Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Right on, Thomas. I'll join you in Hell. You sound like my kinda guy. Southeast Asia is my beat, so guess what: been there, done that. And your comments about the miserable pay of travel writers, and the need to cut corners, is entirely correct.
Right on, Thomas.
Best Article: Away on Business. Read it.
Thomas Kohnstamm Website
Thomas Kohnstamm MySpace
Thomas Kohnstamm Wikipedia
Lonely Planet Forum on Thomas Kohnstamm
Amazon Title: Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?
Amazon Books by Thomas Kohnstamm
The Age Australia April 13
Gadling April 13
Lonely Planet Profile April 14
Times Online April 14
WorldHum April 14
Brave New Traveler April 14
Away on Business April 15
Brave New Traveler April 18
Random House April 22
LA Times April 22
Jaunted April 22
New York Times Moment April 22
Vagabondish April 23
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
No matter whether you are a freelance travel writer under contract with Lonely Planet or Rough Guides, you will be give strict guidelines on the places you must go, the research you must do, and the correct copy you must turn in on a determined date. And then you get the second payment.
Another report from a new LP travel guidebook contract author.
I feel one of the biggest misconceptions about Lonely Planet is that the company pays its authors to swan around on holiday and then do a bit of writing as an afterthought. The reality is that you are on your feet for twelve hours a day, during torrential rain or baking heat or whatever testing conditions you’ve parachuted into: coups; insurgencies; dealing with the horror of warm beer in Britain. There’s very little time for actual sightseeing. It’s actually hard work.
As I mentioned before, reviewing chain hotels is a special form of torture and definitely a grind. But, also, I must stress again that time is always at a premium when doing guidebook work. Although I say I like to listen and observe, in reality financial constraints make it almost impossible to linger at leisure for days on end like some kind of bohemian flaneur, so you are really just crunching as much as possible into your day: visiting 10 hotels, dropping into 10 bars and restaurants (and not necessarily eating or drinking in them, either), visiting the tourist office, the bus station etc. If there’s a moment for quiet reflection then that’s a bonus and you seize on it and make the most of it.
Well, I’ve already spoken about the fact checking. Guidebooks have become a very streamlined business and there’s less and less chance to ’stretch your wings’ as a writer these days. Again, this is also a consequence of the fact that there are far fewer untouristed places on the globe today compared to say 15-20 years ago, when the content of an individual guidebook could still be groundbreaking. I mentioned boxed texts earlier — these are a chance to write as much as 800-1000 words on a topic — but for the most part it is very much templated work, there’s no getting around that. As for the pay, agreed: it’s not an especially well-paid job, and as that NY Times article highlights, there will always be a pool of eager young writers who will do it for next to nothing — a highly attractive prospect for any employer with a tight budget and a year-round schedule.
The travel writing community rarely has hot issues to discuss among themselves, but the recent issue of a book called "Smile While You're Lying" by travel writer Chuck Thompson has them up in arms.
Not sure why. He claims he was encouraged by his magazine publishers to write positive or at least not totally negative mentions of the tourist infrastructure (hotels, restaurants, airlines) when he went on assignment.
Yeah, so what. I'm a travel writer, but very few writers sculpt their verbiage; the bad shit is sometimes dropped and you find something interesting to write about your cookie cutter place. I only slam famous places that have gone bad and need a warning, and that's very unusual....I'd say less than five percent. And I have reviewed several hundred, perhaps thousands, of hotel properties in SE Asia.
Chuck Thompson came to San Francisco a few weeks ago and I had a chance to meet him at an Irish pub of the Tenderloin, and Chuck was a friendly guy with no pretensions about his book, which is mostly about his travel adventures and not his existential philosophy about the great good of humankind, but he does resent reviews of his book from journalists who have betrayed his trust, such as Rolf Potts.
New York Times
Brave New Traveler Interview with Chuck
World Hum Opinion by Rolf Potts