1. What can you tell our readers about Unbound?
Unbound is a very new way of doing a very old thing - getting patrons to pledge money towards a book before its written to ensure the book is written. In the 18th and 19th century many books were published by 'subscription' with a number of patrons paying for the initial publication to ensure the book made it out into the trade, In return they got a special edition and their name listed in every copy of the book as a patron. We do the same, the only difference being that rather than getting authors to beg the great and good for patronage, we ask the whole online world if they'd like to help. It worked for Johnson and Dickens and we hope to make it work for lot of brilliant new authors, many of whom might not get to print by traditional channels.
2. Where did the initial idea come from for the business?
I was sitting in a pub with Dan Kieran complaining about publishing - this is nothing unusual in itself - ask any author. What we didn't understand is how, despite book sales remaining so strong, all the other authors we knew - even famous ones - were being offered lower and lower advances and sometimes told to write books they didn't want to write. We decided to try to find out what the problem was. Fortunately I was writing a series for the BBC called QI with John Mitchinson who had previously been the MD of a publishing house so we got him on board and dissected the entire process. It seemed to us that the problem was there were too many publishers chasing too few bestsellers and hence providing a poor service to the rest of their authors. It wasn't their fault - their business is geared to bestsellers - that's what they need. But it didn't help most authors. We looked around at other models for funding creative work, particularly the music business, and though that crowd-funding, which had worked before, might be the answer. Some time later I was in another pub (most of our best ideas happen in pubs) having a beer with Terry Jones and mentioned our idea. He immediately said he had a book we could publish. The offer of a book from a comedy legend was enough to make us think that perhaps we should actually give this idea a go. So we did.
3. Tell us about some of the authors who have used this service.
We have a huge range of authors, from first time unpublished poets to international bestsellers like Kate Mosse. They come to Unbound for various reasons - sometimes they have a project which isn't like the usual works they write and their publisher hence isn't interested or considers it 'uneconomic'. Sometimes they have never been published as publishers don't believe there's a 'market' - poetry being particularly prone to this. Sometimes they just like what we're doing combining new and old technologies - that's what attracted Robert Llewellyn I think as well as Terry Jones. What all our authors want to do is have a much more direct relationship with their readers. Publishers generally have no idea who an authors readers are - they sell books to retailers not to the public directly - so authors feel cut off from their public. We help them make a direct connection which they can nurture and build. Readers get a better experience and feel more directly involved in the writing process and authors get to know who those readers are - and hopefully make a better living from writing as a result.
4. Who are your favourite reads and why?
On Unbound I love everything we publish of course - that's why we publish it. Outside of that I'm a historian by training so read a lot of history, particularly social history by the likes of Christopher Dyer. For fun I'm fond of the now very unpopular novels written by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and the short stories of Heinrich Böll and Prosper Mérimée. I also think you still can't beat a good Asterix book.
5. How long did it take for the business to get up and running?
The first grumble in a pub was in November 2010. We started the company in December and got some seed investment from one of the founders of Bebo and built the site and launched at the Hay festival in May 2011. In January 2012 we got enough investment to start paying a couple of staff and we're just gearing up for expansion again.
6.Tell us about your involvement in Unbound.
7. How can unpublished writes become involved?
We do accept submissions on spec but, being a small company, it takes a long time to read through these. I much prefer a simple pitch idea rather than a full manuscript. We also work with writers websites such as ABCTales and Jottify who run competitions to find the best writing talent on their sites which we then crowd-fund into publication. We've already published one first-time author this way and have another currently funding on the site.
8. What if the author does not get 100% fully funded for their work?
If a book doesn't reach its target then everyone gets their money back (and the author doesn't have to write the book).
9. How does the company promote itself to budding authors?
We're very active online in social media and always on twitter and facebook looking to connect with interesting writers and projects. We also run competitions with creative writing sites looking for new talent. We also have some big technical developments on the horizon which allow many more people to become Unbound authors but I'm not allowed to talk about them just yet!
10. What is next for Unbound?
We have a big new development coming on the site which I'm not allowed to talk about just yet which will really open up access. We're also now looking to expand abroad and I'd love to start crowd-funding authors in other languages like Spanish and Chinese.
11. Tell us about your background.
It's been an eclectic career to date. I started off with an MA from Cambridge (where I was president of the Poohsticks Society) in Archaeology and Anthropology before becoming a professional archaeologist at the Museum of London. After that I decided to move into TV documentary research working as a researcher then a writer and producer ranging from Time Team to Bob Geldof’s “Geldof in Africa’. For the last 8 series I have also been a writer for the BBC panel show QI presented by Stephen Fry.
For the last 14 years I've also run a historical and script consultancy for feature films and TV drama. I was historical consultant on ‘Elizabeth’, ‘The Four Feathers’ and ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and advised on Joe Wright’s ‘Atonement’ and Mark Herman’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, Alejandro Amenabar’s ‘Agora’, George Lucas’ ‘Red Tails’, Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Rob Marshall’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean IV’. Most recently I advised on Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables and the Tiger Aspect series ‘Peaky Blinders’. I was also consultant on all four series of the BBC/ Showtime historical series ‘The Tudors’ the Starz series ‘Camelot’ and MGM/ History Channel’s forthcoming ‘The Vikings’.
As well as running a crowd-funded publisher I'm also an author. To date I've published ten books - a social history of Britain, a biography of Alfred the Great, a history of ancient Alexandria, a history of archaeology, a gazetteer of the Wonders of the World, ‘The Interesting Bits - the History you Might Have Missed’ and ‘Charge! The Interesting Bits of Military History’. I was also a contributor to the QI Book of General Ignorance, The QI Annual and write columns for such illustrious periodicals as History Today, BBC History Magazine, E&T and The Idler.I w was also a contributor to the NSPCC book ‘Big Questions From Little People . . . Answered By Some Very Big People.’ My latest book ‘Buses, Bankers and the Beer of Revenge will be published in October 2012.
I now live in Dorset with my wife Stephanie, and daughters Constance and Felicity. I spend most of his spare time asleep.
Female First Lucy Walton