Saturday, 4 October 2014

What makes a book sell? Does Unbound know the answer? by Alice Jolly

What makes a book or e-book sell? That’s a question that every publisher, agent and writer would like to be able to answer. Of course, at present, due to the rise of e-books, the answer is changing daily. But still you would assume that the big publishing houses must have an extensive knowledge of who buys books and why.

But they don’t. How can they? They might notice that the sales of a book or e-book rise after an article in the paper, a radio interview, or a flurry of tweets, but still they have no means of knowing anything much about the people who bought the book, or why exactly they bought it.

Amazon, of course, claim to know which books we all like. Hence all those annoying messages which say - because you like ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’ you may also like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Uuuum.

So does anyone know? Yes, strangely, I do. That’s because I’m publishing a book with Unbound and in order to get the publication process started I have to sell a certain number of copies in advance. Every day I’m checking how many I have sold.

I’m up to 60% now, which means I have raised over £6,000. That figure is on the Unbound website for everyone to see. But there is a part of the Unbound website which only I can see and which looks scarily like a complicated Maths problem. All sorts figures and graphs indicate exactly who bought my book and when.

I also get a weekly updates from Unbound telling me the names of those who signed up and how much money they put in. I even get messages in my ‘Writers’ Shed’ from subscribers themselves. I want to hug all these people – and though Unbound I can send them the e-equivalent of a hug. And on top of all that, because the subscriptions come direct to Unbound, they can e-mail people and ask them why they signed up – and they are doing that.

I can look at those scary graphs and match them to moments when a flurry of new people subscribed. Oh yes, that was the day when the article was in The Independent. That was the Mumsnet blog day. That was the day when that amazingly generous Hollywood producer put information up on his very heavily used Facebook page.

Unbound is a strange sort of publisher. Their main ambitions seems to be to introduce the reader to the writer and then get the hell out of there. But then isn’t that really what we all want? After all, who cares about publishers? The only people that matter are the readers and the writers.

So will Unbound work for my book? Will it work overall? Let’s hope so. But whatever the future holds, I do think it is interesting that one small, independent publisher has such a huge knowledge of who is buying their books and why. Shouldn’t other publishers be worried? I think so.

 The link for my book is here:


AliB said...

Fascinating, Alice. I'm not familiar with Unbound but it sounds like crowd funding? A bit confused on one point. Is your book actually available or are these people pledging in advance? Best of luck with it anyway. I'm off to have a look :)

Chris Longmuir said...

Similarly, I've never heard of Unbound and I'd be interested in the process of how it works. Maybe you could do a post next month on that. And like Ali I wasn't sure whether selling £6,000 worth of books was pledges or sales. And how many pledges or sales is required to make it up to 60% I'd have to sell more than 12,000 books to make anything near £6,000. And who gets the £6,000, you or Unbound? So, you can see you've put a lot of questions in my mind. I'd be interested in the answers and look forward to next month's blog when hopefully you can answer some of them.

Brian said...

Interesting, but it took me some time to find out what the author gets - I could't find any mention on the website. I finally tracked down this in an article in Wired: "Authors receive 50% of all profits from Unbound books -- much higher than they currently receive from e-book sales." (? First I've heard that 50% is bigger than 70%)

The only mention of e-books (the books are printed in a limited edition) came in their FAQs:

Q – Will your ebooks be DRM protected?
A – At Unbound we don't believe that DRM is helpful or even really fulfils its claimed purpose. We will encourage all our authors to make their Unbound ebooks available DRM-free but, as the content is theirs, they will make the final decision.

So I am assuming that the author controls the e-book rights, though, as there is nothing on the site about this, I am only guessing.

Also, if you pledge money for one of the books they take, I think, a rather cavalier approach to your money.

A – When do you you take my pledge money?
Q – We take the money from your account when you make the pledge. We can't recognise this money until the book is fully funded however, so if a project fails you can request a full refund.
(And that A and Q being reversed is not my doing...)

It goes on like this through some more questions: you don't automatically get your money back if the book is not fully funded, you have to APPLY to get it back.

I don't wish to be cynical but it sounds rather like someone trying to hang onto some of those publisher profits. It would be interesting to hear some more about this because there are some good things to consider.

Lydia Bennet said...

mm, very interesting - it also states you get 50% of the profit, Brian, not the book price? which could be very small indeed, as you have no control over what the publisher calls the costs of the book, unless I've misunderstood. I find these crowd funding projects strange, that people will pay in advance for a potential book, a lot of money too, when it's hard enough to sell actual books!

julia jones said...

Yes, very interesting. Do go on and tell us more.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Didn't know about Unbound either, but would like to know more. That word 'profit' may well be problematic. I'm always a bit worried when profit is assumed to be the same as turnover when it isn't and can be considerably less. Sometimes no profit at all. Also, I'd be interested to know how this differs from Kickstarter. My understanding with that is that if a project doesn't reach its funding goal no backers are charged.