Lonely Planet probably gets lots of enquiries from would-be travel writers. Perhaps that’s why they identified a place in the market for – and have published – a book on “Travel Writing” (by Don George). Perhaps they even tell would-be writers to buy the book!
I admit that I was a bit taken aback when I received it as a Christmas present. Was this a subtle message about the quality of my blogs? I dipped into the book while on holiday. It covers a lot of ground, and while some parts were a little mundane, there were a number of sections that I found to be of real interest.
One such section was the discussion of “freebies”, including whether they should be accepted and how they ought to be disclosed in any writing. It’s stated bluntly that, “the press trip has long been an integral part of the UK travel journalism scene” (and, judging by the typical travel supplement in the print media, also in Australia), although it then goes on to state that publications are a bit “guarded” in their use of such trips. In the United States, however, apparently there is less tolerance of writers accepting “freebies” – although there appears nevertheless scope for deep discounts! In any event, there are issues about maintaining objectivity and making full disclosure; points made by the author who takes the high moral ground, but on reading some of the material published in this country, one certainly suspects that human frailty enters into the matter at times!
It also has a frank discussion about the “challenges” of earning much money from travel writing (no surprises there)! It specifically refers to writing for guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, stating that “Guidebook writing is probably the most demanding branch of the travel writing tree” as you have to cover all the attractions, hotels and restaurants, as well as juggle the budget, deadlines and make sure that you cover everything. And it’s hinted that the pay isn’t great!
In fact, in its 360 pages, the book contains a lot more than superficial clichés and generalities (although there are some of these, too). In the section on writing skills, it contains an interesting discussion on matters such as whether to write in the present or past tense as well as the need to make “your verbs act and your words count”; topics that anyone who writes (and don’t we all?) would do well to bear in mind irrespective of their subject matter.
On a different level, it contains some useful information, in that references to appropriate resources (especially on the internet) occur throughout the book, and particularly in the listings of resources at the end. Things such as lists of publishers, editors and literary agents appear to have the potential to be genuinely helpful even if not “rocket-science” in this era of the internet.
However, the book has sections rather than chapters, and it doesn’t have an index, both of which, to me, mark it down from being a proper “reference” book, although I suspect that it may nevertheless find its way on to the reading lists for some of the travel writing courses that it lists.