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Writing a Guidebook: How Do You Decide What Attractions to Add?

Text & Photos: Julie Schwietert Collazo
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“How do you decide what attractions to add?” a hotel owner asked me during my site visit to his new property this weekend.

The Graham & Co., a hotel in Phoenicia, NY that was not in the 5th edition of the guidebook.

The Graham & Co., a hotel in Phoenicia, NY that was not in the 5th edition of the guidebook.

It’s a question lots of hoteliers, restaurant owners and chefs, and attraction managers want answered because they’re not really sure how guidebooks come together. In the back of most guidebooks, readers and industry stakeholders are invited to send an email to the publisher if they want to offer a recommendation for a place they consider “missing” from the book or if they want to make a correction about one of the listings. Even for those of us who work on guidebooks, it’s not really clear where those emails go once they’re received. It seems they sit in low-priority inbox folders and never make it into the hands of writers. In fact, I’ve even made suggestions to co-authors via an editor and they didn’t receive them, so sending that email with your recommendation or request is likely to end up in the great big maw of the Internet. (And yes, guidebook editors, don’t get your hackles up. We know you’re all insanely busy, working on multiple books simultaneously).

Since I’m the sole author of Moon New York State’s 6th edition, I have a lot of leeway to make decisions about places to cut and places to add. Here are a few of my answers to the hotelier’s question– How do you decide what to add?:

1. I read many other sources.
I’m a voracious reader- always have been. Though I read lots of travel publications (magazines and blogs chief among them) I’ll read almost anything with print on it, and I find that intel and ideas often come from unexpected places. If something piques my interest, I tend to chase it down for a closer look. That was the case for the hotel I was visiting- I’d read about it elsewhere and since it wasn’t in the 5th edition of the guidebook, I decided to stop by and take a peek to see if it would be worth including in the 6th edition.

2. I listen to other writers and travelers.
Writers and travelers have a particular sense of place and they love to talk about where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, and what excites them. I like to listen to them and see what lights them up- what are they most passionate about sharing? Is an experience they’ve had or a place they’ve been worth sharing with others? If so, I’ll track it down and make my own evaluation.

3. I go off the beaten path- literally.
Wrong turns, deserted-looking roads, odd signs… these tend to be the travel writer’s siren song and I’m largely powerless when they call. Some of the best discoveries are in podunk towns (which are great places to find quirky museums, for example) with no traffic lights.

Go off the beaten path and you might just find a surprise... or Surprise.

Go off the beaten path and you might just find a surprise… or Surprise.

4. I talk to industry stakeholders and locals.
These folks know the lay of their land better than I ever could, as I’m zipping through at lightning speed. It’s not my preferred way of travel, but when you’re working on a 450-page book on a three-month deadline, you’ve got to overcome your desire to explore every nook and cranny of a place and let other people’s suggestions help guide you.

What questions do YOU have about how a guidebook comes together? Feel free to ask in the comments.

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