Travel writing bits and blues

For over ten years, I wrote Moon Handbooks: Tennessee, which came out in four editions over that time, plus a book on the Smokies, which I co-wrote with Mike Sigalas. The day I got my hands on the first copy of the fourth edition, I got a call from the designated hatchetwoman at my publisher, Avalon Travel Publishing , telling me I was fired from my own book. That’s a long story for another time. As the late Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes.

Fortunately for me, I own the copyright to all the text in the 500-page book, and I have put almost every word of it onto my website, Tennessee Guy, of which this blog is a part. While some unknown soul is laboring on the fifth incarnation of the Tennessee book, my last edition remains in bookstores, making money for me and the knaves who cut me loose.

But not too much money, it seems. I remain on an email list of Avalon authors, and they are singing the blues about a steep decline in royalties for the last quarter of 2006. Several are reporting drops in income of one half, two-thirds, or even 75 percent. My last royalty check is one fourth of its predecessor. One longtime Avalon author tells us that we should consider writing travel books as a hobby, and to “look for another revenue stream.”

While I have all sympathies for my fellow authors, many of whom depend on those royalties for their livelihood, a lesser person would chortle at the plight of my former publisher and gleefully anticipate the laying off of particular individuals. But I digress.

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The day of the travel book that gets updated every three years is over. My book is still in stores, and as I update my website I am appalled at how out of date my own book has become. In a time when people get an increasing amount of travel information from the Web, books like mine–and the others in the Avalon catalog–will no longer cut it.

Which brings me to a book that arrived yesterday: iPod Fully Loaded. Written by Andy Ihnatko, a wildly colorful character who knows his stuff, the book describes how to, among other things, put text onto an iPod. Last week Apple announced that the company has sold 100 million iPods, and is getting ready to roll out the iPhone, the most anticipated cell phone on the planet.

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While there will always be room for travel books–look for a PDF version of mine within the next year–the future of travel information lies in these portable electronic devices.

Imagine being in Middle Tennessee and feeling a bit peckish and in the mood for barbecue. Whip out the cell phone, dial in B-A-R-B-E-C-U-E, or SAY “barbecue” and up on the screen comes four options, all within 10 miles. Select the one you want, and the screen becomes a map directing you to pulled pork with a sauce so hot it burns the hair off your tongue.

This brave new world of delivering travel information is just around the corner, boys and girls, and Tennessee Guy plans to be, as much as possible, on the cutting edge.

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