In conversation with

JP Watson

Writer & Founder of The Pound Project

JP Watson

Introduction

Introduction

The process of getting writing published is historically convoluted and exclusive. What writer JP Watson has created with The Pound Project is a publishing house which both disrupts and democratises the industry.

Working with both established and new writers on limited edition runs of essays and short stories, The Pound Project leads campaigns to promote each book. You might have read titles from Pandora Sykes, Dolly Alderton and Emma Gannon. Their latest project comes from writer Ana Santi (of Comfort Zones collaboration) who has brought voices together from fashion, food and fresh air to discuss how we can protect our planet.

According to JP, the Pound Project’s foundations are simple: “First, that good writing can and should be paid for. Second, that reading needs to be rebranded and championed as exercise for the brain. Third, that businesses can and should operate in sustainable and eco-friendly way”.

As much an avid reader as he is keen writer, we asked JP about his favourite books, how The Pound Project creates campaigns and the advice he’d give to first-time writers.

Question and Answer

What did you grow up reading? Do you think those stories informed your writing at all?

The Twits, Wind in the Willows, Fungus the Bogeyman, Where the Wild Things Are… anything with subversive central characters.
My favourite is probably Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I’m pretty sure I inherited my perpetual sense of injustice from the books’ put-upon hero Calvin, who proves children are equally capable of an existential crisis.

Every Christmas my granny would give us a hardback copy of the Guinness Book of Records, which was always the starting gun for fights with my siblings. And I also remember an unhealthy obsession with The Way Things Work. David Macaulay’s illustrations are astonishing.

The books you read growing up are what my partner calls the custard of life. I’m not sure who I’d be without them, writer or otherwise.

The Pound Project feels like it is disrupting the publishing world by democratising it for writers and readers – why did you start it and has the mission evolved since then?

We never think twice about paying for crisps, chocolate, sweets.

In the UK we consume something like six billion packets of crisps a year.

Then you look at the creative industries and we’ve arrived at a place where everyone expects content to be free. Why? Isn’t a good story worth something?

I spent years trying (and failing) to make it as a journalist, scratching around for money, chasing invoices, watching talented friends hit the wall. We all had the necessary skills to make it, the world was consuming words, and yet we were getting nowhere.

Eventually I had enough and founded The Pound Project. The foundations are simple. First, that good writing can and should be paid for. Second, that reading needs to be rebranded and championed as exercise for the brain. Third, that businesses can and should operate in sustainable and eco-friendly ways.

We campaign to release just one story at a time. We only print what we sell. We are entirely transparent about paying writers an equal share. We champion new and established talent from myriad backgrounds. Our products are accessible and affordable for everyone. Our books and packaging are made from recycled materials. That mission hasn’t changed.

How do you choose your authors? (Or do they choose you?)

A mixture of both. It evolves and snowballs naturally.

You run The Pound Project in campaigns – what is the strategy behind marketing each book?

Each writer is carefully timetabled so that their story speaks to people at the right moment. We then create a campaign around their image and the subject matter of their work, so that it tunes in to what people are thinking and feeling. It is no accident that our current project Three Things with Ana Santi has launched now – more of us are aware of the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, and more of us are trying to work out what we can do about it.

“Each of our products only exist because of the support and faith of our backers, something we acknowledge in every title. We want readers and writers to feel like they are part of a community that respects and values creativity.”

What do you hope both writers and readers get from supporting The Pound Project?

The idea that a customer can be an essential part of a book’s creation is powerful. Each of our products only exist because of the support and faith of our backers, something we acknowledge in every title. We want readers and writers to feel like they are part of a community that respects and values creativity. Without them the industry dies.

What is your most memorable book or piece of writing, and why?

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. Writing can be about everything and nothing at the same time.

Why is print important to you? Do you think words on a page versus words on a screen tell different stories?

I’m obsessive about the look and feel of print, how fonts mark the page, the smell of paper, the way books age like people the more they are touched and understood. The stories are the same on the screen, but the experience isn’t connected to you in the same way.

Have you got a favourite book from The Pound Project?

That’s like asking which of my parents I prefer.

You recently worked with Ana Santi on her project Three Things on practical solutions to climate change. Why was this an important book for you to publish and what have you learned from the experience?

There is irrefutable evidence that humans are the cause of the climate emergency. We witness the devastating effects of our actions and yet it is very difficult to know what we as individuals can do. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by complex scientific information. Sometimes the scale of the task feels daunting. Sometimes we don’t know what to believe. With Ana, we wanted to cut through the noise with clear, practical, and evidence-based steps that people can and should take to protect the environment. Not next year, not next month, not next week… but today. As Ana says: “It is time for us all to stop worrying and start doing.”

This campaign was the company’s first directly political title. We have been catapulted into a debate around a controversial subject and have had to be well-prepared for sharp critique. The Pound Project is comfortable being uncomfortable. It is space we want to be in. Especially when the health of our world is at stake.

What would your advice be to first-time writers who feel intimidated by the publishing process and just want to get their work out there?

Read. Emulate others. Build a professional profile. Never pitch to someone without researching them first. And if you don’t ask you don’t get. Don’t let knockbacks define you.

What three things do you need to finish a story?

A story is never finished. You just have to stop.

JP's Storylist

Books

  1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  3. A Good Man Is Hard To Find: And Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
  4. Collected Poems by Patrick Kavanagh
  5. North by Seamus Heaney
  6. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  7. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  8. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. The Way Things Work by David Macaulay & Neil Ardley

Magazines

  1. The New Yorker
  2. The White Review
  3. The Economist
  4. Private Eye
  5. The Week

Newsletters

  1. The Email from Wired
  2. The Magnet
  3. Recommendo
  4. Vox Sentences
  5. The Pound Project

Websites

  1. WindowSwap
  2. Poetry Foundation
  3. Tortoise
  4. Teachradar
  5. The Guardian
  6. BBC

Podcasts

  1. Desert Island Discs
  2. Tweet Of The Day
  3. A History Of The World In 100 Objects
  4. The New Yorker Fiction Podcast

Digital Platforms

  1. Lexico
  2. Kickstarter
  3. Google Analytics
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