With their unique crowdfunding approach to publishing, Unbound have already had a number of very notable success stories including Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant and the Booker Prize-nominated The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. This year the innovative publishing house are expanding their horizons to the world of graphic novels with Commissioning Editor Lizzie Kaye actively looking for projects to add to their list.
With their first campaign for Ram Venkatesan and Anand Radhakrishnan’s Grafity’s Wall now live (check out some gorgeous teaser art throughout this interview) and more announcements to follow, I speak to Kaye today about the Unbound philosophy, comics and crowdfunding, and just what she’s looking for from potential submissions…
ANDY OLIVER: From SelfMadeHero to Titan through to Unbound – let’s begin with a brief history of Lizzie Kaye’s journey into comics. What have been your roles in graphic novel publishing and what areas of comics have you been involved with to date?
LIZZIE KAYE: My graphic novel/comics career started with SelfMadeHero, where I spent four years working in Editorial and Production on the beautiful books they’re known for. I was then itching to try my hand at singles issues and monthly titles, so spent two years in-house as an Editor at Titan Comics, working on licensed properties, and the European line.
When I decided to move out of London in the summer of 2016, I went Freelance, and in the fall of 2016, Unbound and I started exploring ways we could work together, initially as a scout, and then as conversations progressed we decided it would be better if I joined the team as a Commissioning Editor, specifically to develop a graphic novel list.
Unbound is described as “the world’s first crowdfunding publisher”. Can you tell us a little about Unbound’s rather distinctive publishing approach and philosophy?
Well, it is an unusual model!
At first glance, I think a lot of people assume it is like Kickstarter, but the similarity begins and ends with the fact that both models feature crowdfunding. Actually, Unbound operates more like a traditional publishing house.
Unbound is a relatively new publisher, founded by three writers in 2010. They wanted to create a space that allowed the readership a say in which books got published, especially in the current publishing climate where the reality of business concerns were making more traditional houses increasingly risk-averse. They were frustrated with the limited attention great, and important, work was getting in an environment that was more and more focused on chasing bestseller status.
They also wanted to give readers greater insight into the processes of publishing, and include them. The psychology of how crowdfunding works is extremely interesting in itself, and it was the idea of patronage that they wanted to celebrate and encourage.
They operate as an amalgamation of a traditional house and a crowdfunding platform. In brief, the process goes something likes this:
Creator pitches their project to Unbound (submissions are open through our website, and I accept them directly, too – more on that later!)
Project goes through Editorial board review.
So far, so traditional…
Then, if accepted, the crowdfunding aspect of the process starts. Unbound arrange the filming of the video, host and promote it on their website, and guide the creators through the experience.
Unlike Kickstarter, projects aren’t limited to a 30-day funding period, allowing more time for the creator to engage with their audience directly.
Once funded, the creator then goes back to doing what they wanted to do in the first place – namely, writing and creating! They keep access to their supporters and can update them on progress and processes they go along.
Unbound then revert back to the traditional publisher role – providing editorial services, arranging printing, shipping and distribution, design, proofreading, marketing – everything you would get with a traditional house.
The project will also receive a trade release, which is a separate print run, and is distributed through the book trade by Cornerstone, of Penguin Random House.
Outside of comics what have been some of Unbound’s particular success stories so far?
In terms of success stories, for a relatively young house, they’ve had some fantastic books that have really made a mark!
A book that a lot of your readers have probably already bought is The Good Immigrant, by Nikesh Shukla. It won the British Public’s Favourite Book Award in 2016.
Another is The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth, which was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2014, as well as for the Folio Prize, shortlisted for the Goldsmtihs, and won the Gordon Burn prize.
And of course, there’s the beautiful bestseller, Letters of Note, by Shaun Usher!
Crowdfunding in all its various guises has become a vital and integral part of the indie comics scene, particularly since the explosion of interest in self-published and micropublished work. How fundamentally do you think it’s changed the publishing landscape over the last few years?
There’s no doubt that the advent of crowdfunding has made an impact on the indie comics scene, but the comics community in general has always embraced self-publishing and micropublishing – it’s a vital part of the industry.
In effect, the arrival of crowdfunding is just an extension of that self-starting spirit. I would say, though, that crowdfunding has possibly made it clear just how important expertise is, and just how much work is actually involved in the creation of books.
Looking outside the comics and graphic novel arena, though, I think there is still something of a stigma attached to self-publishing, which is completely unjustified. It’s almost a hangover of an outdated impression of the way publishing works – the romantic notion that a publisher will buy a work with an advance big enough to allow its author to do nothing but write, to commune with the muse… sure, this does happen, but extremely rarely, and it is not the experience of most working writers or artists. I think crowdfunding, especially through a platform like Unbound, gives these talented people a route to their readership that can be more useful, and more fulfilling, than the traditional route to market.
For me, Unbound truly is the future of publishing, as the model allows creators a degree of control over their books that they might not get with a more traditional house, as well as alleviating the pressure that you would face with a project crowdfunded through a different platform – namely, just how much more work you have to do in order to design, print, market, distribute, etc, your book.
As a Commissioning Editor at Unbound what are you looking for in potential graphic novels? Are there specific genres that you’ll be focusing on or particular approaches that interest you? Is there anything that’s off-limits?
Initially, I’m looking for non-fiction, be that biography, memoir, or reportage, and also literary adaptations, magical realism, slice of life, folklore… a whole variety of projects! I’d also love to see work that the creators just can’t find a label for – weird, odd, completely uncategorizable! The unifying factor is that they’re long-form graphic novels, with a self-contained story.
Right now, I’m not really looking for science fiction or fantasy, unless it’s grounded in one of the other mentioned categories, and I’m not looking for series – completed stories please!
Your first project is by Ram V (Black Mumba) and Anand Radhakrishnan. What’s the essential premise of the project and what attracted you to it?
The project is called Grafity’s Wall, and it’s a look at the lives of four teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, living in Mumbai.
Ram mentioned it in passing to me at Thought Bubble last year, and I knew immediately it was exactly what I was looking for. I don’t want to say too much more about it, as Ram explains it so brilliantly, and you can see pages and his video introduction to the book here:
Are there any teasers you can give us to future comic project announcements at Unbound?
Well, we’re very much still in the early stages, but keep your eyes on the Unbound twitter feed (@unbounders) and Instagram (unbounders) for sneak peeks behind the scenes as we line up more projects – the next will be launching on the website in a couple of weeks, which is incredibly exciting!
Also, I’ll be hosting an open pitching hour on the Unbound Twitter feed on Thursday the 9th from 4-5pm, so if you think you might have a project that would be great for Unbound, I’d love to hear about it.
And, finally, do you have one soundbite of advice for aspiring creators thinking of pitching to Unbound?
The only thing I would say, and this applies to pitching in general, not just Unbound, is do your research!
Think long and hard about whether or not your project is right for the publisher you’re approaching. In the case of Unbound, watch a few of the videos, have a look at the FAQs, and think carefully about whether you are built for crowdfunding. It’s exciting and fun, but hard work – though the results can be incredible!
You can back Grafity’s Wall at the Unbound site here.