Have you got an idea for a book but you're worried it's a tad too niche?
Today we're chatting to Will Hogan, who along with his co-author David Titlow, has just had a super niche book published about Eyeball Cards...yep, you heard...eyeball cards! Don't worry, we didn't have a clue what they were either!
Will is here to explain this unusual sub-culture and to talk us through getting an incredibly niche book out there into the world...
What's your book about?
It’s about a forgotten subculture more than anything – CB Radio. If like most, you’re thinking ‘What the heck is CB radio?’ CB stands for Citizen’s Band — two-way radio devices that truckers and everyday people used to chat to each other over distance in the late 70s and early 80s: sort of a pre-internet social media (or a terrifying unmoderated talking chatroom).
The exciting thing for me and David was the artwork produced by some who used it - their eyeball cards. Essentially, eye ball cards are business cards for ‘breakers’ (those who used CB radio - CBers).
It’s fascinating folk art that’s never been documented or explored – until now.
How on earth do you get something so niche published?
First thing you need to do is develop the idea for you, no one else. As a photographer, David had done quite a bit of groundwork, shooting portraits of those people whose eyeball cards he had, getting to know CBers and building trust with the subjects.
In late 2014, he asked me to write about the topic, interview those in the scene and really get under the skin of the culture. Fortunately, we’d both experienced CB Radio as children, so we had a basic connection with it to begin with. By the time we got around to pitching it to arts’ publishers in early 2016, we had a clear understanding of our subject and crucially why it’s relevant today – even though it’s a very esoteric topic.
Whatever was happening with our book being published or not, we loved the artwork, the ephemera, the pictures and the subject behind them, so we were going to turn it into something – if not a book, then an exhibition, or a documentary. Or just an interesting side project for the sheer hell of it. We’re still working on the other incarnations now.
What do you wish you'd known before embarking on the project?
That it takes time. The project took just over two years for me, and David had the idea well over a decade ago. But once you decide to hit the gas, you make that time fun.
As we were travelling around the UK interviewing people and collecting these very rare cards, we realised that we had to gain people’s trust and keep it – there weren’t many opportunities to talk to people and talk to them about their experiences, as a lot of them were really quite old.
We let a few subjects slip through the net by not being able to make the timings, due to our other project commitments, so we had to peddle twice as hard to make them up and get other people within this very small scene to talk to – so, never miss an opportunity is what I think I’m saying. There’s also a lot of trust-building in this closed scene, so we had to be patient to get people to share their brilliant stories.
What advice would you give to those thinking of writing something on a narrow topic?
Plough on with developing the idea regardless. Invariably, when people ask what you’re working on, you’ll hear ‘Sorry, what?’ a lot. There are surprising amounts of people who are into niche things. Once you start digging, you’ll find more than you ever thought possible.
What’s at the heart of every piece of engaging creative ever produced – book, article, song, artwork etc. – is human interest. If you tap into this, you’ll tap into a rich vein of creativity for yourself and your audience. The mantra I adopted was ‘Niche is the new mainstream’. It definitely kept me going!
Eyeball Cards — The art of British CB Radio Culture, by William Hogan & David Titlow, is out now on Four Corners Books.