Previously, I’ve written at length about why I love travel guides and some of my favorites. Today, I had the opportunity to look behind the scenes on how one of my friends, Jane Ko, wrote and published a city guide to her city, Austin.
Jane, also known as Koko, has been blogging about food and travel in Austin for the last ten years. In that time, Austin has become a cultural destination, and Jane cemented her title as the expert on what to eat, drink, and do in Austin.
Late last year, she took her intimate knowledge of Austin and the stack of photographs she took over the previous years to create a travel guide to Austin.
The book is a small, pocketable, yet dense. The pages are a heavier weight and perfect bound. Stylistic choices such as typeface (Sofia in this case) and use of color have been carried over from her web site.
Here’s how it’s organized:
Of course, what I think makes guides like this truly special is that they are written by resident experts who know their city inside and out.
Unlike the guides I’ve written about before, there wasn’t an extensive editorial and creative team behind this guide. Jane and a few other Austin creatives did it all on their own.
Jane was generous enough to let us peek behind the scenes and answered some of the questions I had about the process behind the creation of Koko’s Guide to Austin.
Arun Venkatesan Your website is already an excellent guide to the Austin food scene. Why did you decide to make a printed guide?
Jane Ko It was always my dream to have a book - who doesn’t have that dream? Haha. As the local Austin blogger for 9 years (I started my blog in 2010), I was still getting questions on where to eat and things to do every single day. I have my blog, my Instagram, and even a free texting service but people were still asking me for information on Austin.
I always knew I wanted to do a book but it was just a matter of when. I was a month away from turning 30 and was going through a midlife crisis, I knew I had to do my book now or else I would never do it.
Surprisingly since the book has come out, my inquiries on Austin have gone down and so many people have told me that they love giving the book as a gift because they hated having to answer questions on Austin too!
AV Some guides are made for travelers, while others are made for locals. Is your guide made for a specific audience?
JK My guide was created based on what kind of content and style my audience has asked me for all these years. I would say the book was created for locals that live here in Austin but why would locals need a travel book on the city they live in? Well, 30% of my audience lives here in Austin and depend on me every day for things to do and where to eat.
I didn’t expect to have so many sales from people who live in California and New York. That probably constitutes for 50% of my sales.
AV You put it together with a team of women all from Austin. How did that happen?
JK All of the most talented creative people I know just happen to be women so as I started hiring for different aspects of the book, they all happened to be women!
AV Travel and food guides come in all shapes and sizes. What was the thought process behind the format (size, binding, paperweight) you chose?
JK I’ve been collecting travel books for the past 6 years and always knew that I wanted a travel book that was pocket-sized. A travel book that would be used and not just left on the coffee table for decoration.
4” x 6” was the perfect pocket size - it can fit in a women’s bag and in the back pocket of a man’s pants.
For paper, I wanted premium paper but not something too heavy that the book itself would be too heavy to bring around. Perfect binding was an absolute must so if you put it on the bookshelf, you could still see the spine.
AV You are using the same typeface and similar visual elements in the book and on your website. However, you went for a very different yellow color for the book. Why is that?
JK My followers actually branded me with the color yellow - or as they call it, “Koko yellow”. I renovated my garage a couple of years ago and decided to paint it yellow to be different. I didn’t expect people to LOVE the renovation and it was covered on Apartment Therapy.
Since then, anytime I wore yellow, people resonated that happy color with me so I knew I had to make the cover of Koko’s Guide To Austin, yellow. I would have preferred to make the Austin guidebook red but I knew my followers would be disappointed.
AV You exclude a lot of details like pricing, addresses, and opening hours that many other guides include. Why?
JK I didn’t want to put a lot of those specific details because details like that change and the book would have been even bigger.
AV Your beautiful photography is a cornerstone of your online presence. Were there any challenges in adapting the photos to a print format?
JK Yes! I was able to create this book in 5 weeks but that was only because I have a huge archive of 9 years of photos. I did go out and reshoot some places because the original photography wasn’t good enough or I didn’t have those photos. I did have to re-edit all the archive photos because my editing style has changed.
AV Were there any guides or books that you took inspiration from?
JK Like I said, I have been collecting travel books all these years and I felt like the following were lacking:
While there are so many travel books on Austin, I felt like none of them actually gave you up-to-date information on where to eat and what to do in Austin from an insider’s perspective.
I now understand why most travel books don’t have a lot of photos and it’s because it’s expensive! I’ve licensed my photos for $200 each for other books and my book has 200+ photos, which would be a cost of $40,000!
AV What was the most challenging aspect of creating a book?
JK Organizing 9 years of knowledge on Austin Texas in my head onto paper. I started with a master excel sheet to break down the book into a restaurant section, neighborhood section, and things to do section. Then breaking down those sections into categories and then copy.
The second hardest part was having to work with “team members.” I’ve always worked alone on my blog and other projects because typically people don’t like getting things done right away even if it means staying up until 3am. It was difficult to have to kindly reject advice and stand my ground on my vision.
AV What do you know now that you wish you could have known when you started working on it?
JK Hm… I’m not really one to have regrets on anything I’ve done so I wouldn’t have changed anything. :)
It was totally worth it to write, design, and edit the book in 5 weeks even though I pulled long hours every night to make it happen. I’m glad we did a launch party for the book because over 150 people came to my book launch even though book publishers advised me to not charge tickets for a book launch party. And I’m glad I worked my butt off to get the book into 40+ locations in Austin. But most importantly, I’m so glad I did this in September because book sales have dropped since COVID-19.
AV Is there anything that you would have liked to do that didn’t make the cut?
JK We wanted to make tiny icons next to each of the restaurants to depict details like dog-friendly, patio, etc but we didn’t have time.
AV Is there anything I haven’t asked or anything you haven’t said yet that you would like to add?
JK Koko’s Guide To Austin was written, designed, edited, and printed in Austin, Texas.
In Koko’s Guide To Austin, you will find:
Thanks to Jane and Q for reading drafts of this.