To Write, or Not to Write (A Travel Book)?

Writing a travel book sounds glamorous and exciting. Imagine getting paid to travel! The thrill of exploring new places, and then telling other people where to go (or avoid).

In this post by guest blogger, freelance writer and travel book author Deborah Huso, you’ll read an insider’s perspective on travel guidebook writing. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Read it, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Should I write a travel book? More importantly… should you?

That’s the question, and I have the answer, albeit a not terribly cut and dried one.  If you want to gain the status of expert in your field, (for a reason that remains a mystery to me) you have to have a published book under your belt.  It does not necessarily matter if you’ve published 100 articles on Baja California Sur.  If you haven’t written a book on it, forget it.  You are not an expert.

However, if you do decide to go this path of writing a travel book, keep in mind, you will not only not make any money at it, you may, in fact, lose money, lose countless hours, days, weeks, and months that would probably be better spent writing a few magazine articles that pay out way better than the average book deal. If your experience  is anything like mine, you may never want to write another book again.  And that’s any book in any genre.

Of course, if you’re independently wealthy and just want to write a travel book for fun, go for it.

When Erin asked me to write this post, it could not have come at a more appropriate time.  Only days ago, the acquisitions editor at the publisher of my first travel book offered me a contract to do a second edition.  I almost broke into cold sweats, remembering my first experience three years earlier—contract negotiations that took more than a month, leaving me just over three months to travel, research, and write a 250-page book (and did I mention I also had to supply the photography and the maps?).  Mind you, this was no small-time publisher.  It’s the largest independent travel book publisher in the U.S.

I’ll admit those three months were a massive learning experience and one I’m grateful for. (I will think long and hard before ever signing another book contract.)  Not only was I traveling and writing a book for a full summer but keeping up with my regular writing work as well (the kind that actually pays decently).  I had a non-responsive editor.  I’d e-mail her some questions.  She would not respond.  I’d call.  She would not return my call.  Then three weeks later after I’d given up hope, she’d call to answer a question I no longer needed answered.

When the weekend before my manuscript deadline arrived, I remember being in a frenzied panic to finish the last couple of chapters and fact check everything.  My assistant and I both worked into the wee morning hours, and an editor friend provided ongoing pep talk e-mails every time I sent her a note telling her I was going to have a nervous breakdown.  When it was all over, I told my friends the only experience in my life that had hurt worse was having a baby.

Of course, the question you really want answered besides “was it the most glamorous thing you’ve ever done?” (and the answer to that should be an obvious “no” by this point), is “so what did it pay?”

Not enough.

Huso's second travel guide, Moon Spotlight: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

By the time I take into account all the hours I spent, the salary I paid my assistant to fact check, and the unreimbursed expenses like gas mileage and meals, I think I probably lost money.  My advance was a shockingly pathetic $7,500 (equivalent to the pay one normally receives to write three or four feature articles for magazines).  Given that it’s not unusual for me to write three feature articles in a week along with any number of less demanding

assignments, you can see how writing a travel book doesn’t make any economic sense….  Unless, of course, you’re Rick Steves and can hire someone else to write your books for you and can host your own TV show.

Oh, and did I mention… my publisher publishes Rick Steves?  If you want to know how to become a celebrity travel expert, maybe you can ask him.  But I’m guessing one of his assistants would write the blog post.

Deborah R. Huso is a celebrity health columnist for Today’s Diet & Nutrition, contributing editor with Blue Ridge Country and The Progressive Farmer, and a regular contributor to SUCCESS, all you, Military Officer, and Disney’s FamilyFun.  She is also the author of Moon Spotlight: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Moon Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.  You can visit her online at, or check out her blog for working moms, I Only Love You Because I Have To.

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