungerford 2 alongside Bethan Leadley and Cherry Wallis, find out what happened when TenEighty visited the set. Alternatively, why not find out where you can catch TomSka on his Art is Dead book tour?