One of the many opportunities open to authors today is the chance to crowdfund their book: to whip up enthusiasm for the project and get friends, relatives, ex-girlfriends (yes, really) and total strangers who want to see this book happen put their hands in their pockets and pledge to support it. And one of the leading crowdfunding platforms out there for books is Unbound. But what’s really involved in crowdfunding, and is it a good use of your time?
In this week’s episode Scott Pack, Associate Editor at Unbound – and Associate Lecturer with me on the MA in Publishing at Brookes University, where we recorded this interview – talks about how it works (and what happens when it doesn’t), and who it’s for (and who it’s really NOT for).
Scott on Twitter: https://twitter.com/meandmybigmouth
Alison: Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. This is very exciting. Normally, I’m sitting on my own in my office and talking to somebody on Skype. Today, I’m physically here with the person that I’m going to be talking to. That’s a bit of a first. Hopefully, it won’t be too visual and we’ll try and remember that we’re doing a podcast. My guest today is Scott Pack, who is associate editor at Unbound, the crowdfunding platform for … Well, he’ll tell you what it is. Also, just a veteran of the whole publishing industry. He’s been a book seller, and he was from HMV back in the day, and knows quite a lot about a background of the industry. Welcome, Scott.
Scott: Thank you very much.
Alison: Nice to have you.
Scott: I’m as excited as you are.
Alison: He’s wearing his best t-shirt, people, as well.
Scott: I ironed it.
Alison: I’m going to have to take a picture. This is going to have to go in the show notes. Scott, what’s Unbound?
Scott: Unbound is a crowdfunding platform, which … Effectively, it’s a website where people can launch projects, book projects, and get other people to help fund it. Most people are familiar with Kickstarter. It’s a similar principle to Kickstarter, but it just does books.
Alison: It means you don’t have to worry about the fiddly production bits. Unbound becomes your publisher if your book gets founded.
Scott: That’s the really interesting thing. Kickstarter is fantastic, and I’ve helped to fund a whole bunch of things on Kickstarter, but in the knowledge that the poor blighter at the other end, once they get the funds, has got to produce the thing, warehouse it, distribute it, all that sort of stuff. What Unbound does is it offers all the things a normal publisher does. It’s got an editorial team, production team, design, PR, the whole shebang, and sells it to bookshops, and does all that for you. As long as you can raise the funds, all the other stuff is done.
Alison: It makes sense from your point of view, because it’s de-risked. Normally, when a publisher publishes a book, they’re taking a punt. They’re placing a bet, saying, “I hope this book makes enough money to cover the cost we spent on it.” You take that risk out of it by getting the funds up front.
Scott: I’ve worked at a bunch of publishers, and every single book we published was a gamble. You may think it’s going to do really well, and some books that you are absolutely convinced are going to work just don’t work. It does remove that, although interestingly, that’s not initially why it was set up.
Alison: Do tell.
Scott: It was founded by three authors, John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard, who also worked on QI.
Alison: They were the elves.
Scott: They were the elves. Not actually elves …
Alison: John Mitchinson is very much not an elf.
Scott: He’s not. More of a giant.
Alison: More Hagrid.
Scott: Exactly. And Dan Kieran, who between them, I’m guessing, have sold hundreds of thousands of books with various publishers. They were really frustrated that they didn’t know who their readers were. Apart from a bit of contact on social media, or at book events, they had no idea who was buying their books.
Alison: And what they thought of them.
Scott: Exactly. Again, you could look at Amazon reviews, but that’s it. Of course, you get to meet readers if you’re an author, at book events and things like that. That bugged them, but what bugged them even more was that publishers didn’t know who their readers were, had no idea.
Alison: Publishers traditionally just sold to bookshops, and then it’s completely opaque after that who buys them.
Scott: Exactly. Also, we’re working in an industry where no one is capturing … Very few people have been in the habit of capturing data, so even bookshops don’t really know who they’re selling the books to. It’s only the booksellers in the book shops who may recognize a regular customer that actually know who they’re selling to.
Alison: And Amazon.
Scott: That’s the thing. I was going to come on to that. That’s why Amazon are so powerful, because they’re really the only book retailer of any great size who knows precisely who they’re selling to and what they’re buying. As writers, they were really frustrated, because they couldn’t tell the people who had bought their previous book that they had a new book out. They had to rely on the Amazon email that says, “You bought this, maybe you’d like this.” Or PR or publicity or marketing. They couldn’t actually tell them. That was the instigator. That was the thing they were … I think they were in a pub, having a chat.
