3 mins

The truth about writing guidebooks

Helen Moat is the author of Bradt's new Slow Travel guide to the Peak District. She reveals what it takes to be a guidebook author, and how you can become one too

Guidebooks in a book store (Shutterstock)

There are many ways to get your foot in the door

I entered the Bradt-Independent travel writing competition and was placed high enough for Bradt to ask me if I would be interested in submitting a chapter for their book Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. They accepted my chapter (which will be included again in their latest edition of Bus Pass Britain – a combination of the original and second Bus Pass books).

That gave me a foot in the door. Having a blog, winning competitions, and writing for the Wanderlust website also helped, I’m sure.

I loved the Bradt series of UK Slow Travel guides and pitched for one for the Peak District. Luckily Bradt liked my ideas and accepted my pitch.

Then the hard work began.

Writing a guidebook is hard work

When I pitched for the book, I had no idea how much work would be involved.

The first stage was fun though – getting outside and exploring – in my case the wonderful Peak District that happens to be on my doorstep. I had a great time sussing out some of The Peak District’s best-kept secrets and uncovering some lesser known aspects of the better-known places and attractions.

The second part of the research involved interviewing and chatting to local people, reading literature and trawling the internet for interesting stories and information. Fact checking can be a frustrating experience as there are often contradictions. It takes time.

The third part was drafting and redrafting, while striving to keep the writing fresh and interesting. Then there are the edits and corrections – right up to the end when the text has to fit the type-set.

Padley Gorge, Peak District (Shutterstock.com)Padley Gorge, Peak District (Shutterstock)


A good editorial team is essential

Working with the team at Bradt was a privilege. The editors are totally dedicated to their job and the support, encouragement and commitment they give to their writers is second to none. Writing is such an isolated activity and I learned a lot from working with professionals.

Don’t expect to make your fortune

Bluntly put, there’s no money in guidebook writing. I received a modest payment from Bradt once contracts were exchanged, and a further two small payments upon completion (we’re talking hundreds, not thousands).

The payments are an advance on royalties, so it will be a long time before the royalties start to dribble in and the book begins to earn me money. The bottom line is, don’t give up the day job.

Out of that money I had to pay my own expenses – travel expenses, food and drink. I would, however, ask for complimentary tickets to attractions for research purposes, but there was no suggestion that I had to write a glowing account of the attraction as a result. I wrote as I found.

But there are other, less tangible rewards

I really enjoyed talking to the local people who would share their passion for the Peak District – from the river swimmer, fish farmer and pub landlady to the mountain guide, landscape photographer and bird-watcher. I was struck how intertwined the people and landscape of the Peak District are – and what they bring to this wonderful part of Britain.

The people of the Peak District are very passionate about the place they live and work in. Tough drystone wallers and farmers would wax lyrical about the Peak – and who could blame them? The Peak District is a special place and their enthusiasm for the place rubs off on you.

Helen’s guidebook, Bradt Slow Travel: The Peak District, can be ordered on Amazon now.  She is currently working on a book about cycling from Rotterdam to Istanbul. Visit her website for more details.

Main image: Guidebooks in a book store (Shutterstock.com)

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