Well. It seems hard to believe, but my Day By Day Guide to Seville has been on the bookshelves of all good booksellers (apart from branches of WHSmith at airports and rail stations) for nearly two years now. So it's time to update it for the 2nd edition. This will be the first time I've updated a guidebook. I'm due to have a kick off meeting with my editor soon and doubtless he'll give me advice and guidance. But here's my thinking in the meantime. I'd be really interested to hear from other guidebook scribes about what they do. I'll then aim to summarise the comments in another post sometime.

Checking Maps - the Day by Day format is very map heavy. Every hotel, shop, restaurant and attraction is pinpointed on a map. There are 31 maps, with roughly 400 establishments marked on them. I could divide the city up into blocks and literally walk the streets ticking everywhere off. I reckon it will be quite a complicated task. I will need to cross check all the different chapters in the book as I walk down a particular street to tick off each shop, bar, hotel etc. Or else I could just call them all on the phone and check the details by phone - would that do? I do need to verify opening hours, credit card acceptance etc.

Adding New Places - I know there are several new hotels that are good that have opened and doubtless there will be new restaurants too. I will ask the Seville Tourist Board office, but they are not over-helpful. I will also ask the Seville Hotels and Restaurant Associations. Who else?

Revising the Layout - the Day By Day format is quite prescriptive. It's all about walking tours. I think it's highly unlikely that I will drop a tour and insert a different one in its place. But should I do something a bit more radical and make clear to my publisher I've made changes and show a potential purchaser that this is a new edition?

How long will it take? I reckon it was a good three months of research and writing to do the first edition - which ran to about 40,000 words. Plotting the places on maps was particularly time-consuming, but now that the maps are all done it should be quite quick to strike out places that have closed and add in new ones. I guess re-jigging the map keys will be a bit tedious. I hope to get the second edition done in 6 weeks quite possibly 4. I plan to spend at least 3, maybe 4 weeks on location. Do I need to spend that long there?

That's the sum total of my thinking so far. It would be brilliant if other guidebook gurus could share their thoughts about the best way to go about updating a guidebook.

17 thoughts on “Tips for updating a guidebook

  1. I'm not one to offer advice on this topic, however I am a new subscriber whose read plenty of guidebooks in the last 1.5 years. I'm glad you posted your thoughts and questions - it offers some insight into the process of creating/revising travel guides.

  2. I think the ability to update a guidebook efficiently and effectively is a rare and valuable (though woefully under-valued) thing. Every series has different requirements - so, yes, question your editor closely!
    I write for Rough Guides, juggling this with other writing and editorial work; like many RG authors I have considerable personal investment in my titles and feel a strong, long-term commitment to the destinations concerned. If you feel the same then it's worth thinking up a formula that you can apply not just to this edition, but to future ones too.
    As for the bones of the research process:
    One - checking facts (opening times, etc). This is the "easy" bit. Much, as you suggest, can be done over the phone (remember that websites aren't always up to date). You need to be thorough and spot-on accurate, but fast, as you want to reserve as much time as possible for...
    Two - re-researching the descriptive content. There are no hard-and fast rules as to how much time you should spend on the ground, budget and schedule permitting. But of course the visitor experience of even the most timeless of hotels, attractions etc can change from one year to the next. So energetic legwork pays dividends. Reviews in the local press may help you decide which places you absolutely must visit/revisit in order to choose what to keep, what to add, what to amend and what to leave out.
    Book buyers will take your new edition at face value. Almost none will compare it with your previous edition - that will be gone and forgotten - so there's little value in making changes for the sole purpose of impressing the few who might make this comparison.
    But it's crucial, for your own credibility and the credibility of the series (here, your editor's advice will be invaluable), that your new edition has a freshly-researched "sparkle". If an amazing new hotel has opened, and looks set to succeed, you should definitely chuck out a slightly-less-amazing old one to make room for it.

  3. Howabout adding a cycling tour?

    I know when visiting cities I have enjoyed hiring a bike and getting out and about to the suburbs (and into countryside beyond).

    I have also pondered creating a travel website around "businessman" tours - so they start at top popular business hotels and last no more than 2 hours, but include an evening meal where you could eat alone. Concept is business person travel alone.... in meetings all day - and in evening wants to go out and about and see things.

  4. @ Emma. Thanks. Very useful advice!
    @ Alex. Hmm. Not that I would have expected you to, but you have clearly not read my guidebook. There is a tour called Seville on Two Wheels... will leave you to deduce what it's about! :-) I like the businessperson idea though.

