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Thursday, 30 May 2019

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

I’ve written a book! My second book, boast be told. But it's not a silly fictional vanity piece this time! It's a real book! With potential real-life prospects which could potentially help real-life people! Amazing! So cool! Big stuff! Loud noises!

It’s called Heartbreak Sucks! How to Get Over Your Ex in 30 Days and, truly, how could I summarise the content any better than a sentence that specific? Oh boy, the pride excreting from my pores was measurable only in buckets. It took me years (off and on) to write and perfect this collection of pages until I believed they were strong enough to prop up such a bold title, and when I came out the other side, I sat back with this overwhelming aura of wowness. I knew I had something solid on my hands. I had done my research and any competing publications were nothing but a miserable dribble of condescending psychobabble and/or tongue-in-cheek solutions, either scraped hollow of humour and compassion or exclusively reliant on humour with no actual educational benefit. I had cracked the code! I managed to balance empathy with hilarity and I was going to save the whole fucking world with it!

Wherefore art thou, rodeo? I had written a book before, sure sure. It was called This is Your Brain on Drugs and my knack for self-explanatory titles was not lost here either. I self-published that jobby thanks to the generous fingers attached to curious hands attached to (mostly) actual friends who were good to other friends. Such lovely faces they were, sponsoring money over Indigogo until I had a big enough pile to get my thoughts printed and shipped all by myself. And to those who were there back there when, I still salute you so hard that I bruise my forehead. But while that approach worked perfectly for that moment in time, something about this particular path felt like it would be doing Heartbreak Sucks a slight disservice. This piece needed a larger cannon because it had a much greater chance of breaking into some sort of a popular market. And that meant MONEY. I mean, of course it also meant helping people too. But MONEY also.

Hence why I packed my hypothetical suitcase full of beans and embarked on a mission which ultimately turned out to be as painstaking as writing the book itself. I tried to find a publisher. I contacted quite a few in the end, sending each one a nice stack of documents according to their requested criteria which usually consisted of a personalised cover letter, a synopsis, a proposal, a writing sample, chapter summaries, a list of competing publications, my credentials, and whatever other custom text their eyes so desired. Hey, would you like this blatantly lucrative masterpiece of modern self-help literature? It might surprise you to find out that most companies never returned my message. Many others did, perhaps even an automated email simply to reject my proposal (which I appreciated anyway). However, there were three or so bigger names who did express definite interest in the project, but the conversations kinda fizzled out when our visions couldn’t quite align. Please note that none of this discouraged me in the slightest. On the contrary! Every worthwhile author’s story is built from a paper mache boat consisting primarily of refusal letters. If anything, this whole neglection process made me feel even more like a genuine writer, and I planned my award speech accordingly. You shall rue the fucking day!

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

This adventure took an interesting turn when a friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder and pointed in a slightly different direction, pulling apart some bushes to reveal a glimmering utopia in the distance. It was a company called Unbound and to call their business model unique is a fair word while calling it genius is fairer still. How it works is simple, and can be split into two phases. First, they function almost identically to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, setting up a crowdfunding page where you can drive traffic, encouraging people to pledge money towards the book until you hit the target, nothing new there. However, if you managed to raise the cash, then the process flips into the more traditional publishing side, where Unbound print and deliver the product, as well as pushing additional copies into bookstores, leaving the author to sit back and relax, watching the magic happen with a glass of wine in one hand and a laugh in the other. What’s important to note is that it is next to impossible to convince stores to stock your writings when you’re a self-published author, so that was the aspect which truly salivated my teeth and reshaped my eyes into heart emojis before I even submitted the text. But then I pulled myself together, submitted the message, and was dismayed when the robot on their side informed me that it would take up to two months before they got back to me. Argh, why is everything so slow? I want it all and I want it now!