Alison: All the best ideas …
Scott: Then it built around that, and they ended up coming up with the Unbound idea, which is a really old idea. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was technically crowdfunded. People bought it before it existed. That was the idea. It started of as ‘how do we have more interaction with our readers.’ Then it developed into what has become a really successful crowdfunder. It just celebrated its fifth birthday. It’s had books on the Booker Prize long list.
Alison: I didn’t know that. That’s …
Scott: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, which is this peculiar book in that it’s written … It’s the first part of a trilogy. Each book in the trilogy is set a thousand years after … This one was set a thousand years ago and was written in a slightly made-up version of Anglo-Saxon English. To be honest, I can’t really blame traditionally publishers for not bringing out the chequebook and paying an awful lot of money for it, but he couldn’t find a publisher, brought it to Unbound. It took quite a while on Unbound to get funded, but then once it was funded, received some amazing reviews. I think it was on the Goldsmiths list, it was long-listed for the Booker Prize, it was the Bookseller’s Book of the Year. That really legitimized the whole thing, because …
Alison: It’s exciting.
Scott: One of the things with crowdfunded, understandably, although it’s an old concept, in this context it’s quite new, and a lot of people don’t get it. There are questions of what … Is it vanity publishing? I’ve had one author whose friends have gone, “This is a bit like begging. Why would you do this?” A lot of people don’t get … That’s perfectly understandable. They don’t get it. The fact that Unbound published Letters Of Note, which went on to be an enormous worldwide best seller and spawned lots of other activities, and then The Wake … and have worked with authors like Terry Jones and Jonathon Coe. It makes people realize, “This is a genuine option.” In the music industry, everyone’s got this for some time. The bands I grew up with are now releasing their new albums through crowdfunding, because they know, ‘We’ve got 10, 15, 30 thousand fans. We know who they are because they’re on our mailing list.’
Alison: The difference there is they already know them and they’ve got them and they have the platform. Unbound gives the platform when you don’t have a platform.
Scott: Yes. Exactly. We bring … We’ve got tens of thousands of people who have pledged for our books, and we have a fantastic database of people who love books, and we tell them all about the new projects, but we aren’t going to make a book work on our own.
Alison: Let’s get to that, then. What makes a book work on Unbound?
Scott: It’s really interesting. It’s a combination of things. If you are an established writer with a strong audience and you have access to that audience, then you’ve got a really good chance of getting your book funded on Unbound, because you can tell them. I recently launched a book on Unbound with Kristin Hersh, she founded a band called Throwing Muses in the ’80s. She’s been around for ages …
Alison: Doing an ‘over the head’ movement here…
Scott: I was about to say that. Alison’s got no idea …
Alison: I have no clue. Me and popular culture – poles apart.
Scott: She was around for 30 years or so, has built up a really strong following. I’ve published a few books with her in the past, and I said we should do a lyric book, because a), it’s easy. It’s all written. You’ve got 30 years of music to choose from.
Alison: There’s a publisher’s instinct.
Scott: Exactly. b), if you email your fan base and tell them that you’re doing this and that they can pledge for various reward levels on Unbound, then I think we’ll fund it pretty quickly. That worked in two days. Within two days, it was funded. It’s now 160, 170 percent funded. That’s a classic example. She has an existing fan base, and she knows who they are. That’s quite easy to … And Terry Jones from Monty Python has worked with us, so that’s not overly hard.
Then you’ve got authors who may not be well known. I’ll use an example of Brian Bilston, who’s a Twitter poet. He’s got about 20, 25 thousand followers on Twitter, which is more than you and I, probably, but is by no means a huge amount in these days. I’ve been following him for ages. He tweets really, really funny poetry, and I contacted him, and he loved the idea. He went for it. The interesting thing there is every poem in the book has already been shared online, so all of the content is available for free if you want to look at it, yet … That, again, funded very quickly.
Alison: I’m not at all surprised by that. It’s very much the thing that… actually it’s the content that’s already got the attention, that’s already out there that people want to have in book form.
