Travel Publishing Plans

Bought my tickets, off to Jerusalem before Thanksgiving for a few months. Every year I consider doing something with my online Serial Tourist's Guide to Jerusalem, in the book sense, and every year I end up thinking, "Who am I to write a travel guide?" Which reminds me of the old Yom Kippur joke about a Hollywood congregation, where some movie producer is beating his breast calling out, "Oh, Lord. I have sinned. I have done wrong. I'm just another mortal before you, a mere nothing in your eyes." An associate producer across the aisle nudges his screenwriter companion and says, "Look who thinks he's nobody."

The question, as always, is what does it take to be qualified for a job that has no qualifications. Anybody who can write can write a travel guide, but as a publisher, I like to stick with writing books people will buy. Comparing my own travel writing with what I've read here and there, I can see that I'm not your typical travel writer. On the other hand, I've spent a few months a year in Jerusalem for some fifteen years now, so I must know something about it.

When I get over telling myself that I'm not qualified, I start worrying about scope and audience. The easiest audience for me to write for is serial tourists like myself, who neither need a travel guide nor would find much they didn't know if they bought one. I never stay at hotels, I don't visit tourist sites (at least on purpose) and I prefer grocery stores and street food to sitting down in a restaurant. The one group that might need the sort of guide that I could do a good job writing from experience would be new immigrants, except as I've never been an immigrant myself, I don't know anything about all the interaction with governmental entities that would make up a critical part of a guide for that group.

But there is a strong attraction to travel publishing, because if you can stay away from hotel pricing guides and train schedules, well written books have a pretty long shelf life. I think the real value a travel book can offer is orienting a person in the local society, so they don't spend their trip moving from one embarrassing incident to the next. Of course for some people, living without knowledge of the social norms is what's fun about travel. Who can hold a tourist responsible for their actions? But if you're going to spend time in Israel outside a guided tour, you should do your homework the same as if you were going to any foreign country. Israel isn't Florida with an air force.

Oh, and I haven't found a place to live yet, so if anybody knows of a reasonable B&B or tourist rental I haven't tried, drop me a line.

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