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.