Scott: Precisely. For the authors that I would consider unknown or lesser known or less well known, it’s that sort of book that’s done really, really well. Where it’s very easy to get across the concept and actually most of the material is already available. More difficult are books … More difficult is debut fiction, which is more difficult however you publish it.
Alison: It always was, to be fair.
Scott: Because you’ve got to take it on trust. You’ve got to assume, ‘Thanks for the sample chapter, do I then want to spend 20, 25, 30 pounds on a full book.’ If you aren’t that well known and your project isn’t something that lots of people have had access to before, then you’ve got to have a great social network. You’ve got to be able to tap into hundreds of people who know you, owe you favours, like you, like what you’ve done in the past, and that’s how it works. It can differ. Sometimes, a project will be 95 percent funded by people the author knows. Sometimes, it might be 40 or 50 percent funded and the rest coming from us or a wider constituency.
Alison: One thing that’s interesting … Normally, when you buy a book, it’s a certain price, but when you’re using Unbound or you’re using a crowdfunding platform, you’ve got a whole range of price points, so people who love you can chuck massive amounts of money at you, which is very difficult to do in traditional publishing.
Scott: That’s the key thing for people that aren’t familiar with crowdfunding. You are obviously selling the book, but you can offer additional things, which most bookshops can’t offer.
Alison: Even when you’re just selling the book, you’re selling more than it, because you’re selling participation in the creating of the book, which is a bit different. It’s richer.
Scott: It appeals to that patron of the arts type idea. Everyone who supports a book at any level will get their name in the back, and they’re getting their name in the back of any edition of that book that is ever published. If we sell rights to Romania and there’s a Romanian edition in six years time, that book will have your name in the back.
Alison: Which is quite cool, actually.
Scott: It is quite cool, and I think that appeals to people. Especially if you’re a fan of someone. “Great, I can get involved.” You can offer all sorts of levels, whether it’s lunch or dinner with the author … One of our authors is an esteemed archaeologist and he offered a private guided tour of Seahenge, a bit like Stonehenge, but you see it at low tide.
Alison: And that’s a thing?
Scott: That’s a thing, and so … Obviously, if you’re into that sort of stuff, that’s an amazing thing to do. Kristin Hersh, the musician, one of the reward levels is she’ll hand-write the lyrics to your favourite song. If you’ve grown up with her music, that’s an incredible thing. It’s a way of us generating more money, because, of course, we charge more for these things, and also gives readers the opportunity to buy something that’s a little bit special or a little bit different. Even a very simple thing. If you go into a bookshop and they have signed copies available, you’re paying the same for those as the normal book. You’re lucky to stumble across a signed copy or maybe you’ve gone to an event. On Unbound, we actually charged more for the signed copy … you can buy a normal unsigned edition for £25. We may charge an extra £10 for a signed edition, and often, that edition is more popular than the unsigned one, which shows that there’s a perceived value … Also, people are really happy to muck in and help make something happen.
Alison: I think, also, there’s a little bit of psychology at work there which is, ‘I’m not going to go with the cheapest option. I’m better than that.’
Scott: You’re right, but also the other interesting thing is the cheapest option is nearly always our digital edition, which we charge £10 for.
Alison: Which is much more than you pay for any ebook on Amazon.
Scott: Precisely. It’s that contributing factor. It’s that I want to help make this happen. Also, it gives people who maybe haven’t got loads of money to throw at the project or just want to make the author shut up. “Okay, you’ve got a book coming, here’s a tenner. Now, go away and leave me alone.” At the same time … We have patron levels that often sell.
I’ve recently launched a book, which is the selected letters of Miles Kington, who was a humourist and columnist, who died a few years ago. We put two and a half thousand patron level, which means your name will be in the front of the book … That sold out on the first day.
Alison: Blimey. Again, if you’ve got wealthy friends …
Scott: This is about approaching people that have disposable income and want to help you with your project. Your disposable income might be a tenner. Your disposable income might be £10,000.
Alison: You’ve got something for everyone.
Scott: You offer things for everyone. It’s fascinating and really interesting to see the reward levels that people come up with, as well.
Alison: It is fascinating. We all get the theory now, I think, thank you. Tell me the kinds of people that do well with this.
