Interview 12th April 2019
JP Watson; Writer and founder of The Pound Project
"Whether you’re young or established, you have a desire to be published."
JP Watson, writer and founder of The Pound Project, on the world of book publishing and why we should celebrate the value of reading and writing.
JP Watson is a writer and founder of The Pound Project – an independent, award-winning crowdfunding publisher, campaigning for writers new, old, known and unknown, to have their work recognised and rewarded. Here JP tells his story to A Studio Of Our Own...
A Studio Of Our Own (ASOOO): Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and where the idea for The Pound Project came from?
JP Watson (JPW): I migrated to the big Smoke from Birmingham with a view to pursuing my dream as a journalist. I was surrounded by loads of really talented people, all working really long hours, but realised quickly many of them were not getting paid. And it seemed that was the case for anyone else wanting to pursue a creative career, whether in music, arts or writing. It’s crippling when you start out – and you really have to have self-belief to keep going – because you think, ‘I’m talented and I’m getting pieces commissioned, but I’m being asked to do something for nothing.’ I started to look at why it was: either part of the industry has gone wrong somewhere or there’s an imbalance in how money is being distributed. Whether you’re young or established, you have a desire to be published. I starting to look at how I could create a business around it. After a lot of research into different business models, I set the crowdfunding idea in motion.
ASOOO: How does The Pound Project work?
JPW: We crowdfund one story and one writer at a time. People can pledge just £1 to read or hear the story online or, for £5, they can buy the story in print. For a little bit more investment, people can get a signed copy and so on. We set our total funding amount for every story at £500, so that more people will be encouraged to support our talent. Our writers are all paid their equal share, in recognition of the hours of work that go into producing a story.
ASOOO: How does The Pound Project make a difference in a world where anyone can publish a blog?
JPW: The internet is great for people wanting to express themselves. But there’s a difference between people doing it as a hobby and those people who have studied and honed their craft and are trying to make a career out of it. That’s what our aim is – to help those people get the recognition and reward they deserve. The Pound Project sells books but it is also about celebrating the value of reading and writing. Is good content worth it?
ASOOO: Have you met with any resistance from the established publishing houses?
JPW: No, because we’re not in direct competition with the established models. We’re doing our thing and that doesn’t have to create conflict. What we’ve found interesting is that some of the talent we’ve worked with, or in talks to work with, may already be working with agents and bigger publishing houses on larger book deals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have other stories to tell at the same time as their published book comes out.
ASOOO: How do you find your writers and decide which books to publish?
JPW: Initially I went to people who I thought would be good, who I’ve got a relationship with already, like Dolly Alderton. As we build, more people are showing an interest and coming to us. This means we can select writers in an organic way, and can produce stories from people who are hungry to campaign with us and put themselves on the line. Whoever comes to me has to have a pitch for the story – how would you package it and pitch it? Which social media channels would you use to promote it? I will help as many writers as I can to get published but creativity also now requires you to be aware of where your art fits. I want to know who’s going to read your story and why? What’s the peg? What’s the zeitgeist that we’re tapping into? That’s the great thing about someone like Pandora Sykes. Pandora is very clear about who her audience is and why are they going to engage with her; that’s a really tricky thing to do and there’s an element of magic and luck but there’s also real canniness there.
"I want to know who's going to read your story and why? Whats the peg? What's the zeitgeist that we're tapping into?"
ASOOO:How important was branding and tone of voice to you?
JPW: I knew I had to get the hook line for the business right from the outset. I spent two days on my own writing straps until I got to: “small change, one story at a time”. With the brand I wanted an alliterative name, that people could remember. For me, from a marketing perspective, the biggest thing was having a nice set of visuals and a clear call to action in our hook line. It’s all about making people feel that they are part of a movement, from as little as £1.
ASOOO: Has social media been important to you?
JPW: I’ve tried lots of things, some with success, some without. I was very naïve when I started, with nothing on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Now I have very measurable outputs and have become obsessive about the timing of campaigns. The most important channel for me is by far and away Instagram. Writing a book is a very visual thing and once people receive one of our books, you’d be amazed at the feedback our little, nicely packaged rewards get.
ASOOO: And what next? What’s in the pipeline?
JPW: We’re in the thick of a really successful project with The High Low co-host Pandora Sykes, which has been incredible. Our next three writers are top secret. Safe to say they’ve definitely got something to say. We’re exploring different types of storytelling that will hopefully keep people interested in The Pound Project. I want to work more closely with universities and creative writing courses to demonstrate how you write a good, short story, but also what you have to do to create awareness and therefore a business around it. There’s also the charity angle that I’m keen to explore – if there’s a cause people are attracted or attached to, how can we get a piece from them and collaborate? Is there a story there that’s worth telling so that we can raise awareness of the cause?
ASOOO:Who would be the dream, for you, in terms of writers publishing through TPP?
JPW: A real dream would be Annie Proulx or Margaret Atwood, and why not. I’ve got a wish list of people which is kind of ridiculous. But this isn’t just about new talent or existing talent: it’s about who’s telling the stories, and that could be a professional journalist, a writer or a brand-new voice. That’s what I’m interested in.
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