A couple of years ago, I found a copy of the fourth edition of this book at a library bag sale. I read it cover to cover, devouring each word, and absorbing hints and tips into the molasses of my mind. To this day, some of these have shaped the way I approach my trips, and when I learned that a new edition had come out, I thought that it would make me a good Christmas present.
It's certainly an excellent book. But I found a few faults with it, all but one quite firmly the fault of the publisher. Let me get that over and done with before I continue with the good bits.
1. There is no index. There should be. There is so much in this book that forcing the reader to re-read each chapter to find one nugget of information, or to take notes, seems very poor. Admittedly my copy is now covered in x marks and orange marker pen, but do you have any idea how far against the grain defacing a book goes?
2. I don't have any idea why, for this edition, there is a co-author. As far as I can see, this is not explained anywhere in the text. I'm not sure what a second author really contributes to the book. A second author certainly doesn't take away from it, but the major difference I can spot is that sentences beginning with "I" now begin with "Louise" or "Jacqueline". I don't get it. A brief introduction or explanation would have been nice.
3. Speaking of introductions, or the introduction, perhaps somebody should have proof-read it? It is quite obvious that someone did a quick and dirty search and replace and made a complete hash of it. Here is the first sentence of the book:
"Although the travel writing profession is seeing some difficult times this spring and summerthese (sic) past few years, this does not, by any means, indicate an end to the power and pleasure of the written wordtravel (sic) related stories."
This, the very first sentence of the introduction, was very off-putting. Howls of derision followed as I found other printed bloopers.
4. While there is a lovely updated chapter on digital photography, not once is my burning question answered: "What do you do when your magazine listing in "Writers Market 2007″ says 'send slides/transparancies/prints?'" It would have been so nice to see a couple of paragraphs defining these terms and explaining how to go about handling the requests. The book seemed to assume that everyone would be using a digital camera, which is very nice because I do, but also seemed to assume that everybody who is a budding travel writer has some kind of in-built knowledge of what magazines want, which is not very nice because I don't. This book purports to be the definitive guide to travel writing, and in my opinion that's not something that should be missed out.
This book is thorough. It covers all aspects of freelance writing for travel publications. It starts with a heavy emphasis on research: how to do it, where to get resources, what to look for. It covers interviewing: how to find sources and how to interview them. There is an entire chapter on querying, which I found very useful, as well as etiquette and ways to make yourself look professional even when you're a rank newbie.
I found the chapter entitled "being there is never enough" particlarly useful. It covers how to take notes, how to start noticing, and how to make sure you don't forget what you've seen. You are coached in what to bring along and how to handle it, as well as being reminded that some countries have different dress codes and you'd better be looking like the locals if you go there and want to fit it. Travel is about getting in amongst the people, and if you're wearing clothes that scream "tourist" you're never actually likely to get that far.
One key point emphasized over and over again is that you never write "generally"; always, always you must key your writing to a specific audience...and that without marketing, without learning that and working out your own system (I didn't really "get" the author's system as described) you'll never get far beyond "Gee, I want to be a writer." One of the last chapters in the book, and one of the most helpful, lists 25 different types of travel articles to help you a) find your voice and b) get the most mileage out of your existing writing.
There is some information in here about running the business and organizing yourself, dealing with editors and even the ethics of press trips. A little like having your own personal coach, despite my quibbles this book still thoroughly deserves its title as a classic. And it's highly likely that come the seventh edition, this one will be so thumbed over and have so many pages hanging out from constant reference that I'll need to buy that one, too.