Archive for April, 2010

Writing For Party Earth

April 3, 2010

Right, long time no blog! I’ve been meaning to post something for a while now about my experiences last summer writing for Party Earth, a US-based series of nightlife guidebooks to top European cities. As my first guidebook work it was a big learning experience… and not necessarily one I’m in a desperate hurry to repeat!

My Dad always says if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, but as I set out for Barcelona in search of fame and fortune the tagline ‘writers wanted – get paid to party in Barcelona’ was inevitably going to arouse my interest. I duly sent in my application form, along with my CV, which for once suited the bill perfectly (I’d spent the last 3.5 years writing about bars and clubs around East Europe and had my own nightlife column in the Krakow Post). I was genuinely raring to go on this one, my perfect job – and barring my lack of knowledge about Barcelona (at the time) and lack of Spanish (errr, still) – I felt I was the perfect candidate. Anyhow to my delight I got offered the job and was looking forward to a hedonistic summer in Spain living it up by night and then penning a few ditties on the beach late in the afternoon.

Then came the shock… my remuneration. The 3,000 USD touted in the job ad was for a guidebook created from scratch. My role was to update an existing Barcelona guide of 60 odd venue reviews and add a handful of new ones… I was to be paid a mere 8 USD for updating an old review and 16 USD for writing a new review. And I was to cover all my own expenses! It was obvious then that should I even buy one drink at a venue that I was visiting for an update then I would have imbibed all the money I earned from reviewing it (a bottle of beer in BCN costs from 3 to 6 euros)! Have two drinks and I would actually be making a loss out of all my hard work!

I thought long and hard about it and was close to refusing Party Earth’s offer. But in the end I felt that it should at least be fun, the opportunity might be more important than money and that I’d be able to visit most of the places without having a drink – just making some notes. I also figured I’d be going to some of these places anyway so if I could recuperate some of the costs of a night out by writing a review that couldn’t be a bad thing either. Finally I thought that the research I was doing for Party Earth would come in handy at least for other purposes (such as writing the Barcelona nightlife page of my fledgling website Barcelona Life). A travel writer survives on their knowledge after all, and one of the keys to being a successful travel writer is making your knowledge pay more than once!

The logic was sound… but unfortunately there were some factors I hadn’t predicted or considered. Firstly I had no idea just how exacting the Party Earth editors would be. My approach at first was to take what was already written in the existing guidebook reviews and just flesh it out with a sentence or two and check all the factual details were correct – easily enough to earn my 8 USD in my opinion! However these reviews would be sent back to me with a long list of required amendments… every review had to contain concrete details of the decor, layout, crowd, music, vibe and also had to include a top tip for making the most of the place. (So you really had to get to know the places well!). In fact I thought these guidelines were excellent, but they were also very demanding and inflexible, and doctoring the often poorly-written existing reviews to fit the criteria was very time-consuming. What with travelling to the venue, being in the venue, travelling from the venue, writing/updating the review, writing the amendments, I must have been spending several hours on each place! It’s very likely I was averaging 2 or at most 3 dollars an hour for this work (in the most efficient case). Nightclubs were worse than bars because they are harder to pop in and out, in more distant locations, and Party Earth don’t cover the cost of entry – insisting that we should be able to arrange a free visit for the coverage we’re giving them. Sound in theory, but you try telling a Spanish gorilla who doesn’t speak English that you are here to review the incredibly popular club he is barring your way to and you won’t get very far. Organising guestlists for all the clubs was another (time-consuming) headache, made a nightmare by my poor language skills.

The whole experience seemed to be an endless project, structured around my weekly Skype meetings, with my line manager Dan. Despite Dan being a very nice guy, talking to him about an infinite roll of amendments began to drag after this two month project had entered into it’s fourth and even fifth month. (I should point out I wasn’t working full time by any means, but a sizeable chunk of each week got taken up, esp. in the initial three months… later when the research had been done it was just the amendments that kept rolling in!).

One thing that I have to commend Party Earth for was that they kindly agreed to renegotiate my contract so that reviews which involved extensive rewriting were credited as new reviews – and remunerated by 16 not 8 dollars! This was a bit of life-saver as revising the existing reviews was often taking longer than writing the new reviews! Unfortunately some of this good work by them was later undone when I had to pay a 50 dollar fee via Paypal just to receive my total payment from them (which came to 1277 USD)… that was the equivalent of three new reviews wiped out just to get paid for the work that I had done! That really pissed me off, and I think if you are contracting foreign staff you should be willing to pay the bank fees.

Overall it was an exciting project to work on, and I think together we created a great nightlife guide to Barcelona… but from a travel writer’s perspective it was a hell of lot of work and hassle for not very much money. Nor was it anywhere near as fun as you might imagine. A night out in a club because you have to be there (often my mates were all somewhere else!), with no spending money is obviously a far cry from an all-expenses paid booze up… the realities of nightlife journalism, even for a major US publisher, are not glamorous it seems!

I think, despite my gripes, writing for Party Earth worked out for me in some strange way. It gave me a reason and focus to be here in Barcelona for a couple of crucial months, and (a lot later than I would have liked) it paid out a bit of money; whilst the knowledge I gained working for them is helping me in compiling various city guides, be it for my own projects, like Barcelona Life or Urban Travel Blog, or for Easyjet Magazine or whoever….

If you’re thinking of accepting an assignment to write for Party Earth hopefully this advice will help you… you can always contact me if you need some more info! Meanwhile I’d definitely be interested in hearing about other writers’ experiences working for other travel guidebooks etc (you might find this amusing book by the now infamous Thomas Kohnstamm instructive too… an expose of life as a Lonely Planet guidebook writer! Very droll, I’ll get a review up one of these days!).