  5. On top of the fine advice you've had so far, and the stuff you obviously already know, I'd add a slightly different angle. When you approach the project, try and look at your 1e of the book not as its author, but as an editor. I'd find it very hard to re-edition (or edit) a guidebook and *not* want to drop a tour, add a tour, deconstruct and rebuild a tour. Of course, as an editor you don't really get that chance; but when I'm the writer, I get to think as big as I like. Yes, it'll be a bit more work. But, as Emma says, it adds a freshly-researched sparkle. It also helps your editor sell the thing internally: "our 2nd edition has a whole new section on xxx". Sales people love all that, too. And, I reckon, so do consumers. It works for washing powder.

    Oh, and within reason, I'd check everything (or 99%) on foot or bike, for all the reasons you doubtless first visited them that way.

    One extra tool I use for new hotels / restaurants is Google Alerts, with the relevant search terms. A standing search on Twitter often turns up stuff I don't see elsewhere, too. I've used those for writing newspaper articles; whether it would turn up much for "new hotel seville" I don't know... but worth a try?


  6. Hi Jeremy. The update can be a little easier than a first-edition in that you at least have a general plan to follow. The 'walking tour' format may be more restricted in room for new places and new routes on existing tours, but I think it's always important to be honest to the destination. Things change. A street a block over may be emerging, and you'll be doing your readers a service by reflecting that too by changing your existing walking tours to get them there.

    Seville would seem to be a place with a good turnover in hotels, bars, cafes, restaurants. For some, local advice or local publications will be far more helpful than a tourist office. I always ask, ask, ask, ask. Frequently I ask the same questions over and over, and sometimes on things I KNOW the answer to. Locals know a lot, but sometimes they take things for granted that first-time visitors (or any visitors) will immediately latch on. It's a process, undigging those nuggets, new and old.

    I am always slow-to-start an update when I hit the ground. Maybe I'm jet-lagged or a little weary on where/how to start a huge project. So I go with surefire things I KNOW I need to do. Get them done. Talk with a tourist office, check a rooms at a hotel likely to be kept in the edition, see a main square or main museum. By keeping an eye open for new things -- and you will see them; you know the place more intimately than most people -- you'll learn a lot that can inform finding new things, and asking questions, in the days ahead.

    It's important to check everything in person though. Little things can change -- a hotel has a new lobby bar worth noting (or an ugly condo tower or loud disco next door) that you won't be able to capture by calling.

    Beware of the '90% syndrome.' Often I'll go to one area of town and finish ALMOST everything, but not everything. It's a huge time-waster to have to go back. If you have four things to check on one street -- check them all then and there.

    Lastly, I always start the day by revising a daily plan over breakfast. More organized writers probably do this in advance. I don't. By going over the maps, I order places I'll visit that day, put them on a small piece of paper at the front/back of my notebook, and check them off as I go. It helps me not miss one and have to go back.

    Hope it helps. There is no absolute art to it. Go everywhere, trust your eyes and ears and remember the informed outsider is the true bridge to traveler/destination, and can frequently have more context to a place than even a life-long local.

  7. Hmm this is just my 2c and I'm not a published writer or anything. For finding new activities/hotels etc why not use twitter, check out the big travel boards, the user rated type sites? You probably won't agree with them - but the buzz is probably a starting point.
    BTW I loved Sevilla we stayed in hotel within a "block" or 2 of the main cathedral - but I never used a map because ths streets were so windy we just wandered, lost the entire time - thats the best way to experience what turned out to be one of the best cities in Spain (which is saying an awful lot)

  8. Some outstanding advice there from Emma and Robert.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I would say: think like a reader.

    As a guidebook reader, I'm looking for writers to stick their necks out and make recommendations. If I'm in a neighbourhood, I want a solid tip on where to go for lunch (authentic atmosphere, great cooking, cheap menu del dia, that sort of thing). I'll make a detour if it sounds good.

    So if I show up there and find it now closes on Monday lunchtimes, or it's turned into a Starbucks, I lose a lot of faith in the guidebook. I'm more forgiving about other shortcomings, but if your recommendations are flawed, that's a killer blow.

    I think, therefore, you've got to pound the pavements, rather than try to do it all on the phone. Check prices on menus, speak to people eating in restaurants, look at where's busy and where's empty - particularly the places you've recommended in the first edition.

    Finally, you don't mention feedback from the readers. Doesn't your publisher have any letters or emails?

  9. I've joined this thread late - apols. Like Emma, I write for Rough Guides. Not v familiar with Frommer's format or requirements, but here are some thoughts about how I do an update.

    Phone is not enough. T.B. listings are not enough. What other people say is not enough. You HAVE to see the hotel/restaurant/bar/cafe with your own eyes. Every one. You don't have to go in, you don't have to stay or eat or drink, but you MUST at least clap eyes on it, verify that the review from last time still applies and locate it correctly on the map. That means a lot of walking - it's the only way.

