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Posts Tagged ‘Lonely Planet’

Back from Connecticut

June 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Carrie and I finally made it home yesterday evening after driving at a maddening crawl along I-95 through rain so heavy we could barely see more than 30 or 40 feet in front of our car’s windshield.

And yet all things considered, the trip was a raging success. Naturally, there were more than a few worthwhile sights we weren’t able to get to because of my infuriating time-crunch: I’m leaving home again in about eight days to board a flight to Manila, where I’ll be working on an update of the 10th edition of Lonely Planet’s Philippines guide.

This is almost a first for me, by the way: Aside from the two or three months when I had to put my Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh manuscript aside in order to research a few chapters for Lonely Planet Turkey, I’ve never had two guidebook projects to take care of simultaneously. And yet oddly enough, I’m not all that stressed out. Although I certainly should be – the work I’m attempting to juggle here is hardly easy. The simple fact of the matter is that if I’m actually going to get both manuscripts turned in on time, I’m probably also going to have to manipulate some sort of twisting and/or bending of the time-space continuum.

Thankfully though, I’ve been studying time management techniques for months now. I’ve always been something of a procrastinator, and over the past year or so, it’s started to become glaringly obvious to me that if I could simply beat my procrastination habits once and for all, and if I could finally begin to start taking full control of my daily 24 hours, I could easily accomplish incredible things. Which is why a couple months back, I picked up a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and even though I’m working my way through the book slowly, I’ve picked up a huge number of tips already.

And then, just before heading off to Connecticut, I did a little bit of research on Philly-area life coaches. I ended up having an hour-long phone consultation with one, and the guy ended up being a huge Tony Robbins fan – my kind of guy, in other words. So whenever I finally manage to put both of these horrifying piles of work behind me, I’ll be getting together with him to talk even more about the lost art of bending time. Can’t wait to see what happens.  

new_england_tripsIn the meantime, I’ll be sitting in front of my laptop for about 15 hours a day throughout the next week, so if anyone is interested in getting in touch, please do so now – I won’t have a lot of time to talk once I’m on the other side of the world. And do check back here for occasional updates; I’m planning on re-experiencing bits of the Connecticut and Cape Cod trips via blog posts whenever the urge to procrastinate becomes too strong to ignore. The photo at the very top of this post, for instance, represents one of the Connecticut trip’s highlights: the very unusual Timexpo Museum in Waterbury, which is the Timex corporate museum. When I was doing my Connecticut state research prior to leaving home, I kept hearing and reading about the massive Easter Island head that sat on the grounds of the museum, although no one seemed to know exactly why the thing was there, or what its association to the Timex company was. So when I visited the museum, I asked, as responsible guidebook authors are wont to do.

As it happens, the ScandinavianTimex CEO was good friends with Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegien author of Kon-Tiki – he also “discovered” Easter Island during his expedition. A decent portion of the Timexpo Museum, in fact, is essentially a Thor Heyerdahl exhibit, making it the perfect stop for international travel enthusiasts. Who knew?

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Lonely Planet author Josh Krist’s Memoirgate response

April 16, 2008 2 comments

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.

BREAKING NEWS: Lonely Planet’s official response to Memoirgate, aka the Thomas Kohnstamm scandal

April 14, 2008 8 comments

Thomas Kohnstamm\'s WaterlooAs a Lonely Planet guidebook author myself, I’ve had the opportunity this week to read the opinions of many of the company’s highest-ranking employees (including its CEO, Judy Slatyer) in regards to the recent Memoirgate scandal perpetuated by travel writer Thomas Kohnstamm. (The company maintains a private Yahoo Groups forum, accessible only by current LP guidebook writers and current LP employees/staffers. Kohnstamm’s Memoirgate mess, as I like to call it, has been raising quite a ruckus on the forum for a little under two weeks now.)

And for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, a brief explanation: A former LP author and Rough Guides editor has just had a tell-all memoir published [see image at right]. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, although it apparently details the supposed “dark underbelly” of the guidebook industry. In the book, which covers the period of time Kohnstamm spent in Brazil while researching the sixth edition of LP’s guide to that country, he claims to have traded Ecstacy as a way of supplementing his very meager pay; he claims also to have written a positive review of a restaurant where he had sex with a waitress, after-hours and on the top of a dining table.