Scott: They tend to be quite outgoing and people with great perseverance, because …
Alison: With thick skins …
Scott: We do crowdfunding workshops, so anyone who does a book … Firstly, we do curate the list. We don’t let anyone go on there. With Kickstarter, you could go and launch whatever project you wanted so long as you conform to certain rules and regulations. For us, we still look at everything we’re submitted.
Alison: That’s interesting. There’s a bit of a commissioning angle.
Scott: Absolutely. Because I think if you made it a complete free-for-all, then you dilute the offer somewhat. Also, you lose that badge of credibility. We do curate the list … My job is to find things, approach people, but also look at things that have been submitted to us.
You’ve got to be someone who is prepared to manage what’s effectively a marketing campaign. Like I say, we do crowdfunding workshops for all of our authors. They come into the office and they get taught how to crowdfund.
Alison: How to hustle.
Scott: The sort of things we get taught are you need to have a plan for day one, week one, month one, et cetera. Most people don’t pledge until they’ve been asked three times.
Alison: I’d find that really hard. I’d be like, ‘I’ve already asked them. I don’t want to nag them.’
Scott: Also, they respond better to an individual, personal email than to a group email. Most of us would probably email everyone in our inbox and say, “Hi, guys. Really sorry, but I’ve got this thing going on. Would be great if you got involved.” That’s an invitation to ignore.
Alison: It’s a diffusion of responsibility.
Scott: Whereas if I sent you an email saying, “Alison, I need to tell you about this thing I’m doing. Would be really great to get you on board.” You still probably wouldn’t, but you’re more likely to support it, because it feels like an individual request, but it may take three approaches before you do it, and most English people …
Alison: It’s so true, isn’t it?
Scott: … don’t like doing … I’m incredibly thick skinned, I’ve got … I launched my own book on Unbound. I’d had about 20, 25 authors launch on Unbound through me. I thought, ‘I’m going to do my own project. Although I’m able to help them through it, I don’t truly understand the process until I’ve done.’ Also, the book I wanted to do, which is a collection of haiku, let’s face it, is never, ever going to be published in the real world, because… it ain’t good. It’s poetry and it’s haiku and it ain’t going to happen. I went on there, and it completely changed my view of the whole platform, because I had to go out to people and say, “Hi. I’ve got this project going.” I made a list of ‘bankers’, these are the people that without question will fund the book.
Alison: Like, ‘my mum’.
Scott: Here’s a list of people that I think I could persuade, and here are some wild cards, or groups, that I could potentially approach, and I was completely wrong on nearly every score.
Scott: Yeah. About half my bankers still haven’t pledged. These are relatives, close personal friends, authors who I’ve published and have really great relationships with. Nothing. The first person to pledge, and pledged a hundred pounds, is someone I went to primary school with, who I know on Facebook, and who went, “Sounds great, Scott. Love to get involved.” Second one was an ex girlfriend, who wouldn’t have even been on the possible list. We still get on, but you wouldn’t have said … It was really interesting to see who supported and who didn’t.
Alison: Fascinating. It’s as much to do with their attitude to just supporting stuff as it is to do with their relationship and feeling about you.
Scott: Exactly. Even me, who … I’m incredibly thick skinned, and I don’t really care about anything. Even I struggled to send out a third email saying, ‘Hi…’
Alison: ‘…Me again.’
Scott: Yeah. Also, I funded relatively quickly, but only because I was selling editorial stuff. I had a £750 reward, which was ‘I will edit your book’. That’s far less than I charge for freelance editing, and the fact is a publisher I do work for bought four. “That’s cheaper than paying for you to do it normally.”
Alison: That’s brilliant!
Scott: So he weighed in and bought four. Of course, that was about a third of the cost of the book, so without that, I don’t how long it would’ve taken.
Alison: Technically, you just subsidized your own book there, haven’t you?
Scott: Of course, that’s sort of what we’re doing. A lot of authors are offering … Sometimes, if you’ve got a food writer or a chef, they might say, ‘Have a free meal at my restaurant.’ Of course, they are effectively subsidizing it, but you’re offering something you can do.
Alison: You’re converting it into cash that you can then spend on the book.
Scott: Exactly. I said what am I … I’m not going to spend my entire year editing for free just so my book exists, but I also had a level which was, ‘I’ll bake you a cake.’ I sold 11 of those.
Alison: You are quite well known for cake.
Scott: To be fair, it is a remarkable cake.
