Self-Publishing Guides and Directories: What You Need to Know
Authors and organizations who possess in-depth knowledge of a particular field may consider publishing guides and directories to that field. Examples of fields where these publications are common include travel, dining, shopping, technology, schools, and employment. Some of the most famous of these publications include Zagat’s for restaurants, Michelin travel guides, and Writer’s Market for writing opportunities.
There are both opportunities and challenges for these types of books, especially for self-published authors.
Is It a Guide or Directory?
In many respects, a guide and a directory are the same thing. But a guide would be more likely to include author commentary and expanded entries, whereas a directory could be a bare bones listing of contact information and a brief description.
The target market for the book should be the determining factor of whether to create a guide or a simple directory. Readers that have less experience with the field could be more interested in guides.
Expertise, Experience, and Research Required
The research required to create guides or directories can be the biggest expense. Readers value guides from authors who are experts in the field, especially those who have personal experience with what is listed. For example, restaurant goers would expect and appreciate a guide from someone who actually ate at the restaurant. That takes time and money.
Authors may alternatively choose to solicit listings, paid or unpaid, from potential entries.
However the listings are gathered, the methodology should be disclosed to readers.
Photo, Image, and Logo Issues for Guides and Directories
Photos of products or locations in listings can be helpful or problematic. They’re helpful in that they can bolster the authenticity of the listing. But they can be problematic in a number of ways.
Photos and Images
Authors may be tempted to “Photoshop” the photos, meaning that they’ll electronically enhance the photos, thus exaggerating either the positive or negative qualities of the listing. They may be more tempted to Photoshop to enhance listings for which they are compensated.
While many listings may welcome inclusion of photos and images of their products or services, others may not. Some may want to provide their own (maybe even electronically enhanced) photos to the author, or may want to approve the photos that are included. And there’s the legal issue of property releases (landmarks, buildings, grounds, and objects), model releases (people), and permissions for logo use that the author may need to obtain to include them in listings. Photo and image credits for the photographer and source also need to be noted in captions.
Stock Photography and Image Issues
Some authors may default to using stock photography. That again presents the issue of authenticity. Does this authentically represent the listing? Often it does not.
Then there’s the issue of using stock photos in a book that’s commercially available for sale. Stock photo and image licensing requirements and permissions vary, and need to be fully understood before including any licensed photos or images in a book that’s commercially available for sale (which means the self published book you’re selling).
Questions regarding photo, image, and logo use should be discussed with an attorney familiar with intellectual property.
Photos and images may also increase the cost of producing the book, even for print on demand. Color photos can quickly ramp up the cost to print a book, thereby reducing royalties, revenues, and profits.
Disclaimers are a big issue when it comes to publishing guides and directories. An attorney should be consulted to create appropriate disclaimer statements that would cover items such as the following.
- Paid sponsorship. Has the author been paid to review or experience the listing? A free product, service, or even a straight cash payment could influence the author’s presentation of the information. Any compensation needs to be disclosed to comply with regulations such as those from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States.
- Listings can change or be inaccurate. Listing information can change fast! As well, there’s always the possibility of errors. So including statements about the potential inaccuracy of information is a must.
- Opinions of the author. Unless the information is primarily just contact and location information, the evaluation of each listing will include opinions of the author. However, even the inclusion of any listing can be construed as an opinion because the author valued it enough to include it! And what if the author presents a listing in a negative light and the company or person gets offended?
- Limitation of liability. Just because a listing is included doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for all readers. In fact, it may be a bad choice for some. Statements about expectations of results and limitations of liability are necessary to legally protect authors.
There may be other legal issues to be considered. An attorney should be consulted to evaluate issues specific to the proposed guide or directory.
Updated Editions Offer Opportunity... and Expense
Because information for listings can change frequently, it can present an opportunity for authors to publish updated editions, even annually or more often. But with that opportunity comes the time and dollar cost of continually researching and updating all the information.
Deciding whether that investment is worth it will take an evaluation of potential sales. Will the market see the value in buying updated editions on a regular basis? This may require some testing of the market to see what publication frequency would resonate with the target audience.
Some guides also have limited life due to the function they offer readers. For example, a traveler may buy a guide to Europe this year because he’s traveling there this year. But he may not travel there next year. This would require an evaluation of the total market potential since it may not have a loyal continuing fan base.
Future updated edition possibilities should be considered before publishing even the first one!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Heidi Thorne