North Americas Fastest Growing Travel Guide

By: Norm Goldman

Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Daniel Levine, Founding Editor of Avant-Guide Travel Media.

Thank you Daniel for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Thanks for having me, Norm.

Norm

Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.

Daniel:

I wrote the London chapter of Frommer's Europe guide when I was 24, it was my first job out of college. Simon & Schuster was the publishing house at the time. They liked what I did and went on to offer me a lot of other work. I wrote 10 of the biggest Frommer's books, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Prague and lots of chapters of the Europe guide, including Rome, Venice, Florence, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Athens and others. It was great work, but I took it as far as I could go and decided that I wanted to do something more meaningful to me. That's the genesis of Avant-Guide: I wanted to create stylish travel information for more sophisticated travelers; people who appreciate things that are new, unique and fashionable. In many ways, Frommer's is the antithesis of this. We used to joke that the average Frommer's reader was two nuns on a budget.

Norm

How did you get started in traveling? How and why did you want to start your Avant-Guide travel guide series? Do you have a particular audience in mind? How has the feedback been so far?

Daniel:

I have a good story to tell. I wanted to travel around the world and, somewhat naively, thought that it would be great if I could just get paid writing about it. So I picked up the phone and called Arthur Frommer. He was in the New York phone book and probably still is. He was great; a really nice guy. He met me for lunch and I told him that his Europe book sounds really out of date and the references are old. He told me that he had bad news and good news. The bad news was that he didn't own the Frommer's series anymore; he had sold it to S&S years ago. But the good news was the he still kept an office there and he just heard that the editors were looking for new young writers to rewrite the entire book for the first time in over 30 years. Arthur put me in touch with the editor in chief there and, as they say, the rest is history.

Avant-Guide is not just a travel guidebook series, but a global-lifestyle media company offering leading edge, content driven products, events and services related to travel and entertainment. It's also now the fastest-growing travel guidebook series in North America. We aim to be the authoritative source for the most complete and accurate news and information on hip hotels, stylish restaurants, independent shops and the best nightlife in top destinations worldwide. Packed with straightforward reviews from insiders who wouldn't dream of counseling readers to "pack a rain poncho" or "wear comfortable shoes," Avant-Guide rides at the intersection of travel and style. Each ultra-discreet Avant-Guide book contains about 450 listings, meticulously plotted maps, exhaustively cross-referenced directories, and a companion 52-page Pocket Informer for ultimate portability. Our goal is to be recognized as the world's leading source of stylish destination information across all media.

Norm:

As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road? What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?

Daniel:

The biggest challenge is staying on top of everything that is new, unique and fashionable (the Avant-Guide credo). Of course, actually doing that is also the biggest reward. With infinite places, products, services and experiences to chose from, consumers from the fast-growing creative class need a brand they can trust to authoritatively curate them all; one that both identifies and anoints the best places to go, objects to buy and things to experience. As a Master Curator, Avant-Guide has the power to inspire and enhance people's lives.

Norm:

How do you choose the authors who contribute to your guidebooks? As a follow up, as there does not seem to be any authoritative standards that exist for guidebook authors or publishers, how do you know that a guidebook is up to par? How do you check out the authorial competence?

Daniel:

Unlike most other travel guidebooks, Avant-Guide writers are not sent anywhere for a couple of weeks of frenzied researching about a place they hardly know. Our writers live and work in the cities they cover. Another feature that sets Avant-Guide apart from mainstream corporate guides is the fact that our writers come from only one profession: writing. Most importantly, it always disturbed me that most travel guidebooks have lousy writing. Fact is that the other guides care a lot more about getting great (and inexpensive) researchers than publishing great writing. We care about both and aim to advance the language as well as offer great information. Our check for authorial competence is the fact that all our writers (5-8 per book) are experienced, published writers who write for a living. We hire people whose writing we like. How many other guidebook series' can say that?

Norm:

What cities are you planning to include in your Avant-Guide series in the future, and as I live in Montreal, are you planning to include our beautiful city?

Daniel:

Our list is expanding rapidly. We now have 11 titles: Chicago, Disney World & Orlando, Las Vegas, London, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Paris, Prague, San Francisco and Toronto. Coming up we've got Rome, Shanghai, and several other destinations in Asia, North America and Europe. Montreal will probably be on our 2007 list.

Norm:

What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?

Daniel:

First, learn how to write. I'm so tired of travel writers who endlessly "write" these kind of hackneyed phrases:

Cities are always places full of “contrasts."
Black neighborhoods are always “colorful."
Hispanic neighborhoods are always “vibrant."
Salsa (the music) is always “infectious."
Salsa (the food) is always “zesty."
Things from Southeast Asia are always “mysterious" or “exotic."
Things from Japan are always “calm" or “meditative."
“Ethnic" is used to mean not white.
And “urban" is used to mean black or Hispanic.
Tomato sauces are “hearty."
Cream sauces are “rich."
Desserts are always “mouthwatering" or “to die for."
Small dining rooms are always “cozy."
Dining rooms with views are “romantic."
Restaurants with fireplaces are both “romantic" and “cozy."
Any place with velvet ropes is “trendy."
Luxury hotels are always “elegant."
Budget hotels are always “clean and comfortable" (unless, of course, they are not).
Tourist traps and theme restaurants are always “great for kids"
And parks are “great for picnicking."
Jazz is always “cool." Unless, of course, it’s “hot."
Uptown is "expensive."
And downtown is always “funky."
Sex shops are “sleazy."
And shopping is always “fun." And it’s usually done until dropping.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Daniel:

I'd like to let your readers know about our Avant-Guide Onlineand to encourage them to sign up online for our biweekly electronic Communiqué, which is distributed to a rapidly expanding community of more than 20,000 jet-setting taste-makers including those in travel, entertainmentComputer Technology Articles, fashion and media.

Thanks once again and good luck with Avant-Guide

Thanks for talking with me and stay avant!

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