Alison: The people … When it doesn’t work, what happens then? We talked a lot about the big successes, but there must be some that just don’t fund and it breaks the author’s heart.
Scott: Usually, if I’ve done my job properly with my authors, I’ve told them how bloody difficult it is. I’ve told them that there’s a chance it won’t happen. Although they will still be upset that it doesn’t make it, it’s usually their choice … We’ll keep stuff up there for as long as people want to, because some things do take a year or two years to fund.
Alison: I thought that was quite interesting, actually. How long does it normally take? What’s the average?
Scott: I’d say about three or four months for an average campaign.
Alison: But it can take over a year?
Scott: It can take well over a … I think we’ve had some things up there that took two, two and a half years to fund. You need to be patient when something doesn’t work. Occasionally, an author will say, “Look, I’m stuck at 15 percent, it’s six months in, it’s not happening, I’ve exhausted my list. I thought I’d get more people involved than I did.” Occasionally, authors say, “Actually, I thought I was the right person to do this and I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t want to do it.” Then they say to us that they want to shut it down. We then contact all the subscribers and say, ‘Unfortunately, this book hasn’t funded.’ They’re given two options. They can either have a credit and go and fund something else, which, actually, quite a few people do, because by then, they might well have forgotten that they chucked 25 quid into this thing, or they can have a refund, so it’s fine.
Alison: Most people go for the refund?
Scott: It’s a mixture, probably about half and half. Something like that. Some people go, “I’ve forgotten about that money. I’ll just … ”
Alison: Put it on somebody else.
Scott: Put it on something else.
Alison: Actually, it’s almost like a bet. You’re almost betting on something that’s going to become the next surprise Booker short-lister. There’s always a chance that this thing could be really exciting, and you were in on the ground level.
Alison: Makes you an angel.
Scott: It’s a really nice experience to have helped make something happen and to have that sort of relationship with the author. Your name is forever going to be in the back of their book, whether it’s a really well-known author or someone who’s just starting out. I think it’s a fascinating model. It’s not perfect and it’s not for everyone, but then all the guys at Unbound embrace that fact and talk about that. We’re very clear that it’s not going to fix everything.
Alison: If you’re a wild introvert, it’s probably not for you.
Scott: Probably not. The other interesting thing is Dan Kieran, the CEO, the other day, mentioned, and I can’t remember the exact ratio, but it took a certain amount of time to get their first million in turnover, and then it was half that time to get their second million and half that time again to get their third million, which is the sort of exponential growth that publishing doesn’t see.
Alison: Not so much of that these days. It’s more about managing the end game.
Scott: Exactly. That’s really, really interesting. He said he gave a little speech at the fifth birthday, which people can Google and have a look at.
Alison: I’ll put that link up.
Scott: That’s really … I thought that was fascinating.
Alison: That is interesting. You’re right. It’s just that different space and a different way of doing books that’s going to appeal to a different load of people. How does it work for business books particularly, do you think?
Scott: Business books, I think … There are a few areas that I think have great potential. Business, food and drink, cookery, and also musicians, with their lyric books. Business books, if the author is reasonable well connected, and I’d argue quite a lot of people who are thinking about writing a business book have spent some time in business.
Alison: You’d like to think so.
Scott: You’d hope so.
Alison: That they have a platform and routes to market and all that kind of stuff.
Scott: Then actually, I think they’re a great potential author for Unbound, because although there is the option to go through the traditional route and either submit to a publisher or an agent or be picked up by one of those, which can work brilliantly, or one of the other options you’ve got. Crowdfunding allows you to access your constituency direct and just contact them and say, “Look, I’m doing this. This is how I’m doing it.” Obviously, most people writing a business book may well be able to offer some interesting extras for rewards, as well. Whether it be a workshop or a talk or a presentation or some mentoring or all sorts of things.
Alison: You get stuff that people value.
Scott: You’ve got … If you charge X thousands pounds a day for a mentoring service, if you’re prepared to offer that to one person at a reduced rate if they help fund your book, why not?
Alison: Why would you not do that?
Scott: I think business books are really, really interesting, because it will come from people who have an existing network and probably will appeal to people that are interested in different business models and the idea of crowdfunding a book like this probably wouldn’t be alien to many of them.
