At Unbound, Visitors Vote On Who Gets Published

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Host Scott Simon speaks to author John Mitchinson about Unbound — a startup that allows authors to pitch book ideas online. Visitors to the site then vote for the ideas they like best. The books that garner the most support get published.

SCOTT SIMON, host: You can think of this idea as "Britain's Got Literary Talent." A trio of writers in London have started an enterprise in which aspiring authors pitch an idea for a book. If enough readers say they'd like to read a book like that, the book gets published by a company called Unbound.co.uk, which will split the profits with an author 50/50. Most publishers give an author just 10 percent of a cover price.

To learn more, we've invited one of the founders of Unbound, John Mitchinson, to the studios of the BBC in London.

Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Mitchinson.

JOHN MITCHINSON: Delighted to be here.

SIMON: So how's this work?

MITCHINSON: For the launch of the site, we're working with established authors, for the most part. And what we do is we go and film a short video with them, which could be an interview or a short animated film. Then there is an extract and then a written pitch as well, and some information on the author.

SIMON: Who are some of the authors you're working with?

MITCHINSON: Probably the best-known of the launch list is Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, who is writing a collection of stories called "Evil Machines." The first story, which is on the website at the moment, is called the "Truthful Phone." And it's about a telephone that instead of allowing you to hear the other person, it actually transmits what you're thinking about the other person at the end of the phone, with hilarious and actually slightly sinister consequences.

SIMON: Are you at all worried that a book by Unbound will tell people, oh, you couldn't get another publisher?

MITCHINSON: No. All of the books that we had on our launch list could easily have been published through the traditional means. One of the novels in the first list is Amy Jenkins and she has published two books, both of which I think attracted six-figure advances in the past. Each writer on the site has their own little private area that we call the writer's shed. And when you pledge to support a book, you get access to that shed.

In there, Amy talks about how nice it is to have a place where she can interact with people who have already, as it were, voted with their feet, put their money where their mouths are and joined and helped support her in her endeavor.

SIMON: And when you mentioned people are willing to support, do they have to part with money you when they essentially...

MITCHINSON: They do. It's kind of an important thing for us is that the way it works is you pledge against a book. We have a target which we agree with the author. When we hit that target, the book is funded and can go ahead and be written. If it doesn't get funded, then everybody gets their money back in full.

SIMON: How much support will somebody typically lend to a book?

MITCHINSON: The lowest, which - the reward for the lowest pledge, with is 10 pounds - let's say 15, $16 - would be an e-book. And then that goes right up to 250 pounds, which is lunch with the author...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MITCHINSON: ...and a couple of tickets to the launch party, as well. And everything in-between - you know, dedications, signed copies, we've got a goody bag level where authors are choosing things that they think their readers might like. So it's just expanding the possibilities for interaction between readers and writers.

SIMON: John Mitchinson of the online publisher Unbound at Unbound.co.uk, thanks so much for being with us.

MITCHINSON: Thank you very much.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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