The Daily Telegraph has the story of a (former?) travel writer who claims that many of the details in his guidebooks are fictional:
The Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.
Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a new book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the company's policy.
His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year.
Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?, said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile and South America.
In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.
"They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia,'' he said.
"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.
"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.''
Well, then, don't do it...and, especially, don't do it and then sell Random House a book about how you lied.
Last year I had the chance to write one of these...not a Lonely Planet, but a travel guide for one of their competitors. It would've required a nine-month investment of nearly full-time writing, with self-financed travel that would've had me on the road for weeks. The advance would've been $4000 up front with another $4K on delivery, and out of that I would've had to pay for all my gas, meals, hotel stays, and incidentals (there are no expenses or receipts in the travel-book-for-hire game).
What really killed the deal, though, was the publisher's request for an outline/proposal, which was 60 pages long and required the sort of tiny details that I would've expected to write for a finished book, not a general outline. This publisher wanted it in two weeks. And the proposal was just that -- an unpaid spec out of who-knows-how-many the publisher commissioned for this title.
Who has the time and the energy to live off ramen wages for nine months while he/she puts together hundreds of pages of travel info? Students, inexperienced writers, and independently wealthy writers was my thought. I guess I should've considered liars as well.
Another Lonely Planet writer was quoted in the Telegraph article:
An email to management, posted on the company's authors' forum, describes Mr Kohnstamm's book as "a car crash waiting to happen''.
"Why did you (management) not understand that when you hire a constant stream of new, unvetted people, pay them poorly and set them loose, that someone, somehow was going to screw you?'' author Jeanne Oliver wrote.
But I can't imagine Random House paid him the big bucks for his exposé, either. Hope they vetted his stories more closely than did the folks at Lonely Planet.Update: Kohnstamm has told the Associated Press that his comments were (say it with me) "taken out of context," and Lonely Planet publisher Piers Pickard is standing behind the author.