Alison: In fact, it’s not just about funding the book. It’s not just ‘I can’t afford to publish this book, therefore I’ve got to go on something like Unbound or Kickstarter’ or whatever it is, it’s also about building the buzz for the book and getting some feedback and just building up your community around it.
Scott: It’s a few things. It’s saying, actually … The other thing to bear in mind, it’s all profits. There’s no royalty from Unbound. What we do is just split the profits 50/50.
Alison: So once the book’s fully funded at 100 percent, anything above that gets split 50/50, Unbound/author.
Scott: Also, any subsequent turnover, so at the moment we have an arrangement with Penguin Random House, and they do a trade edition of every book we get funded, so we create the subscribers’ edition, they then go and create …
Alison: Is that simply between hardback and paperback?
Scott: No, it can differ. It differs on the book. Often, it’s hardback, hardback. We do a beautiful hardback edition and they do perhaps a less beautiful one. Maybe it hasn’t got a ribbon, or something like that. Often, people are approaching it thinking this, potentially, is going to make me more money than if I do it the traditional route and it can happen more quickly.
Alison: Then Penguin Random House, presumably it goes into their marketing machine. Then they’re earning off the back of it without having had the risk …
Scott: Exactly. I think the advantage for them is that they are given the finished files of the book, so they need to print it and get it to shops, but they have none of the other costs.
Alison: Of course, the first costs in a book are always the big ones, the editorial costs and so on.
Scott: Exactly. I actually think quite a lot of people … Some people come to Unbound because they’ve exhausted all the other routes to market. They’ve tried to get an agent, they’ve tried to get a publisher. Self-publishing isn’t for them, and this seems like an option because they’ve got a good network. Other people come to us because they love the model and they think this is exactly the way they should work. If you run a restaurant and you want to do a cookbook, and as we know, cookbooks are very expensive to make and often don’t work, crowdfunding is a wonderful way of doing it and getting to your audience, who are in your restaurant every night.
Also, people come to us thinking, ‘I’ve worked out how much I’ll earn if I do a traditional deal, and if I get to the amount of people I think I can get to through crowdfunding, I’ll make more money.’ It’s a mixture of approaches and a mixture of reasons for doing it, but it’s fascinating. Like I say, it’s not perfect for everyone. There are people I would say, ‘Don’t go anywhere near it.’ There are others who have gone through the traditional routes and have come to me going, ‘I wish I had done it a different way.’
Alison: Actually, the upside is unlimited. Your royalties that you’ll get from selling a book are generally capped at a fairly low rate. Books are not … Apart from a very few successful authors, a book is not a way to make a living. The average author revenue is in the single figures of thousands in the UK for professional authors.
Scott: I’ve always said that’s why people write a book a year once they’re published, because, actually, they need the royalties from 10, 11, 12, 15 books to actually get anything close to earning a living.
Alison: If you go really, really successful on a crowdfunding project, then you can get several years’ worth of royalties in the first month, can’t you?
Scott: You can do, absolutely, without question. Also, if you just about scrape 100 percent, you probably won’t make anything. It’s a balance, and that’s the risk, because you could get to 100 percent, the book is successfully funded, it doesn’t do very well in its trade life. You have produced a beautiful book, but you haven’t actually made much money out of it. You have to bear that in mind, as well. That’s why we always try to be really honest with our authors. That’s why we do the crowdfunding workshop, so they understand it’s bloody hard work. It may make you a lot of money. It may make you a little bit of money. It may make you nothing, and the book may fail.
Alison: You need to know why you’re doing the book in the first place, because it’s such a risky business.
Scott: Exactly. This takes a lot of the risk out of it, but … What it does, of course, is it shifts the workload onto the author, because authors are used to writing at their desk, sending things off, and then it’s only when the book is physically published and goes to shops that they then have to do some other work, which would be promotional…
Alison: Hauling themselves around a book tour…
Scott: Whereas actually, it’s all the work, well most of the work, is at the beginning here, telling people about…
Alison: Yes… I have a theory that that would give you a better book at the end of the day, as well.
Scott: I think it can. I think …
Alison: It would certainly give you a deadline, wouldn’t it?
Scott: Absolutely. I think it’s … The interesting thing is usually, when it comes to fiction on Unbound, the books are usually complete. They exist, they’re finished, we’ve read them, we know why we want to do them. With non-fiction, authors are often pitching an idea.