Actually, in this case, that kinda happened. An Unbound representative sent me an email the very next day, informing me that she was halfway through the book and she absolutely adored it! Say what?? We moved into the Skype dimension and made Wifi eye contact as we chatted about exhilarating prospects, this friendly lady throwing colourful confetti into my pupils, showering my work with praise, informing me about how excited she would be to take the project on. Oh my God, this was it! This was everything I had been waiting for! A professional company actually believed in me! I always knew those decades of interviewing myself in the shower would eventually pay off, and here I was, on the cusp of becoming a bonafide author who could walk into a bookstore and scribble his signature in the cover without getting arrested. Oh, the power! Oh, the irresponsibility! Naturally, I was ready to jump through whatever firey hoops and bark like a dog just to get this going, and I eagerly agreed to join the Unbound family pretty much right away. And with that, we set out a collaborative plan to take my voice to the masses.

First things first, she told me, was that we needed to raise £15,000. If I could go back in time to the moment this information was passed, I would have intentionally taken a big sip of coffee just so that I could dramatically spit it out like I was a cartoon. £15,000?? Jesus Chrysler Voyager Miles Davis, that’s a lot of money. In fact, as a full-time writer, that’s a fucking fortune. A figure that size could cover every one of my bills and meals for a year, and I was expected to raise that for a book? Noticing my O-shaped mouth, Unbound lady was quick to laugh it off, reassuring me that this is a large amount but they had achieved this many many times before. This was their job, they’d run hundreds of successful campaigns in their time, and all it would take was their extensive connections, my dedication, and a strategic approach in building a buzz. I eventually started breathing again. The steps seemed digestible and logical, as we compiled a list of potential promotional avenues, such as writing relationship articles for likeminded blogs to spread the word or attempting to create some sort of a viral marketing ploy where people told us their worst heartbreak stories ever. Certainly, these were fantastic ideas, and the calm this lady provided gave my confidence the space to grow.

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

Of course, as life has gone on, I have become very proficient at ignoring red flags, as have you, I'm sure. One of the most glaringly problematic of these flags was the increasing levels of difficulty trying to get hold of this representative. I’d estimate that I’d get one reply per every three of my emails, which was usually over a space of one week. I got so many Out of Office bounces from this account that I began to wonder what she even did for a living. Furthermore, my book was pdf-print-ready-to-go, but whenever we managed to converse she often spoke about replacing my artwork with someone else’s artwork, and what’s more, she asked if I knew anyone who would be willing to do so for free. There was also other small talk about changing the title, reordering the pedantically organised steps of my guide, and rewriting entire sections to be more focused upon my own personal sob backstory. My creative energy cringed at these suggestions, I felt the cells in my throat tense up in defence mode, but I nodded with a compliant grimace. I figured, hey, business is business, right? This is how it works in the life of artists. It’s about compromise, and at the end of the day, they’re the ones who have done this before, not me. I managed to convince myself that this was a learning curve and better days were just around the corner, even when I received the contract which included a clause granting them the first refusal for whatever my next book was going to be or else. Still, it’s easy to point fingers but I have spoken to people who work within the industry, and I’ve been assured that all of the above is completely standard. Certainly, there was a wall of internal resistance inside of me, but I can’t reasonably hold any of this against Unbound. This is regular publishing stuff, apparently.

Still, this did not exactly ease my mind, and when our decided launch date of Valentine’s Day kept rushing towards us with very little work completed, my courage dwindled into a thimble. I even have this in writing as I chatted with my sister around this time, whining about my gut instinct which was blaring warning alarms throughout my chemical pouches. Everything was wrong! There was less than a week to go and we were nauseatingly unprepared while my representative was nowhere to be found! Then, suddenly, she reappeared, exploding into my inbox with a flurry of demands, the most notable of which being that I needed to put together a video of me selling my book RIGHT NOW. My terror blasted me into action and within a day I had submitted her a script of what I thought accurately represented me and my product together as one. She responded by ruthlessly stripping out those sparkly Jared characteristics and signature humour while highlighting other essential info I somehow had to squeeze in there too. “Oh, and by the way, try and make sure it's under a minute in length, ok?”. I knew this was impossible short of speed-rapping her requirements alone, but I gave it a go and ultimately submitted a 2:30 video. It was the best I could do. But not good enough. She told me that I needed to trim another 30 seconds off at least. This was days before launch now. I had an actual job to do which actually paid me. But, eventually, somehow, by trimming literally every .5 second from any breath I could, I managed it. What choice did I have?

