How would one get a travel guide published?
October 30, 2008 10:11 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are looking at writing a US based (lower 48) travel guide and would like any tips possible regarding getting one published, and how to make it actually happen.

Having recently taken a road trip we looked at all the travel guides on Barnes and Noble's shelves, Border's shelves, and on Amazon and none covered what we wanted. So we thought "If we want it and it's not available, why not write one ourselves!

However this has brought up some issues. We both have full time day jobs, and we don't think by any means this will bring in "quit your day job" money. But to do a full 48 state travel guide we have really only two options: 1) Do it all from research, and hope the info we research is correct. 2) Travel. A LOT. Incurring a lot of expenses.

Our hope would be that we might be able to do some areas local to us (we live in IL so all of IL would work, and perhaps IN, MO, IA, and KY without too much expense or missed time from work with careful planning).

After that, is it at all reasonable to hope that first-time authors could take sample pages to an agent, have the agent get an advance against the book, and then use those funds to actually pay for some of the expenses of writing the book?

If that is entirely unrealistic, what other options do we have?

To add--we have considered writing perhaps an IL specific version of the overall book we hope to write. While far narrower in scope, we hope the material to support a book would still be there. Would that be a better way to go and then hope that based on that book we could get an agent and publisher to go for the full 48 states?

We are loathe to self-publish, even in this day and age, but does someone think that might be the way to do it?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by arniec to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a first-time author, your advance for writing the book is going to be insufficient to support you for more than a month or two, let alone to pay for you traveling for those two months.

I would suggest instead setting up a Web site, soliciting contributions from people in other states, and then when you have enough content, editing it into book form and self-publishing.
posted by kindall at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: It really depends on how different your guide would be from what's already available in a very saturated market.

I used to work at Lonely Planet, as an editor. Our writers - the good ones - worked incredibly hard for very little money. The advances they got? Those had to cover their travel expenses as well (other travel guide publishers may differ). Our not-very-good writers did too much of their research on the internet, and it showed. The time lag between doing the research (whether in person or on the internet or a combination), doing the writing, and getting it published is, at a bare minimum, 12-18 months, at which point some of the information is already going to be obsolete and/or inaccurate.

At the time I worked at LP, I don't think we ever got an author via agents - it was through connections, or calls for writers on our Website, or in-house - LP employees could try out to become writers after a year of working at LP. Prospective writers had to submit a sample chapter (we gave them our house guidelines first), and jump through a couple other hoops I no longer remember.

If you really want to do this, start local. Check guidebooks published about your area to see what they're missing, what they do particularly well, what niche they're looking to hit (students, foodies, art fanatics, etc.) and fill in the blanks. Look at travel book publisher sites to see if they have author/wannabe author guidelines, and follow those. Know who would want to buy your guide over anyone else's. Be prepared, even for a local guide, to spend more time and money than you think you will.
posted by rtha at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2008

If you feel that you can get the book actually written in your spare time, you might try, and see how that works out for you.
posted by Citrus at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2008

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