Alison: Which is true also in traditional publishing. For agents, they want to see the full manuscript for fiction, but they’re happy to see a proposal for non-fiction…
Scott: They do, but what’s nice about the crowdfunding angle of that is that if you’re an established author or an author with some pedigree, and you’ve got an idea for a non-fiction book, you can pitch the idea on Unbound and see if it flies. You can say, ‘Before I spend two years researching this biography of an obscure figure that some of you might have heard about, I need to see if there are enough people that want to buy it.’ If then 500 people pledge and the book’s funded, be careful what you wish for. You’ve now got to go away and write it. I think it’s a really interesting way, a fascinating way of testing projects.
Alison: Properly testing. You’re not just saying, ‘Are you interested?’ and people go, ‘Yes. I’m interested,’ but then they don’t put their hands in their pockets. They are properly funding it. You KNOW they’re interested.
Scott: ‘Cough up the money, prove that you’re interested and then I’ll go away and write the book.’ Sometimes, we have projects that are part-written, but some of the non-fiction projects are, ‘This is who I am, you’ve probably heard of me. Here’s my idea for a book. If enough of you want it, I’ll go away and write it.’
Alison: Brilliant. We could talk about this all day. Actually, we can’t talk about this all day, because you and I have to get to a lecture…
Scott: We have work to do.
Alison: We have work to do, so… yes, we’re up at Oxford Brookes at the moment. I’m going to finish it there, but before I do, and this is a bit mean, because I think I might have forgotten to tell you this, but…
Scott: This is hilarious. Do I have to sing a song?
Alison: Did I not mention this? I always ask people to recommend a guest for the podcast. Somebody with something interesting to say about the business of business books particularly or frankly about writing in general and books. I’m keeping talking to give him time to think. I can see his brain working.
Scott: Business books in general. I would recommend a chap called David Roche. David Roche was the product director at Waterstones, CEO of Borders. He is now, and I don’t know what his title is, is he Chairman of the London Book Fair or something of the London Book Fair? Anyway, he’s worked in a number of different guises. He was sales director at HarperCollins. I worked with him in various guises over the years. He’s really interesting because he now runs David Roche Enterprises. He’s effectively a business consultant based on his experience. He’s worked in the music industry and the book industry in many guises He’d probably be really interesting, because he’s got that… I’m not a business man. I’m a publisher and curator, who works for …
Alison: I love that. ‘I’m not a business man. I’m a publisher.’
Scott: We’re not business people, really. He’s got that interesting business background.
Scott: There you go. She didn’t tell me she was going to do this.
Alison: I’m really sorry, but you came out of it well.
Scott: Apologies to David.
Alison: Another thing … what would be, if you had one bit of advice to give to somebody who’s listening to this, somebody who’s in the throes of writing their first book, what one bit of advice would you give them?
Scott: The biggest advice I can give is to get as much feedback on your project as possible before you take it to another professional level. And find someone who doesn’t have an emotional connection with you to read it.
Alison: Marriages must break up over this kind of thing.
Scott: Yes, and also, because people that love you want you to feel good, so when you say will you look at my book, they’re not going to say it’s awful. They may give you some constructive criticism. I’ve always said if you’re in a book group, who’s the most critical person in that book group, who hates every book that you guys read. That’s the sort of person that should be reading your manuscript and helping you out with it.
Alison: Helping you develop the thick skin, as well.
Scott: Exactly. Because from this point on, you are constantly going to have people telling you what they think of your project. If you’re a successful author, it will be Amazon reviews and newspaper reviews, and loads of people won’t like it. Get as much feedback as you can from people that you trust before you take it to the next level.
Alison: And inoculate yourself early to criticism. Not inoculate, that’s the wrong way of saying it, because that means you just let it go off you, because actually, you’re going to get more from a critical response than you are somebody trying to make you feel good.
Scott: You will. Just don’t be such a precious little flower about it. That’s what you need to get across.
Alison: There’s the tweet. Thank you.
Alison: Thank you, Scott. That was absolutely brilliant. Going to have to end it there, but hopefully, you all know a little bit more about, certainly Unbound, and the whole idea of crowdfunding, and all those links that we mentioned will go up on the show notes, so thank you very much.
Scott: Absolute pleasure. We now need to discuss my fee.
Alison: Ah, that’s funny. Bye!