Want to be a guidebook writer for Moon Travel Guides? Grace Fujimoto is the person who will tell you if you’re the right person for the challenge. Grace, the acquisitions director for Avalon Travel, has extensive experience in the guidebook industry, publishing nearly a dozen books a year on a range of destinations. Check out her acquisitions Q&A page here!
What path led you to the position you have now? What’s your background?
I started out as an editorial assistant for a textbook publisher, working on, of all things, computer science books. After that, I came to Avalon Travel at a time when everyone was leaving book publishing to work at dot-com start-ups and feel extremely lucky to have applied when I did. (I’m not sure I would have gotten the job even a year later.) I first worked in the editorial department, managing books after they were signed and taking them all the way to the printer. Six years in, there was an opening in the acquisitions department, and I moved into my current position, which I’ve had for five years now.
What qualities do you look for and admire in someone you hire to write, edit, or update a book?
In addition to professional writing experience (at least two years) and expertise on the destination, I look for a love of the place and a genuine enthusiasm to share their knowledge to make travelers’ experiences more valuable. This is key because without that as the foundation, it’s hard to get through as grueling a project as writing a travel guide. I also look for people who can think strategically — it’s a good sign when this comes out when I haven’t even asked the question yet. Finally, I look for people who respond well to feedback and suggestions. That’s not to say I expect all authors to do everything I want. I feel like the best authors are the ones where we’re on the same wavelength most of the time, but they speak up when they don’t agree with something.
What mistakes do new freelancers make in how they approach you and what do the good ones do right?
Not following directions is a common mistake with both old and new freelancers. We list a generic-sounding email address on our acquisitions page for people to use when contacting us, and I don’t know if this makes me a freak because I actually check it and organize it. Freelancers think that using connections to get my email address and contact me personally might give them a better chance, but it actually decreases their visibility because I get so much other email. Follow the directions on my site, take my experience requirements seriously, and write a fantastic cover letter that shows a knowledge of our books and how your experience relates to them, and I will notice your resume — and use it if I have a project that seems like a good fit, even if it’s a couple years later. For anyone who wants more detail, I wrote a post about this for Moon’s house blog earlier this year.
Based on what delights you and what irks you, what honest and unvarnished advice would you give to an aspiring freelancer who wanted to become a successful travel book or guidebook writer? (Besides, “Don’t do it.”)
You have to be easy to work with and produce reliable information no matter who it’s for. You also have to know that it’s going to be harder than you ever imagined, and it’s the people who can keep their sense of humor (or at least a stiff upper lip) through it all who are going to be able to keep at it. I also think it’s rare to be able to make a full-time existence from it. In addition to cultivating your freelance credentials, work on finding a job that’s flexible enough to let you go to half-time or take extended periods off when you have a book to do. Also, if you live in a place that’s a desirable destination but where there aren’t that many travel writers — or at least those that can write in English — you might find it a faster way to establish your credentials. (If you try to go this route, do your research to find what the money-making destinations are.)
In your opinion, what is the future of digital publishing?
Oh, I wish I knew. Epub seems to be getting more sophisticated every day; sales of ebooks are gaining more and more on print books; and everyone seems to have an app idea. While I’m not sure where we’ll end up, so far I’ve seen digital open up a few avenues for our writers. It also allows readers more choice in what format works best for them. And at Moon, digital doesn’t equal paperless. Digital printing, which allows us to print smaller quantities of books, spawned a new line of books for us: Moon Spotlight titles are one or two chapters of a bigger book that are packaged and printed as a lower-priced stand-alone product. Since we don’t have to worry about selling through an inventory of thousands of books, we can experiment with different destinations.
I don’t know if I’m ready for the day when ebooks are the default format; but then again, I’m already there with newspapers. One morning my boss gave me an article to read, and after spending a couple minutes trying to read it in its large, awkward paper form, I gave it back to him and read it online instead.
Grace Fujimoto is the acquisitions director for Avalon Travel. She signs 8–10 book projects a year, primarily for Moon Travel Guides. Find pitch guidelines and lists of titles she’s looking to acquire at the Avalon Travel Acquisitions page
Interview conducted in November, 2011 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.