EVENT REVIEW: Unbound: The Wisdom of Crowds

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Sunday 9th October
Durham Town Hall
Review Amrita Paul


Seated at a round table with speakers – including Unbound authors Alice Jolly and Nikesh Shukla, and one of the founders of the aforementioned crowd-funding publishing house, John Mitchinson – was quite unnerving to begin with. A novice like me, placed amongst people who have struggled, fought and proved that there is a huge potential in many books that are being turned down by big publishing houses. Unbound is here to prove them wrong.

‘I had a writer friend whose book was turned down for being too intelligent,’ says Mitchinson, adding that the idea of crowd-funding is not new, writers like Samuel Johnson and Voltaire had used it to publish some of their works.

Several years ago, while big publishing houses were busy buying each other up, several writers in the UK turned their attention to Kickstarter, a funding website which can be used to raise money for any kind of project. The question arose; when the financial resources are in place, how does one edit, design, produce and get a book out? This is where Mitchinson’s expertise came in handy. After working as a bookseller for many years as well as holding positions in several marketing divisions of big publishing houses, he intuitively felt that there needed to be a platform where, after money was raised for a project, writers were given the opportunity to write the books they wanted to write.

In the last couple of years, £2.85million has been raised on the Unbound website to fund 166 books. One can simply pitch an idea to the publication and if the editors feel it has potential, it is launched on the site. A contract is drawn up and while an author writes a book, the website start selling pre orders. Once the funding target is reached, the book starts getting published professionally. If a project fails to reach its target of readers, the credit is refunded to those who funded it. They can then redirect it towards any other book they would want to read.

‘Everyone wants to second guess what people want to read, but by getting the readers in early, we eliminate the process and the people buying the books also feel involved in the process,’ says Mitchinson.

This holds true for Alice Jolly’s memoir Dead Babies and Seaside Towns which deals with the subject of surrogacy. ‘I had two books published with Simon & Schuster but nobody wanted to touch this one because of what it was about,’ says Jolly.

She laments how often writers have a tendency to self censor their work because even before they begin the writing process they worry about if they would sell enough copies.

‘It is dire for anyone’s creativity. But once my book was funded, I derived a huge creative energy from knowing I could write anything. Crowd-funding is also a great way to network if you are someone like me who doesn’t get on the internet unless she absolutely has to,’ she adds.

With their books winning literary prizes and several of them going on to become bestsellers, Unbound will continue to delve into areas where traditional publishers aren’t necessarily looking.

Rachel Kerr adds, ‘Our readers are much more adventurous than publishers give them credit for.