This is a book with a subtle difference; I have accidentally printed it myself. And no, I haven’t used a John Bull printing set or a photocopier (this is a proper book with a cover, a spine and copies lodged at the British Library for all eternity so that scholars can laugh at the mistakes), rather I’ve written out a fairly major cheque to get the presses turning.
So, am I mad? I must admit to having always wondered why Autocar had a host of sub-editors, art and production supremos listed neatly in the back of the mag. Now I fully understand, having had to perform all the roles myself. It didn’t happen that relations with the first printer I dealt with are heading for a Rumpole of the Bailey style showdown, either…
But I’m still glad I went down the DIY route. I’ve been published before, by companies that (theoretically) paid me for my efforts, and I can tell you that the problem with books about cars is that things get compromised and changed. A car belonging to the editor’s girlfriend can be inserted into the colour plates, ruining a year’s worth of toil (which happened to me, twice). Then there’s the ‘advance’ – a pretty much derisory sum in return for several months of your life, which is swallowed up by you paying for copyright images and travel. Meaning that, once your tome hits the shelves, you technically owe the publishers money and they joyously send you regular remittances to this effect.
Then there’s the battle to even get your name onto the spine of a motoring book in the first place. Most publishers will hate your proposal and suggest something else they have already pre-sold – Britain’s Funniest Celebrity Crashes or What Footballer’s Wives Really Drive – and they need to find a hack desperate (and cheap) enough to bash it out in a month.
Or maybe your face doesn’t fit. Mine certainly didn’t with one well-known motoring publisher telling me that as I wasn’t on telly, promotion for the book could be a problem. Clearly that series I did on ITV2 in 1999 (‘Dealer’s Choice’) has been completely forgotten…
So I’ve gone into publishing in the teeth of a recession with a book that no one is really interested in. At least I can damn well do as I please and put a picture of my face on the cover. Oh, bugger – there’s a bucket right next to the three-year old me with ‘Fairy’ written on it. Should have Photoshopped that out, too late now.
James’s book, The British Car Industry – Our Part in its Downfall is available from a select group of booksellers, or direct from his website.