Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview with a Travel Writer...David Stanley.

Today we talk with guidebook writer David Stanley. David is the author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific, Moon Fiji, and Moon Tahiti, published by Avalon Travel Publishing of Berkeley, California. He also researched and wrote the first three editions of Eastern Europe on a Shoestring, the first two editions of Lonely Planet Cuba, and the first edition of Lonely Planet Canada's Maritime Provinces.

You can find out more about David's publications at his South Pacific Organizer website and South Pacific Travel blog.

Hi David. Welcome to Write to Travel. Thanks for stopping by and chatting.

1. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started in writing?

I studied literature at university, but it was travel that got me into writing. In the late 1970s I was working as a destination representative at a Caribbean resort. In the off season I'd make trips to Asia. There weren't many practical travel guidebooks in those days, and in Indonesia I used a slim volume titled "Indonesia, A Traveler's Notes" by Bill Dalton. I kept notes of my own as I went along, and upon returning to my resort the next winter I sent Bill a long list of corrections and additions to his book. We began corresponding, and when Bill heard that I was planning a visit to the South Pacific islands the following year, he suggested we co-author a guide to the region. I was doubtful, but when Bill offered to do the donkey work of turning my rough notes into a publishable book, I agreed. The first edition of South Pacific Handbook was published by Moon Publications in June 1979 with Bill and I as co-authors. Bill withdrew from the second edition to concentrate on Indonesia and I wrote the following seven editions single-handed.

2. What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer?

I was able to cover my traveling expenses from my South Pacific writings, but little more. My first real break came in April, 1989, when the first edition of Eastern Europe on a Shoestring was published by Lonely Planet. I'd researched and written the book myself, and Lonely Planet allowed my to retain the copyright and even paid me royalties, things they won't do for anyone these days. The Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989, and for well over a year my guide was the only one on the market as western tourists poured into the area for the first time. I did two more editions of Eastern Europe before being turned off by the masses of tourists I'd helped invite into the area. Lonely Planet bought my copyright and gave me a contract to cover Cuba for them.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into writing?

Writing for Lonely Planet these days is a learning experience with no future. You'll have a sign away all your rights to get a contract and you'll never earn more than your flat fee. It's worth doing once or twice when you're starting out, but think about your really want to do with your life. If travel writing is your choice, consider writing about your own local area where your travel and accommodations costs will be lower. If your hometown hasn't much to offer, consider moving to somewhere that does.

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

Guidebook publishers pay their researchers very little these days and the writers have no rights. Self-publishing is an option, although the chain bookstores usually don't order self-published books. If you self-publish a guidebook, make sure it's one that fills a niche and one that you can distribute yourself in your own area. Self-publishing online is easier but obtaining a high ranking on the search engines is more of a challenge. There are many simpler ways of making a living, though not as much fun.

5. Which travel writers and/or travel books have influenced you?

I was most influenced by the house style of Lonely Planet. Everything a guidebook writer produces must fit into the publisher's template, otherwise it will be rejected by the editor. Self-publishers must create their own templates. In 1988 Bill Weir and I created the first template for Moon Publications as none existed before that time and the authors did their own thing, leading to uneven quality. The guidebook writers who influenced me most were Bill Dalton and Tony Wheeler who edited the first editions of South Pacific and Eastern Europe respectively. I don't write travel books. Guidebooks are a completely different genre.

6. As a writer and traveler, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

My biggest challenge on the road is obtaining the information I need while remaining anonymous. I've learned to ask questions carefully and to write my notes when I'm out sight of the restaurant and resort owners. If someone guesses who I am, I deny it. On a small Pacific island, if one person knows who you are, everyone soon knows and it becomes impossible to obtain the information you need. I don't solicit or accept freebies, so I feel I have a right to my privacy. The restaurant and resort owners have fewer rights in this regard as they're marketing their services to the general public. The honest guidebook writer has few friends on the road.

7. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

I have different favorite places for different reasons. I guess Vancouver Island where I live is my favorite place for the security and convenience it offers. As for travel destinations, Fiji and Cuba are about tied for their friendly people and wealth of things to see and do. I'll go anywhere once but I never return to a place where the people were unfriendly to me as a visitor or the local officialdom was corrupt or threatening. I could name a few of those, but I won't.

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greenygrey said...

Good informative interview, although not good news for travel writing wannabes!

MandyKat said...

Thank you for the interesting interview. I appreciate the travel information for the South Pacific.

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