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Dream job: Guidebook Author

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“I want your job.” I’ve heard that sentiment more in my decade of writing guidebooks than the sound of mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. My initial thought—“Sure you do. And I would like your six figure salary, plush retirement plan, and Cadillac healthcare coverage!” I have written over a dozen guidebooks for the Mountaineers Books—and I love my job.

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Just another day at the office...Images: Craig Romano

But it’s no walk (more like a long hike) in the park. But contrary to popular thinking—I don’t just hike! I work hard putting in more time behind the computer and on the road promoting my work than spending on the trail. So, before any of you get any crazy ideas about giving up your cushy office job to go play in the rain and snow (okay there are good weather days, too)—let me offer you my little guide to writing guidebooks.

  1. You don’t do it for the money. Writing is a passion, not a job. As a writer I am both blessed and cursed. I am blessed that I have developed my craft; have an inquisitive nature—and a desire to share what I learn. I am cursed in that I must write—I will never be happy doing anything else.
  2. It’s more than hiking. Many guidebook author wanna-bees are oft quick to point out—they hike a lot. Okay—and I eat a lot, but that doesn’t make me a chef! You have to know how to write. Writing good guidebooks requires technical and creative writing skills, good interviewing skills; and it doesn’t hurt to have backgrounds in natural, cultural, and regional history as well.
  3. A good guidebook is accurate. It’s more than just a list of places to visit and a litany of rote directions. For accuracy I hike every mile of every trail I write about—and then some. I take notes while I hike. I run GPS tracks. I photograph signs and sites.
  4. A good guidebook is entertaining. It should be fun to read. It should read better than “walk here, turn here, stop at this view—now go home.” I’m not writing an instructional manual. I’m writing about experiences. I want to get you excited about visiting that place. I want to tell you about the land—what’s it like. Who came here before you? First Nations, Explorers, Pioneers? What kind of flora and fauna might you see? I want you to enjoy my books back at the cabin while sipping a glass of your favorite wine as well.
  5. A good guidebook is insightful. I want you to also think about the land. How did this area come to be? I want you to think about the impacts that others before you have had on the land. I want you to think about your impact and relationship with the land. A good guidebook should instill a sense of stewardship, which leads me to my next tenet.
  6. A good guidebook is responsible. Like my Mountaineers Books predecessors Harvey Manning, Ira Spring, and Louise Marshall, I want my guidebooks to also be calls to action. I want them to inform you on conservation issues. I want my readers to realize that all of these great parks, forests, and trails didn’t come out of nowhere. There was—and still needs to be a lot of citizen involvement if we are to have a healthy environment to recreate in. We must also understand that balance is needed between recreation and preservation. I also realize that folks (me included) don’t want to be preached to.
Now, let’s talk about the process.

  • I must understand the marketplace. Is there a demand for a new book on the topic I’m pursuing? What is currently out there? What can I do better than what is out there?
  • I then decide what to include in it. I try to make my books as comprehensive as possible. I research the area thoroughly and then head out for the best part of my job—the on the trail research. Typically I spend May through October on the trail and the rest of the year on the computer and promoting.
  • After I complete the manuscript, I fact check confirming with land agencies, conservation groups and trail organizations.
  • Then I send the manuscript off to my editor for a very thorough editing process. The manuscript goes back forth between us. My project manager is also involved giving it several reads. We go through all of the maps (which I also created). It is a laborious process and my least favorite aspect of my job—but it’s one of the most important processes. Once we have gone over and over the book and made it the best possible, it is sent to the printers.
Receiving my first copy of the finished book is akin to seeing your child for the first time. The “pregnancy” (process) was long with its joys and frustrations and the “labor” (editing) was difficult. But once you see the shining cover of your brand new book—it is all worth it! And then like a new parent, you want to tell the whole world about your bundle of words. And that’s when the next stage begins—promoting. I fill my calendar with book talks and travel throughout the region and beyond sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for my book. I love getting people excited to hit the trail. That’s the most rewarding part of my job.

But the work is not done. My book needs to stay relevant—and especially in this digital age. My publisher keeps the printings fairly low so that with each subsequent printing I can make minor edits to reflect any changes that may occur on the trail. I must constantly stay up to date with what is going on out there. When it’s time to do a second edition—which I currently am doing with my Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula book—I begin the process all over again. Yes, I am re-hiking every trail and hiking many new trails for this edition. I can’t wait to share this information with you. And wouldn’t you rather be reading my guidebooks than writing them?

Craig Romano is an award-winning author of more than a dozen hiking books on Washington State. Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook at "Craig Romano Guidebook Author."

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