Mar 142006
 

My good friend, former client and Waterside colleague Chris Van Buren is living a dream that many folks have: moving overseas to an exotic locale while still managing to make a living.

Chris first visited, then moved to Brazil, and continues to make his living there as a writer and artist. His new book, Moon Handbooks Brazil, was just published in January, and I thought he’d be up for a short interview to discuss his move and also what it’s like to write a travel guide, especially in relation to tech titles, of which he’s written quite a few.

How did you find yourself moving to Brazil?

A friend of mine, after traveling to Brazil, told me this was a place that I would really like — not just Brazil, but a specific historical town called Ouro Preto, in the middle of the country. She was right. I fell in love with Ouro Preto right away and within three years, I had moved to Brazil completely, tapered down and finally quit my activities as an agent, and went back to writing — together with a new and fledgling (but promising) profession as a fine artist (something I studied in college but never did professionally).

It wasn´t as easy a transition as I would have liked. Book projects have been getting harder and harder to land and my profession as an artist suffered major setbacks during the economic crisis that began in 2003 (nobody wants art when they´re worried about war). So I supplemented my two professions with a third — and began teaching English to Brazilian students.

Had you planned to write a travel guide? Did you solicit many publishers? How did you come to choose Moon (or vice versa, how did they come to choose you?)

I routinely check for writing projects on various online boards, in addition to keeping my ears to the publishing world as best I can from abroad. When a Brazil travel guide popped up on one of the boards, I quickly checked out the publisher and related publishers. I decided then that I was going to do whatever it took to get this contract. I spent the next four days preparing a proposal. It came to 50 pages including outline and samples.

But I don´t recommend to authors that they sit around watching for projects to appear on the Internet. In most cases, you have to find holes in publishers’ lists and create projects to fill them. You can work the other way around (create the project and then find the publisher for it) if you´re highly specialized and well-known in your field.

I imagine that the travel book process would be very similar to how the tech book market functions. Did the process differ much?

Avalon Publishing is more traditional than most computer publishers. They schedule books way in advance and the process is a bit slower and more painstaking. But there are many similarities–such as the experience of working within a publisher’s existing series, something common in computer publishing. Also, the writing process is similar (the process, not the writing itself). You have to present information in parcels and organize yourself in a similar way. Computer writing prepared me quite well for the sheer quantity of output that is expected in a short amount of time in guidebook writing. I can´t imagine most writers being able to keep up. Only computer book writers and maybe hardcore journalists have the pace and stamina to produce, say, ten finished pages a day for four straight months. Even still, I reached a point where I had to break through my previous levels. Of course, this was also my first travel book, so there was the learning curve too.

Do you have any advice for writers who plan to move overseas? For instance, how to keep paying work going when you’re at greater distance?

It can work really well if the exchange rate is in your favor. But you have to keep a steady stream of work — or set up a couple of regular gigs that you can count on, even if small. And you have to keep a couple of very trustworthy contacts in the states to handle your money issues. The rest is about coping with the new environment and getting yourself installed in the new system. Each system has its little tricks and challenges. I learned a lot of things the hard way.

I know of a lot of free-lance editors working from overseas for the publishing company that used to employ them. I don´t know as many writers doing this (other than journalists) because most writers need part-time jobs to supplement the writing work and that can be difficult to get in a foreign country. More and more, writing is becoming less and less of a paid endeavor. Today, many writers create their books and articles with the sole intention of promoting themselves and their other activities. With all the free information exchange on the Internet, article-sized pieces are not pulling the kinds of per-word payments that they used to. Most go unpaid. This will likely continue as publishers re-position themselves in this new environment. Thankfully, more than 80% of the Internet is still English based–so one can always teach English overseas.

  •  March 14, 2006
  •  Posted by at 11:23 am
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