Heroes, Interviews, Publishing, Women's Writing

Publishing with Unbound, an Interview with Emilia Leese

Finding a home for your book can be difficult, especially if you want readers to have that old-school sensory thrill of riffling through pages and inhaling that new-ink smell. For an author, one of life’s gnarliest challenges is convincing a publisher that your idea will fly. 

Unbound is a new publishing platform that gives authors a chance to prove their projects are economically viable. Using the power of social media and crowdfunding, an author is able to collect readers’ pledges in advance of publication. When and if enough pledges are received, the traditional publishing process kicks in and the author can relax  while Unbound edits, produces and distributes the book.

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Author Emilia Leese

It sounds beautifully straightforward and simple, but is it really? I decided to talk to Unbound author Emilia Leese to find out. She and Eva Charalambides are the co-authors of Think Like a Vegan: What Everyone Can Learn from Vegan Ethics (learn more here).  They have successfully funded the book and are now waiting to see it printed. Emilia kindly agreed to answer a few questions that may be helpful for other authors seeking a new and exciting publishing avenue.

How did you decide to choose Unbound as a publisher for Think Like a Vegan? Had you tried others beforehand, or was this the first one you were drawn to?

I had heard of Unbound from Cerys Matthews during her show on BBC Radio Six Music one morning and the concept sounded brilliant, but we didn’t contact them immediately because we thought we should go with small, specialty presses first.

Initially, we contacted various other small presses. We were in discussions with two. One told us they had no time to market our book and insisted on a title they believed would make the book sell itself. We believed the title the press preferred was not enticing and didn’t convey what the book was about. Plus they sent us a contract that just didn’t work, neither for them nor us. In fact, I spent several hours fixing it for them (I’m a corporate finance lawyer, so contracts are kinda my thing). I wonder if they’ll use that form now?! The second press was keen, but didn’t communicate effectively and we were left hanging many times over. Who needs that?

When we contacted Unbound, they were enthusiastic, keen, incredible communicators and were interested in working with us, including in helping us craft a great title. So, we decided that although we were going to have to do a lot of work to have a successful campaign, it would be worth it. The small presses were going to do very little in terms of marketing. So, it was a matter of us putting a lot of work up front, while still retaining creative control. And with Unbound, it also was a much more collaborative environment because they were vested in our having a successful crowdfunding campaign as much as we were. With a level field in terms of interests, then creativity on both sides can soar and benefit the project as a whole. 

What sort of information should authors include in their pitches? For example, what do think persuaded Unbound that Think Like a Vegan was a project they’d like to support? 

The pitch for Unbound was very much like all the other pitches in terms of content. But their focus is on authors identifying their audience. And frankly, that’s a good thing to do no matter what publisher one approaches or even if there’s no publisher. Really thinking about your audience and who would buy your work is something critical for writers and for anyone trying to get their work or product to market. 

Knowing that the crowdfunding was all up to you, what were your strategies and resources? Did Unbound provide any advice or support at this stage? 

Unbound held a crowdfunding workshop where they explained the process, gave examples of what works and doesn’t. They have a marketing manager who was in contact with us often and to whom we could consult for advice throughout the process. The data to which authors have access to monitor their campaign is also pretty detailed and interesting. So you felt in control and simultaneously very much supported.

In terms of strategies, I had had experience with crowdfunding in the context of a small business, but also in the corporate finance sphere. The goals and strategies are more or less the same. The quantum changes, of course, alongside the risks. But the aims are the same. Our strategy was to hit the ground running when the campaign launched publicly. We built up momentum by personally contacting friends and family first, building a base, and then launching to the public. We mined all our contacts and tried to keep in touch with the public through social media in an engaging way, and by being ourselves. Unbound also has its own marketing channels, including a subscriber newsletter and social media. In fact, their newsletter is how a BBC producer found out about the book and invited us to be on BBC World News just before Christmas (you can watch the interview here)

How much time and effort, more or less, did you put into the crowdfunding campaign?

A lot. It was a full time job practically. 

What did you learn from the Unbound crowdfunding experience?

The incredible kindness and generosity of people. That is the biggest and best takeaway from this experience. Eva and I were moved to tears just about daily from the outpouring of support, kind words, generosity and encouragement. And sometimes from the most unexpected places. 

I loved the fact that, starting from quite a small amount, pledgors were guaranteed to receive a copy of the book. And then with higher pledges they were eligible to receive the book in different formats and fantastic prizes related to the theme of your book, for example personal video-conferenced consultations on veganism, or a ticket to a vegan Burns Night supper, or a chef-cooked Italian vegan meal. Did pledgors take you up on these offers? How did it go?

The minimum was £10 for an e-book, so yes, I suppose that’s more or less $10 USD. And every pledgor will have their name printed in the Supporter list at the back of the book. The rewards we offered maximized our presence and skills. There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, who needs one more tote bag? People don’t need or want things, they want experiences. So how could we weave our skills into this endeavor? Second, the costs associated with rewards we provided were low, meaning more of the pledge would go to the funding pot. If a reward would cost £X to make, then the pledge would only provide amount minus £X to the pot. So, we got creative.

Yes, pledgors took us up on these rewards. The Burns Night Supper was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we postponed the next supper club – a very special Ithailian (Italian-Thai) fusion, supper club we were meant to be hosting in early April. And we expect the other rewards will be claimed in due course.   

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At what stage in the process did Unbound offer you a contract? 

Only once the crowdfunding campaign hits 100% does Unbound offer a contract. 

Where is the book now? Do you have an estimated time for publishing? 

We are now in the early stages of editing. And have been told the book will come out in May 2021. 

Would you do it again? If so, what might you do differently? 

Yes, I suppose so. But with some distance so I can recover from the effort. I don’t think I would do anything differently, actually. 

For people who didn’t contribute to funding but who would like to read your book, are there ways they can purchase it?

Yes. Anyone can still support and pre-order the book now from the Unbound site. Once the book is published, it will be available everywhere books are sold, including your local bookshop, the Unbound website, Amazon and so on. 

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