    Facts. Every fact in the book has to be ticked off as checked, from bus lines to opening hours to prices to the contents of museums and churches. A lot of that can be done remotely, or from T.B. handouts, but it all has to be done. If you can't verify a fact, better to take it out than leave it in and hope it's right.

    New places. Read the competition, get friendly with the counter staff at the local T.B. and take ten minutes to chat with them and pick their brains, talk to taxi drivers, check the weekend 'dining out' supplement of the local newspaper for recent reviews... but remember that what works for locals is not always what visitors want. The needs and expectations are different. The odd quirky locale in the suburbs is fine, but a guidebook like yours needs a good supply of not-so-good-but-very-convenient places in the main squares and on the main drags too.

    Get cynical. Most of the time, most ordinary punters have no idea which brand of guidebook they're carrying, or why they chose that one over the 6 others available on the same city. They're only in Seville for 48 hours, or maybe 72, and they just want the briefest of handles on what's where. They'll also get a much bigger kick out of discovering an unlisted restaurant down a side-street than they will out of following anything you recommend. Your book is a guide, not a Yellow Pages - do the job, cover the bases, take the money and move on.

    Rule 1 of writing a guidebook. You will ALWAYS discover that a place you recommended has closed/moved/changed hands even before publication. Rule 2: You will ALWAYS find a mistake within five minutes of receiving the freshly published new edition in the post. Rule 3: Whatever kind of a job you do, you'll be back again in 2 years to do another update, so don't sweat the small stuff.

  10. @ Mark. Without wanting to rave too much about the format of the Day By Day series, it is really good that it actually forces you the writer to make recommendations. Each section starts with a Best Bets page and that means that as you write you are constantly considering the merits of places and whether they are worth sticking on the Best Bets pages.
    @ Matthew. Really excellent advice! Much appreciated. I'm increasingly thinking I will literally divide the city up into zones and walk the streets for a week or 2. What's great about doing a second edition is all the contacts I have now. I know the hotel association, I know the local TB and I have lots of friends in the city too. I well remember pitching up there first time around - suddenly realising quite how big the task was. I knew the city quite well already, but the depth of knowledge you need for a guidebook compared with a travel feature is so so much greater.

  11. I've just come back from a three-week research trip around Brittany for a guidebook. I agree with Matthew's comments totally - check things in person. Definitely speak to the locals about where they go. Try and find local listings mags for restaurant and bar recommendations. Tripadvisor is always worth checking out for hotel reviews. As for how long you should spend there - it has to be cost effective for you ie if you're getting expenses and how much profit you make from the fee. Draft an itinerary/plan of what you'll do on each day before you go, if possible.

  12. Nothing useful to add Jeremy, but interesting thread on a topic that I'd never previously considered. The wonders of niche.

    At the risk of falling into Alex B's trap, if you're thinking of adding a section on Seville's local wildlife (there isn't one, right?) I AM AVAILABLE.

    BTW, why are you 'Mr Jeremy Head' on Amazon?

  13. Hi Jeremy,
    After just two years, I would be surprised if your editor allows you to do too many structural changes, as these will be expensive in production/in-house terms. He or she is probably requiring a straightforward update of existing material – all practical info updated, new sights and attractions added and defunct ones deleted, and any history section brought up to date.
    That said, this cannot be done on the phone or through the internet. There is absolutely no substitute for pounding the pavements from dawn until midnight (and probably a lot later than that in Seville). Many small changes cannot be discovered any other way – the entrance to an attraction is now the exit, a previously traffic-clogged side street has been pedestrianised, an art-rich church is about to close for a five-year renovation, a museum has shifted its exhibits, etc, etc. Genuine on-the-ground research will shine through in the revisions you submit, and your editor will ask you to update in another two years – probably giving you a bigger budget and more scope for changes. If an updater delivers stuff that could have been gleaned on the internet by the office intern, next time around they’ll source an updater living in the destination (unless, of course, the author’s contract gives first refusal on any update – quite unusual in this day and age).
    All this will be time-consuming and expensive, and the fee is likely to be relatively small, so you may not make much money, unless you also line up some freelance journalism on the back of your trip. If possible, as with new books, see if the local Tourist Board can at least supply a freedom pass for sights and museums and maybe a transport pass – these small costs really mount up. If not, discuss such expenses with your editor.
    To some extent, how much time you spend on the project, has to depend on your fee, but I would pencil in a two-week stay for on-the-ground research plus time back in the UK.

  14. Hi Dorothy. Thanks for your insights. Very useful. I have a meeting with my editor tomorrow night and then I'm off to Seville next week for 10 days. I plan to go back at least for another week or 2 depending on how much I get done on the first trip. Will keep you posted!

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