What’s it take to be a Lonely Planet Guidebook Writer? An Interview with Brice Gosnell

Brice Gosnell, publisher of the Americas for the Lonely Planet guidebook series, talks to us today about what it takes to make it as a guidebook writer. His top three tips? Learn to take criticism, don’t email your editor a million and twenty times a day, and don’t, under any circumstances, annoy your publisher (i.e., miss your deadlines or ask to write about Paris, again). If you’ve ever wanted to get paid for those travel-writing journals, here is the scoop from Lonely Planet’s own Brice Gosnell!

What are you looking for in a Lonely Planet guidebook writer?

We need people who are able to write well, of course, because it means more editing time for us if they cannot. It’s not about flowery language though; we need a journalistic approach, seeing a place or situation from all sides. We will include controversial things, but we strive to provide balance. Even more important, however, is being travel savvy. We want someone who is well-traveled, not someone who just took their first trip out of college. When we look at a writer’s potential, their travel history comes first.

Expertise and experience in a specific area is very important for who we hire. If you know an area well already, you have an advantage. Also, everyone wants to write about Paris. We need someone who wants to write about Kazakhstan or Suriname. If you can identify yourself as someone who wants to go to the lesser-known spots, great. Knowing another language is a great advantage. Having a special expertise in something gives you a definite advantage too–say, a degree in art history. In a case like that we may hire you for a special section. We might go to you for the artwork part, to make it more interesting, to connect the dots.

Once someone has the gig, what does he or she need to do?
On the ground, we want you to be observant, to give us those special moments, those things that nobody else would know. Tell us what’s special to do apart from what the crowds are doing. Give us insider tips. Also, be open to feedback, which is often much harder for young writers. Remember, we are giving you feedback because we want to keep working with you. Don’t ask a million and 20 questions by e-mail and annoy your editors to death. Pick up the phone and have a conversation when you need an answer that’s not in your guidelines–it’s far faster.

Meeting deadlines and delivering what you promised is also very important. One writer’s aunt has died four times now I think. It was a running joke in the office until we didn’t use that writer anymore. One time, okay, but when the same person is late multiple times, they’re out.

Do you hire new writers often?
Yes! This is not an impenetrable fortress. Call us with an idea. If it looks like a promising match, we’ll set up a meeting. We’ve clearly identified what we need and know what to expect, so we tend to move quickly on hiring decisions.

How do writers get paid, and does it differ for doing a guide on Bhutan or the Galapagos instead of, say, Guatemala? Are travel expenses part of the total?

The destination, length of the project (in terms of word count and in terms of time), the additional expenses to travel to the destination, etc. are all taken into consideration when we make an offer. The short answer is there is no consistent answer but we do keep large expenses in mind (e.g. expenses that would fall under this could include the cost to rent a boat to take the writer to a remote island that we have asked the writer to review for us). We don’t reimburse day-to-day expenses as it’s up to the writer to manage his or her daily costs once s/he agrees to the fee offered.

You mentioned when we talked in 2010 that digital revenue was a large and increasing part of the mix for Lonely Planet. Where are you seeing the most growth in digital media and is it making up for whatever decline there is in printed book sales?

Digital growth is coming from commercial transactions and content licensing and via ebooks and apps. We still believe print has a valid role to play within the travel space and have continued to invest in print in the past year, with three print re-launches in the past year and another one planned for 2013.

Consumers want and expect all formats so we are providing our content in print, digital apps, ebooks and via lonelyplanet.com.

Where are you headed next?

Print is s still an important medium and we’re continuing to invest in it. That said, there’s no denying that digital products are providing new channels for market penetration and revenue growth. To that end, we have an in-house ebook dev team and an in-house app team to help us meet consumer needs with those platforms. We also have a team in London who manages our global web site.

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Interview conducted in April, 2012 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.

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