There’s more: Sometime yesterday or today, Kohnstamm admitted during an interview that he didn’t actually visit Columbia while working on Lonely Planet’s Columbia guide. Here’s his quote, which I took from the Times Online (UK): “They didn’t pay me enough to go to Columbia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating — an intern in the Columbian Consulate.”

But here’s the thing: Kohnstamm was never contracted to go to Columbia. That’s because on very rare occasions, Lonely Planet does contract its writers to do “desk jobs”. And in those instances, all the work is done without the writer ever traveling to the country in question. Also of note is that in this particular instance, Kohnstamm was only contracted to update the book’s introductory matter. As Kohnstamm says in a World Hum interview posted today:

“Lonely Planet didn’t expect me to go to Columbia. They knew full well that I wasn’t going. My advance on the work was less than the cost of a flight down to Columbia, so there was no question as to whether I’d be going to Columbia. I was asked to work on the history, culture, environment, food and drink sections.”  

He wasn’t writing about entertainment options or the current tourism infrastructure. And he certainly wasn’t reviewing restaurants, bars or hotels. In other words, Kohnstamm effectively stretched the truth in such a way as to make it appear that he had done something horribly wrong: researching and writing his Columbia content from a futon in San Francisco. But that wasn’t really the case at all, because he knew full well when he took the job that it was, in fact, just a desk job. 

So why in the world, you might be wondering, would a professional writer do such a thing? To me, it’s obvious: The guy embellished a few details here, and he exagerrated a few details there, because he wanted his memoir to sell.

I’ve never met Kohnstamm in person, but a few months ago, when I first learned of his book deal, I exchanged a few back-and-forth emails with him about the nature of the publishing business. I even asked if he would share his agent’s contact information with me, which he kindly did. He seemed intelligent, ambitious and hard-working — just like every other guidebook author I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I’m sure he’s also media savvy, and is probably well-versed in the machinations of the PR industry. And although his career as a guidebook writer is certainly over, I suspect he’ll have many other options in the weeks and months ahead, if only because his Memoirgate scandal has now been covered in literally every major media outlet in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Personally, I’m very curious to see what he’s ultimately going to do with all of this attention, especially considering that so much of the attention was — according to Kohnstamm himself — unwanted.

I’m not going to waste any space by posting links to stories about Memoirgate here, because as is often the case with the mainstream media, most of the news reports filed today all had the same information, more or less. If you’re interested, just do a Google search.

One Memoirgate piece you absolutely should read, however, is the Q&A interview between Kohnstamm and Frank Bures that was posted to World Hum today. And I suppose since I referrenced it in this post’s title, I’ll also link to Lonely Planet’s official response to Memoirgate, which is posted on the company’s website and available for all the world to see. [Comments on this post will be very much appreciated, by the way.]

Return of the Labor Party

December 31, 2007 1 comment

If you happen to be one of the Labor Party’s regular readers, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been posting at all over the last two weeks. There are a few reasons why, but to be perfectly honest, I was starting to get bored with my relatively recent all-entrepreneurship-all-the-time format. After all, when I first launched this blog back in March, I was traveling through central Thailand while on assignment for Lonely Planet, and so of course I had more than my fair share of interesting things to write about. But as one of my all-time favorite travel writers once said, “The thing about being a travel writer is that you’ve got to stop traveling when it comes time to write.” Too true. It’s also true that there’s nothing particularly exciting about sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day and staring at a laptop, which is essentially what I’ve been doing for the past six or seven months.

And so aside from the fact that I’m only a couple months away from launching a magazine about creative entrepreneurs (I like describing it as a punk-rock business magazine), and therefore need to pre-market it as much as possible, I suppose that’s more or less why I stopped writing about my own life, and started writing about unusual small-business owners. That’s not the only reason, though. I’ve always loved self-improvement literature, and so when how-to books about becoming a better blogger started showing up in bookstores, I started reading them. And then I started reading blogs about becoming a better blogger, and whenever I noticed a magazine article about small-business owners, for instance, who were also particularly successful bloggers, I paid close attention to those as well.