And then the stress finally hit the full stop punctuation point and stopped. By some miracle, the campaign was released on Valentine’s Day. We did it! I mean, I didn't love it, but we did it all the same. Unbound had reworded much of my provided bio text (while still referring to me in first-person, literally putting words into my mouth) and the imagery chosen was so off-brand that I wonder if she’d actually read the damn thing, but the point still stood. We did it. The overall encompassing vibe of the moment was a nice one. None of my friends knew about the project either so it brought me tremendous pleasure to finally announce that I had written a new book and, what’s more, a big company was involved. It really felt like I was on an escalator to a higher floor of artistic progression. It felt like it meant something important.

The response was immediately promising too, at least in words. Some of my friends got involved super quickly while others were having bank issues due to the heavy lifting of Valentine’s Day, and “promised” to jump in on payday. Regardless, the money was trickling in, at times with sizeable amounts, and I’d like to take a moment here to send a massive shoutout to David Whitney, Ammr Khalifa, Milz Dechnik, and Adam Hartley. You guys are everything, I have so much love for you, and what you contributed will not go unrewarded, that I promise! However, after the days passed, then the weeks passed, it became obvious that something was not quite working the same as it was in my dreamworld.

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

Just under a month later and we’d raised £856, which is good money, but in Unbound terms, a fucking terrible amount, stalling at only 4% of the required total (after tax). And by this point, I had started to nurture some truly harsh negative vibes within me. Looking at the stats now, 19 of the total 20 pledges were my friends and yet I still harnessed this instinctive pain to blame my friends for the lack of momentum. Payday had come and gone, endless reassurances had been made, but there was a severe absence of support from my mates. But once that unjustified feeling of animosity began to fade, the truth was as clear as L. Ron Hubbard. I actually didn’t want my friends to buy or even read this book unless they were suffering from heartbreak. This wasn’t some fucking charity plea here. I put together a legitimate self-help manual which was designed to assist people out of the pit of breakup depression. It was never intended as some avenue where friends could prove their worth to me by paying for my ideas. If I wrote this for my friends, I would happily give it to each one of them for free (and I still might). But even worse than this, was the spam. Oh God, the spam! Perpetually posting about this product on my social media feeds was filling my mouth with vomit. It was against everything I stood for, I felt shame every time I did so, and I felt that I shouldn’t need to plug something which spoke so loudly for itself. I truly think that if you have to incessantly beg for backing then your output simply isn’t good enough, which is a polite way of saying that, pretty soon, this whole project felt like an embarrassing failure before it had even been born. The depression monster received the invite and started tapping on the window. I looked over and I could see that he was vaping my pride, then blowing out a big cloud of strawberry flavoured humiliation. And in that moment, I became acutely aware of how much happier I had been before this dismal campaign entered my life.

I kept Unbound up to date with my concerns and when they finally responded a week later, the tone had sunk into more dismissive regions. Gone were the bright-smiled promises and optimistic back pats. Instead, there was an aura of slight disappointment and a, “Hey, look, you’re just not trying hard enough. Remember all the things we discussed from before? Finding places where you can write articles? The viral marketing crusade? Asking your parents for money? You’ve got to go and do all those things now.” Wait, I thought you said we were going to do all of those things? Like, together? Now you want me to go out do all of this by myself? I mean, it’s worth noting that you guys are TAKING 50% OF ALL PROFITS, and now you’re telling me that you’re not going to even help me to promote this anymore? What is it that you actually do? Why aren’t I just doing this all myself and getting all the money while I'm at it? And that’s when I realised... oh shit! I wasn’t a partner! I was a fucking customer.

By this time my emotional supply had sunk into a cold basement filling up with despair and the only relief I could locate in my mind was that fantasy where I pull the plug and the icky water swirled and drained and disappeared into gone gone land. Hence why when I found myself sucking on the dirty ceiling just to get oxygen, I knew I was losing some internal battle, and I did it. I wrapped my big toe around the chain and I pulled that plug. It was the path of least resistance. It was the only move I had left.

