Do you want the good news or the slightly bad news? Let’s begin with the slightly bad news.
As indicated on February 2nd 2008, it was hoped that the Aquitania book would be ready for an April publication date. However, as is often the case in publishing this has proved to be too optimistic. The book has gone to be page proofed on time - whereby the text and images are moulded into a finished product, showing the layout of each page in the book - and the proofs will delivered shortly. However, it will not be available for purchase until the new target date of August 2008. This decision is not something under the author’s control, or even the book editor’s control, and was made by the publishing company at short notice. Following the acquisition of Tempus Publishing by the History Press, all the existing books (including books then in production) were transferred to the new company, and as a result some of the publishing schedules have had to be altered.
It is not always appreciated that any manuscript will often be with a publisher for a considerable time after completion. Delays are rarely caused by the author. For example, The ‘Olympic’ Class Ships was delivered in January 2003. This book package consisted of the printed manuscript, a computer disk copy ready for typesetting, and some accompanying images with captions. It was originally anticipated that it would be published in July 2003, but for a variety of reasons it was only published in October 2004; the RMS Olympic book was delivered in January 2004 and published in November 2004 (this time ahead of the original April 2005 target date); the RMS Majestic book was delivered in December 2005 and published in November 2006 (a couple of weeks behind target); and the RMS Aquitania book was delivered in July 2007 with an original target date of February 2008, put back to April and then August 2008. There is, therefore, often a delay averaging around a year between when the book is received by the publisher, and when it is finally printed. The production process - from the design of the cover, general design, editing, typesetting, page proofing, proof-reading, correcting and returning the page proofs, before the final book is ready to be approved and printed - takes several months. The printing process then takes a number of weeks, before the book has to be distributed. Even then, it may take several weeks for a book to become generally available.
However, the upside of the delay is that - hopefully - there will be much more time to go through the page proofs to spot any typographical errors or spelling mistakes. (Although it will be a few months late, copies of the book - as with all new books in the UK - will be sent to the British Library and remain there for centuries to come! So will any errors within!) Since the page proofs are broadly on time, and the publication date has been put back, then in this regard it is a welcome development. Another positive development has been that the initial change from February to April 2008 enabled a number of images to be added to the book that might not otherwise have been included. Perhaps the finest example is the colour-coded plan for cruise passengers, which dates from 1938 and shows many interesting details of the ship’s accommodation. It is particularly rare because it shows not only the first class accommodation (renamed ‘cabin class’ by 1936), but also the second class (renamed ‘tourist class’ in 1932-33); during cruises, Aquitania’s public rooms were open to all passengers. Even better, it has been possible to use this in combination with earlier accommodation plans, to show in detail many of the improvements made over the years. In 1937, when she had recovered from the depths of the depression and was carrying an average passenger list of 733 passengers, Aquitania was still one of the most popular ships afloat.
There is always a trade off between competing objectives when writing and producing a book. In an ideal world, Aquitania deserves a huge, full colour hardback book with numerous foldout plans and other features, as well as all the gorgeous (and expensive) images held by museums and archival repositories around the world, yet the expense of producing such a book is not one that any publisher would appear to deem acceptable. It is, after all, necessary to make a profit for a commercial firm open to the full blast of market forces. It is also necessary to strike a balance - between human stories and technical detail; between text and pictures; between original research and older yet relevant material; between her war and peacetime service; and so on. Different people will want different things from the book. Subject to those compromises, it is hoped that RMS Aquitania: The ‘Ship Beautiful’ will do the ship’s history justice, and offer some enjoyment to everyone interested in this grand old lady.