James McKnight – Misspent Summers
James is a long-term dirtbag mountain biker who has somehow managed to fund the majority of his adult life through mountain biking. It was a mixture of guiding, coaching and cowboy building that helped pay the bills in the early days. Writing was a hobby, although he knew where he wanted to take it. The last eight-ish years he’s been writing and editing more or less full time, for both editorial and commercial outlets.
His company, Misspent Summers, is a publishing setup that produces mountain biking books, namely the downhill and EWS yearbooks (Hurly Burly and The World Stage) and of course, Eskapee’s Anthology series.
For the most part it’s all been a bit of side-project, though he’s just made the jump to reduce his other personal work in order to commit properly to it.
“I’m building it up slowly and surely,” he says. And that simple statement really reflects on James and who he is.
What and when was the dream/spark that starred it all?
I got really ill when I was working for a biggish publisher in 2015, and at the end of the year I had to leave my job.
Regardless of that, print titles and budgets had been cut by the publisher anyway. I didn’t believe that online and social media only was the way forward. It’s true that there is probably less demand for print products now, as news and reporting is definitely easier facilitated online, but for those of us who get fed up with staring at a glass rectangle all day, there’s nothing like sitting back with a real-life product to flick through.
What made you take that giant leap?
I also wanted to work for quality editorial print titles and there were fewer and fewer of those in existence. The publication I wanted to work for no longer existed, so I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with making something I believed people would want to read, and that could realistically survive in the long run.
What were you doing previous to this (or indeed still doing)?
I was working on Dirt Magazine with my friends there – Ed, Steve, Mike, Billy, Chris, Dave, Wonder, Lauren and Todd (among others). It was an unforgettable tea party.
How many hours per week do you work on this business?
I probably spend about 10-20 hours a week on Misspent Summers at the lowest points, but when there’s a project on it’s more like 10, 000, 000+ hours per week.
I have to think about a range of things, from concept and planning to budget (finding it), commissioning, editing, photo selecting, designer weeks and final production. Once that’s done, creating or updating websites, putting the word about, selling the thing, distributor relations and customer support take up a hell of a lot of time too. I don’t get much sleep for a couple of months around each book (especially as I still have to keep up with other work).
What’s the best part of your job?
Producing long lasting print products. I’ve always wanted to write for quality print, and although this is a bit different, I hope I’m creating a platform for other word nerds like me to get their work somewhere permanent and cared about.
What is the worst part of your job?
The working hours can be rude. But I enjoy nearly every part of the process.
What lessons have your learnt?
That I’ll never get everything done on my own – a good team is needed on any project. Trust them, ask their advice on everything. Whenever I’ve cut a corner in getting second opinions I’ve regretted it. One person never knows best. Listen carefully to good advice, politely ignore the rest, and adjust your work/business accordingly.
What advice would you offer others?
If you don’t get off the starting line, you’ll never know if it might work out. And read more books.
Check-out Misspent Summers for yourself and indulge in the world of print.