My Experience With Unbound Publishing

Unbound weren’t stoked, how could they be? Naturally, there was an immediate reaction of, “You signed a contract, child!” to which I scoffed, “Actually, if you check your records, you may find that you guys are so slack that you didn’t even follow that up, and I never signed anything.” Truly, somehow, this campaign went live on their system without me ever committing my name on anything. They sent the dotted line for me to sign, I said I would sign it, and then I changed the topic. Misdirection at its finest. That’s a little trick I’ve learned in my extensive years of playing business, don’t sign shit if your tummy is doing wobbles. And so now, as far as the law was concerned, there was never any agreement and my book was still my book. But like, LOL, hows does this even happen?? You would think a legit company would know better but I guess this is another big red warning flag towards their professionalism. Or, at very least, a lesson for them. You’re welcome!

Unbound agreed to remove my campaign off of their indexes but because the financing part of the operation is a different department, they said we’d have to wait until the campaign ran its 150-day course before they could fully shut it down and reimburse the money already raised. I’m not sure how much I trust this information, but short of getting upset, what is the solution? This means that if you were one of the kind souls who put cash towards my project (once again, thank you!) then you can expect a refund by what I estimate to be the 14th of July 2019. I’m sorry this won’t happen earlier, but I have no reason to believe that Unbound would fail at delivering this. No matter how unsettling my experience was, they are a legit organisation at the end of the day, and to steal £856 hardly seems worth the effort. I also want those who supported me to know that your names have been recorded in a special Google Doc for future reference and I will not let this act of generosity go uncompensated. I do this out of gratitude for your belief in my product, but I also do this because I want those who didn’t support it to feel immense regret. The devil is still a worthy ally when it comes to good ideas.

UPDATE: it has just come to my attention that Unbound DO NOT automatically refund the amount. Instead, you get "credits" on your account to spend on more books, but you can contact them and request that YOUR money be returned. I swear I will do everything I can to ensure this process takes place with minimal effort on your side, but EVERYONE, please use this information as a further precaution as to how strange this company is with many of its policies!!!

I'd like to wind this article down by emphasising my deepest respect for Unbound. At the time when my campaign was launched, famed MSPaint artist Jim’ll Paint It was just rounding up his own release on the platform (Of Mouse and Man: The Best of Jim'll Paint It) which was 242% funded when I last checked. I have no doubt in my mind that Jim was treated like royalty by Unbound and that his work was highly promoted in every way they could muster because that’s essentially how they operate. They’ll probably launch anything, it’s very little effort on their part to do so, and if it gains speed, then they’ll push it with all of their biggest muscles because, in the end, the printing costs automatically get covered by pledges and then they snatch 50% of the profits too. It’s clever and it makes sense. But if your campaign doesn’t show immediate promise, then you are a penny in the dust to them. If you can’t inspire that initial interest running in your favour, then why would they waste their resources on you? And I honestly have nothing against this strategy. But the thing is, for them, my book was just another potential egg which tumbled on their radar, which is something I fully understand. But for me, this book represented a very specific period of my life. A lot of personal pain live on these pages and it took a fuckton of strength to figure all of this out. I was not willing to strain myself trying to convince people of its worth, least of all a company who had 0% interest yet 50% to gain. Fuck that, even if it is such a shame that they will probably never work with me again.

The good news is that the book still exists and it's completely under my control. And what’s even more important to recognise here is the educational aspect of this whole mess, something which I already knew but has once again reaffirmed itself in my source code. It’s that I must never ever let anyone else ever touch my art ever ever again. I felt my creative self being churned through a meat grinder during this process, and nothing is worth feeling like a hotdog, especially when you’re a vegetarian. Sure, I want money and I want fame as much as the next guy, but if I receive such things on someone else’s terms by following someone else’s pathway, then we better be talking trucks of money and fame, neither of which Unbound could possibly promise me. This book is my baby and I want to treat it the same way I treat the rest of my creative spawn, and that is basically via the fuck everyone ethos. Don’t tell me how to raise my creations. Only I know what’s good for them. And if I’m wrong and I die as a hungry unknown, then so fucking be it. I will suckle on my integrity and my eventual spirit will enter the next realm twisted but with every piece in place.

Which is to say, the book is coming! And it will come how I want it to come, which is exactly how I like to come. What's more, the profits will be mine all mine. Watch this space. Don’t stop watching. Never turn away. Don’t even blink, or you lose this game.


Thursday, 23 May 2019

Definitely Not a Cry for Help - Chapter Five: Rome