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Guide publishers find themselves masters of revisiting

Keeping new and old facts sounding fresh and current challenges those who write about the world's top tourist spots.

May 21, 2006|Alfred Borcover | Special to The Times

AS hard as travel guidebook publishers try to keep their products current and fresh -- and they do try -- deadlines thwart them. It simply takes time -- about a year -- to research, write, edit, print and distribute a book.

Given the amount of material that goes into a tome, it's not surprising guidebooks may contain incorrect information. Restaurants open and close, hotels change hands, hurricanes and other disasters occur.

What usually doesn't change between editions is the destination's history and ambience, but publishers try to keep that material fresh as well. How do publishers of such tomes as Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Fodor's, DK Eyewitness Guides and Rough Guides, to name a few, pull together millions of words on myriad destinations to put a book in a traveler's hands? To find out, we took a look at them:

Lonely Planet. With more than 600 titles in 118 countries, Lonely Planet generally updates about 80% of its books every two years.

"We have a pool of 320 authors," said Heather Dickson, a senior commissioning editor based in Oakland. Many writers live in the places they write about.

"We expect every hotel and restaurant to be checked out," Dickson said. "We pay [the writer's expenses] to do that. They can't stay in every hotel or eat in all the restaurants, but they must at least visit the places."

Whenever authors go out, they're given the last editions. "All have to be checked, all updated," Dickson said. "We don't expect the same book to come back with just a few details changed. We want a fresh, new book every time."

Generally it takes 10 months from the time the writer begins researching to the time the book hits the shelf, Dickson said. Lonely Planet books are as short as 96 pages and as long as 1,396 pages, and can be previewed at

Frommer's guidebooks. These have been a staple since 1957, when "Europe on $5 a Day" was published by founder Arthur Frommer (who is no longer associated with the books). The guides in their various brands appeal to a broad market.

"We publish between 175 and 185 books every year," said Kelly Regan, Frommer's editorial director, who is based in Hoboken, N.J. "Our most popular titles -- 35 to 38 books -- are updated every year, the rest every other year.

"We put a premium on keeping books as up to date as possible. It's the advantage of using authors who live in the destination and can keep up with information and not try to cram everything in during a two-week trip."

Regan said authors were given a "formidable" list of material they had to procure. "We provide them with outlines, guidelines, instructions," Regan said. "We know exactly what we want in every guide -- exact prices for hotels, restaurants, everything. That does distinguish us from the competition."

Regan said most of the books were updated from previous editions "but we probably do anywhere from 15 to 25 new editions a year."

How Frommer's guides are updated varies from destination to destination, Regan said. "For a city like New York or Chicago, where the dining, night life and hotel scene changes quickly, authors need to refresh content as quickly as possible. We expect authors to visit all the places they put in the book." Regan said most books are online at

Fodor's Travel Guides. Fodor's, founded by the late Eugene Fodor, began in 1936. Overall, there are about 250 titles in the Fodor's series, 90 in the flagship series called Gold Guides, said publisher Tim Jarrell, who is based in New York. Of the Gold Guides, 40 are updated annually, most every two years.

"We have a network of writers -- about 700 around the world -- and most live in the destinations they write about," Jarrell said. "It takes about a year from the initial assignment to the finished book. From the time the research is completed, it takes about six months, but we can make changes up to three months before publication."

Jarrell said that books updated annually are entirely fact-checked.

"We also do one other thing," Jarrell said. "We have a very active community on our website [], which is rating our hotels and restaurants. We send that information out to the writers. If something is out of whack, the writer will investigate."

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. The Eyewitness Guides, known more for their four-color maps, photos and illustrations, are user-friendly, especially for travelers who want their information delivered in a concise, visual way.

"Our guides are authored by people who know the destinations extremely well and speak the local language," publisher Douglas Amrine said in an e-mail from his London office. "Most of our guides have more than one author; we commission specialists on history, natural history, art, shopping, etc.

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