Matthew Clayton How the Unbound founder finds creatives to work with

Cover Image - Matthew Clayton

Our Talent 2.0 series explores how creatives think about – and find – good people in the internet age. Here we speak to Matthew Clayton of Unbound. Illustration by Lauren Humphrey.

Unbound is a London-based crowdfunding platform for writers. Founded by three authors in 2011, its starting point was that “people who love books – primarily readers and writers – deserve a say in what does or doesn’t get published.” They believe that the commercial pressures of mainstream publishing mean that a few tried and tested formulas have come to dominate the book market – “celebrity biographies, TV tie-ins and genre fiction.”

Authors use the platform to raise the funds for their book, and they split any profits 50/50 with Unbound. Both established and emerging writers have published books through Unbound, and it has been hailed in some quarters as the future of the publishing industry. We spoke to Mathew Clayton, Unbound’s head of publishing about how he picks the right projects.

With Unbound, are you proactively looking for potential authors or reviewing submissions that come in?

We do both. So we have a group of people that bring projects to us; they could be agents, our existing authors or people within the publishing industry that we know. But we also have a very active submission page on the website through which potential authors send us stuff – we go through all the submissions once a week. And our editors are on Twitter 12-1pm every Friday for #pitchinghour when authors can get immediate feedback on their books.

Which qualities do you look for in a potential project? Which qualities do you look for in a potential author?

An intriguing idea and good writing are the most important things. With authors, I am looking for people that are dynamic – so people that do things other than just write.

What things make you cautious or put you off a potential project?

If I don’t think the authors will enjoy the process. Some people aren’t suited to crowdfunding. Some people are not comfortable with self-promotion; to work with Unbound you, obviously, have to be happy self-promoting or you won’t raise the money.

What would be your advice to a writer hoping to publish through Unbound?

Email me – I am always happy to offer advice at an early stage.

More generally, how has new technology changed the way publishers find and evaluate new talent?

A few weeks ago I actually contacted someone to see if they wanted to do a book, whose images I had first seen featured as a background pic on WeTransfer. I think an editor’s job has become a lot easier as there are far more places to look for interesting things and, most importantly, it is incredibly easy to contact people.

The internet has also drastically changed the ease with which people can advertise their wares, but it favours visually-led projects and things that have an element of novelty to them. So it is good for some types of authors (say graphic designers that want to produce books) but not good for others (authors of the great American novel).

I think it is dramatically changing the way creative people go about producing stuff but I am not sure that publishers or publishing has caught up – or if it can, or even if it should. The internet is a great medium for material that requires a short amount of attention, a bit of a simplification, but this is the opposite of what books are good at doing.