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Lonely Planet author Josh Krist’s Memoirgate response

Just a quick note to alert anyone who has arrived at The Labor Party looking for information about the Lonely Planet/Thomas Kohnstamm scandal that writer Josh Krist, also a Lonely Planet author, has written in with a comment of his own. To read the comment in its entirety, simply scroll down to the very bottom of the post that sits directly below this one, and then click to read the comments. If you’d rather not be bothered with all the scrolling and clicking, however, here’s a synopsis:

Hi Dan, I personally am miffed about the whole thing … I think he lied about lying — in other words, yes, he greased the truth about how carefree and fun-loving his research trips were to make the trips read more Hunter S. Thompson-like. I just read his interview over at World Hum, and to me, it was deception on top of deception … So, I can understand why people feel ripped off. Travelers pay us to be honest, trustworthy, and thorough. Thomas, no matter what the “real” story might be, is apparently none of those things, or, not enough. My dad has a good line: Not only should we avoid impropriety, we should avoid even the appearance of impropriety — because the second often leads to the first.

Josh also links to a wonderful article by Tim Wu about the importance and necessity of guidebooks that was published last April on Slate.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a relatively large number of guidebook writers, some who are affiliated with LP and others who aren’t, have been weighing in on the Kohnstamm Kontroversy via their personal weblogs. I’ve found two so far that should be considered required reading for anyone interested in understanding how this scandal happened in the first place, or for that matter, anyone interested in learning the truth about how the guidebook industry really works. 

The first is Zora O’Neill’s Roving Gastronome blog. Zora writes for Moon Handbooks, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. This is the post of hers you’ll want to read first. It’s titled The Thomas Kohnstamm Affair: A Long Rant on What It’s Really Like to Be a Guidebook Author.

Next, read Lara Dunston’s Decoding Lonely Planet’s explanation. Dunston’s post, while amusing and fairly spot-on, is also rather snarky in tone. It’s therefore worth bearing in mind that after contributing to more than 25 books for Lonely Planet with her husband Terry Carter, the couple have both chosen to end their association with the company. Lara and Terry are both extremely prolific travel writers, and today they maintain the Grantourismo travel blog.

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  1. April 17, 2008 at 8:11 AM

    Thanks so much for the comment, Lara. And by the way, if you and/or Terry are ever in the Philadelphia area (or NYC, maybe), I’d love to get together for coffee or drinks. It seems as if you two have had — and still continue to have — a rather incredible career, not to mention a successful career, which isn’t always easy to accomplish when you’re working for yourself, as a freelancer/free agent/solo-worker, or whatever you like to call it.

    Question for you: You both seem so incredibly prolific, and I’ve always been curious to learn your secrets. Do you happen to have any posts about this on Cool Travel Guide? Something that explains how you’ve managed to stay so disciplined and so focused for so long? Not to mention so prolific, because after all, there are scads of freelancers who are both disciplined and focused, but not necessary prolific, because sometimes it’s simply hard to sell your work.

    If the answer is “no,” which you consider writing one, either for your own blog, or even as a guest post on The Labor Party? I’m sure there would be a good deal of interest, especially given the current controversy (which seems to be almost over, thank God)…

  2. April 17, 2008 at 1:08 AM

    Thanks for the mention. Really. But ‘snarky’? Perhaps a tad bitter, true. But talk to many of the hundreds of former LP writers out there – the ones who’ve written 20+ books and like us, had dozens of other commissions writing content and hotel reviews for their website, digital walking tours, uncredited content for The Travel Book/Asia Book etc, syndicated articles, unpaid ‘day in the life of’ bios that are then compiled into a book (Perfect Day) and sold (!), etc, and you’ll strike a similar tone. When you work for LP everything is wonderful in the beginning (and we absolutely loved it, and loved working with some staff, who were wonderful and very supportive) but then you start to notice patterns, issues arise, problems occur, and when these don’t get adequately resolved, you start to become frustrated and a little bitter.

    Examples? Seeing you asked… when you’re being offered the same fees in year 4 that you were in year 1; when the fees are inconsistent depending on which CE is offering them; when you have to ask for higher fees because a CE underestimates your value and experience or more money because a CE has misjudged the expenses in a location; when you do the occasional book where your expenses outweigh the fee; when you see LP giving away content you’ve written to newspapers and it appears with your by-line despite it being an out-of-date extract from a book (and LP is therefore competing with you); when you have to write detailed pitches time and time ago to update books you’ve written, despite having received excellent feedback on the book; when one CE offers you a book but moves on and the new one gives the book to someone else; when cartographers don’t follow your digital maps and forget to place dots on maps and put dots in the wrong place, forcing you to re-do your work and thereby dragging out that unpaid AQ period; when editors insert errors into your manuscript and change text without telling you so not only does your unpaid AQ period drag on but your credibility is damaged by books filled with errors; when your books are censored; when you update a book and find its full of errors, mapping mistakes, inaccurate descriptions and poor choices (the Hard Rock Cafe, for god’s sake) and you bring it to LP’s attention editor but that writer still gets work; when you’re falsely accused of accepting discounts/comps by LP (we were actually working for another publisher at the time) but then discover other authors who are, and LP knows it and they’re still working for LP (now); then yes, you become bitter. That last issue and the content re-use were the straws that broke the camel’s backs for us and led us to decide to move on.

    You would notice a decidedly more upbeat tone if we wrote about our experiences dealing with and writing for other publishers, magazines and websites that pay better, pay royalties or allow you to keep copyright, and are more transparent and direct in their dealings with writers.

    It’s challenging to have a writing life while with LP, not only because of workload, but more importantly our contracts prohibited us writing on the same geographical destination, making it difficult to become a destination expert in a region (another reason we decided to stop working for them was because we were turning down too many other opportunities). On a positive note, there is life after LP. And we like this one better.

    There seems to be so little respect for guidebook authors ‘out there’ (esp. if you take a glance of Thorn Tree) but it’s worth noting that many magazine and newspaper editors and award-winning writers were once-upon-a-time LP authors. In hindsight, I’d recommend any young writers developing a writing career to do a stint with LP for two or three years, learn as much as you can (although try not to take too many lessons from Thomas) and then move on. Before becoming jaded. Bitter. Even snarky. Now what’s that you say about Hilary? Time to move on to more important issues.

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