There are some unexpected evenings in your life. I never imagined I would end up in the Pandy Inn, an antique pub in Herefordshire, reputedly built by one of the knights who killed Thomas Becket, buying Terry Jones of Monty Python fame a pint and listening to a learned discourse on the potato by a farmer who grow Lady Claires for a crisp manufacturer.
Jones and I had just been to the Hay Festival to promote Unbound, a new publishing venture. Well, new in the sense that it uses the internet to take us back to 1713 or thereabouts when Alexander Pope was whipping up custom for his translation of the Iliad. Unbound (www.unbound.co.uk) has been founded by former publisher and QI co-creator John Mitchinson and authors Justin Pollard and Dan Kieran.
The idea is simple: authors can post pitches for books they want to write, have half-written or written. The surfing public can then subscribe to the works in digital or paper form, or not. For both parties the attraction is obvious.
Writers, even established and best-selling writers, often have difficulty getting certain projects supported by publishers because they’re wary of a thriller writer wanting to write, say, a biography of Hildegard of Bingen or a chef wanting to write a polemic about the education system.
Unbound gives the chance for a writer to reach out to a global audience, not just a British one, and furthermore, Unbound offers a royalty rate of 50 per cent as opposed to an industry standard of around 12 per cent on a hardback, a fact Terry Jones cited as his reason for signing up with it. I’m proposing a bijou, bibliophile edition of two of my short stories (including one about Troy, an unintended homage to Pope), an idea that would make any major publisher choke with laughter.
From the reader’s point of view, it’s a chance for greater choice. At the moment a very, very small group of people, a few senior publishers and a few buyers for the big chains, largely determine the titles that are available on the high street. Good independents can offer more, but good independents usually have limited floor space. Thus, Unbound offers the chance for writers and readers to get together for some mutual satisfaction and to enlarge the gene pool.
As a published novelist, like most published writers, I obviously hold the opinion that most publishers don’t know what they’re doing. But who knows? Maybe they do. The beauty of Unbound is that if you don’t get the support for your prized pet project, it’s probably a good indication that the world’s readers aren’t slavering for it and that you should direct your energies elsewhere.