Here’s the first big tip I picked up: 

Almost every successful blogger seems to agree that posting on a daily basis is an integral part of their success. For some reason, though, that was a Blogging Law I never took too seriously until I read a short profile in a business magazine about Fred Wilson, a New York-based venture capitalist who claims to earn roughly $30-40,000 a year from the advertisements on his blog alone. Wilson says he donates every last cent of his blog’s profits to charity, so this is clearly a guy who knows a thing or two about small business and entrepreneurship. And what does he claim as the secret of his blogging success? Posting every single day.

And what about out-of-town holidays, when computer terminals and wireless networks might not be so easily accessible? Wilson said he always makes a habit of writing additional posts before going on vacation or leaving the country. He then uses a feature of his blogging software that allows a post to go online at any given time in the future. When I first read that interview, I was still something of a blogging newbie, and I didn’t even know it was possible to set blog posts to appear in the future, so that was big news as far as I was concerned.

And by the way, I don’t know if the future-post feature is available yet to those of you who host your blogs at Blogger.com, but it is available on WordPress hosted blogs. I’ll be honest: WordPress software is definitely more complicated to wrangle than Blogger software. But I don’t know much at all about computers, and I was able to master just about every WordPress feature in a week or two. As a former Blogger user and a recent WordPress convert myself, you can believe me when I tell you that the huge number of benefits are well worth the learning curve, which really isn’t all that steep in the first place.

Anyway, my own posting-every-single-day practice didn’t last much longer than a week or two when I first tried, but because I’m a big believer in the power of persistence, I’m planning on giving it another go, starting today. My life is relatively complicated these days, however — I just moved to a new city, I’m halfway through the process of buying my first home, I recently got engaged, and I’m starting my first business — so I don’t suspect I’ll have quite enough time to bang out posts as long as this one on a regular basis. Of course, that’s another Blogging Law I can’t help breaking from time to time: Successful posts are supposed to be brief. But that’s another reason I haven’t updated the Labor Party in the last two weeks — short blog posts seem to lack soul and personality, and I find that I often feel renewed and cleansed after I bang out a particularly long post, even if it’s not about anything particularly relevant to small-business or entrepreneurship.

In fact, when I was living in San Francisco, I filled probably dozens of those 99-cent spiral notebooks with ridiculously long, rambling journal entries. Occasionally I would go back and read old entries a month or two after I’d written them, and sometimes they didn’t even make sense. That was almost ten years ago, and I was having a pretty tough time adjusting to the real world, which I very quickly discovered was nothing at all like the life I’d led in college. But when I first started taking all those jumbled and disjointed thoughts that were bumping around in my brain, and then transferred them to paper, I found that the process did wonders for my anxiety. I can still remember the ritual: I would sit down on the floor with a notebook and my favorite pen, and then I would read three or four pages from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, completely at random. It never mattered which three or four pages I read, because every single sentence in that book is so imbued with magic and grace that it’s almost beyond belief. Seriously, anyone who writes, whether for a living or as a hobby, should own a copy and read it regularly.

Anyway, after I read a page or two from the book, the urge to stop reading and to start writing would be almost unbearable, and so I’d simply pick up a pen and start scribbling. Sometimes it would go on for hours, literally. I generally felt better once I was done, but sometimes, when the stars were aligning just right, the actual writing process itself would put me in something like a trance, and I remember it feeling as if my writing hand was moving all by itself, and that I wasn’t even using my brain to choose the individual words, but rather that the words were coming out without any effort of my own. Strange, I know.

I can’t say I’ve ever had an experience like that while blogging. The process is so similar to journaling, and yet so different at the same time, because it’s nearly impossible for a conscious person not to second-guess themselves when they’re writing something that anyone on earth could technically read. But nonetheless, I’m fascinated by blogs — writing them, reading them, whatever. I’m fascinated by publishing in general. I have been for almost my entire life. So naturally, the idea of blogging is irresistible — the idea of being able to give birth to a particular thought, and to then be able to see that thought in print minutes later. Which is essentially a long-winded way of saying that I honestly do have plans to post here on a regular basis in 2008, and that I hope you’ll all log on regularly. I’ve got all sorts of plans for the upcoming year, much of it having to do with the upcoming launch of Young Pioneers Media, and I’ll be sharing the vast majority of the news and updates right here.

At any rate, have a safe New Year’s Eve and a healthy New Year. I’ll see you soon.