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Monday, August 4, 2008

Our Lonely Planet Syria and Lebanon guidebook: the challenges of guidebook research and other considerations

Our research last year for the Syria chapter of our recently released Lonely Planet Syria and Lebanon guidebook required that we visit everything already in the book, along with many more sights that weren't in the guide. And while we loved visiting all of those "out of the way castles and ruins", when making decisions as to what to include and exclude in the manuscript we have to think about how much other readers might enjoy what may appear to be merely a pile of rubble to anyone but the most avid archaeological enthusiast. In some cases, the ruins of a castle may be rather spectacular (like the one pictured) and may well be worth the effort to get to. But most readers, who are staying in Syria for an average of five days, might not want to spend a long day travelling (or indeed several days) to get to the site, especially if the journey involves long waits between buses in the middle of nowhere and perhaps even a spot of hitchhiking to get there.

The other consideration we have is word count. We can't just keep adding sights to books, and therefore adding paragraphs and pages. In fact, for almost every book we ever worked on for Lonely Planet we were required to reduce rather than add new text. So, in order to add a few paragraphs to include some of those off-the-beaten-track places some readers would love us to include, we'd have to remove sights elsewhere. When it comes to making those decisions we have to ask ourselves whether we should cut a popular site that might be visited by thousands of travellers to include an out of the way castle that may get visited by only a few hundred people? And with a country like Syria (and, now, under the current political climate, also Lebanon), we have to give this serious thought. How many people are actually using our book and visiting these places? When we did our six week road trip around Syria we only bumped into around 20 other travellers. We were alone at most major sights.

It would be heavenly to write a book with an endless number of pages and complete freedom to include everything we wanted to. But it would also have to have a fee to match. And that's another interesting consideration. How many publishers are going to pay us to go to all those out-of-the-way sights that might only ever get visited by a few hundred travellers at most? Not Lonely Planet that's for sure. And probably not many other publishers either...

7 comments:

sealaura said...

I realy enjoy reading your blog. I love to read about travel and I feel very inspired when I read your posts. It is almost like a mini-vacay. :)

laradunston said...

Hello there and thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated! Do let me know if there's anywhere in particular you feel like 'going' and I'll see what I can do! :)

sealaura said...

Hi Lara,
I am a beach, France and Latin America lover. I have enjoyed your blog because places like Syria and Lebanon would normally not enter my radar. But I would also love to learn about any tropical place. One of my friends just moved to Dubai so I am excited to learn more about that region. Thanks!

Heatheronhertravels said...

I'm hoping to visit a friend who's working in Beirut next year, so your guide book will be on my list.

She says the traffic's terrible there and hasn't managed to get out of the city once in several months, so maybe she's more in need of the guidebook than me!

laradunston said...

Hi Sealaura - well, seems like we have a lot in common! I'll see what I can do!

Hi Heather - you must visit Beirut! The traffic is bad, your friend is right, but it's no worse than most other MidEast cities - Dubai is much more worse, and then Cairo and Damascaus follow I guess - but that's no excuse not to get out of the city! It's one of the easiest cities from which to do weekend escapes - she can be up in Byblos eating a seafood lunch on the bay in less than an hour (half an hour even in good traffic), in Tripoli in an hour, and in winter she can be on the ski slopes in an hour - quite literally! The traffic should be the least of her worries there!

Do tell her to get the guide - it's amazing, but we do get a lot of local people tell us how much it has alerted them to things in their own city. However, we didn't update Lebanon this time (we did it last edition) - for this edition we did a long overdue of Syria and we also coordinated the book (that means writing the front and back sections and advising the new author).

Let me know when you're going to Beirut closer to the date and I'll put you in contact with some people. If you're staying with your friend you must at least visit the Albergo hotel. Gorgeous!

Happy hotelier said...

Isn't that where a Blog such as this is handy for? All those words and places you had to cut down or cut out of your manuscripts?...

laradunston said...

Hi Happy Hotelier, well, in an ideal world somebody is going to pay me to write that book! Time is money after all.