How to Self-Publish a Travel Guide

Self-Publish a Travel Guide

For authors hoping to self-publish a travel guide, the most viable ideas will begin with noticing a gap in existing coverage. Is there a part of the world that hasn’t been discussed sufficiently in existing travel guides, or is there some particular destination that you think you could illuminate for readers? Or perhaps there is a new angle on a place that’s been thoroughly covered otherwise, like a large city, but which has a whole other side to it that you are uniquely equipped to describe to travelers. Maybe it’s the place you call home. Ultimately, as with other writing, it’s about finding a topic that strikes a balance between demand and coverage – something that people are looking for, but that hasn’t been done to death yet.

Choosing a Subject and Focus

For example – it’s not that you shouldn’t self-publish a travel guide to New York City. But you’ll probably want to focus on destinations other than the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Empire State Building. Are you intimately acquainted with some off-the-beaten-path food destinations in the Bronx? Or some quirky attractions in Queens? In the example of New York City, even these more obscure themes might already be covered by existing books, but thinking along similar lines in a slightly less well-trodden destination could really offer something new and diverse for readers.

Better yet, if you know your way around the backstreets and locals-only establishments of somewhere really unusual, you might be just the person to self-publish a travel guide. Just make sure that some demand exists for travel advice on the location of your choosing. As with other publishing, it’s really about a balance between finding demand and finding a niche that hasn’t been filled.

For example, author Josh Summers has been living in the far western province of China, Xinjiang, since 2006. He noticed the major travel guides like Lonely Planet and Dorling Kindersley weren’t offering readers the kind of depth and detail that he could provide, and self-published Xinjiang: A Traveler’s Guide to Far West China, which made it to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in both the China and India categories, and remained there for roughly ten days.

Since Summers lives in Xinjiang, he can provide annual updates, which major publishers are unable to offer. The region saw a record number of tourists in 2017, at 107 million. That number was nearly a third higher than the previous year. So while coverage was lacking, there is clearly a growing market for travel advice on the area, and Summers was able to offer readers something innovative.

Types of Travel Writing

Keep in mind that a travel guide differs from a travel narrative. While they can potentially overlap, a travel guide is focused on bringing readers to certain hotspots in a destination – hotels, restaurants, and attractions, and describing the basics of how to get around and communicate there. A travel narrative is about sharing your own travel experience, at least in part for entertainment purposes. A travel narrative might be appealing to readers who don’t plan on traveling to the destination, whereas a travel guide generally will not. Of course, you can write a mix of both, with some narrative elements as well as specific advice about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.

Within the category of travel guides, there are subcategories. A destination travel guide focuses on a specific location, perhaps with a focus like “on a budget” or “local neighborhoods.” This is the classic travel guide format, and you’ll need to choose a unique focus, especially if you’re writing about a large destination like London, or an entire region like southern France. For smaller destinations, like a smaller village or town, you could take a more general approach.

A variation of a on this is the side-trip travel guide, offering information on a smaller, nearby location where readers may already be traveling for a business or a longer visit. Often, these side-trip guides are attached to main destination guides by major publishers – such as Fodor’s Essential Vietnam: with a Side Trip to Angkor Wat. But you can also write a standalone side trip guide, and this is a great way to narrow down your focus and find your audience. For example, you already know there is audience out there looking for information on visiting Los Angeles – but the city itself is pretty well covered. A side trip guide to the nearby Santa Barbara area, for example, could be a great way to find both a focus and an audience for your book. It’s a shorter, more focused alternative to attempting an in-depth guide to a big-time destination.

Finally, a journey travel guide focuses on the trip itself instead of only the destination, perhaps describing the sights and hotspots on a trip from point A to point B. For example, a guide to road tripping from New York to California, or seeing Europe by rail.  Journey travel guides can also include elements of a travel narrative, with your own experiences included.

Writing a Travel Guide

So your first step, after considering what location you want to write about, is to research the market to see what’s already out there.

When getting ready to write your book, make sure you have a core concept that could be summed up in a paragraph. This will be your pitch to readers on what your book has to offer. If you can’t create a pitch like this, it might mean you need to work on your idea.

Try to draw readers in with your first few pages. You could start with an engaging anecdote about your experiences in your location, or with astounding, attention-grabbing facts that you can move on to explain. With the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, remember most readers will be scanning these first few pages before making purchasing decisions. Don’t be afraid to incorporate your personality and experiences into your writing –in many cases, the major publishers will already have the straightforward reference approach well-covered.

Once written, the publishing process is similar to self-publishing any other book. To self-publish a travel guide that can compete with traditionally published titles, you will need a unique idea for which demand exists, as well as professional quality editing, design, distribution, and marketing. Without these components, your in-depth knowledge, great writing, and amazing experiences may never even get the chance to impress readers.

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