Anna Chittenden On Creating Lost Guides
What attracted you to travel documentation?
It was a problem I faced on my travels—I found it difficult to find places that were unique and authentic to the city or country. With the Singapore edition of Lost Guides, I wanted to help travellers find out the interesting bits of the city and not just the places with great food and shopping areas.
This is why there are in depth interviews of people from here—these are the people who have pushed boundaries and done things that not many here have done or achieved before. Take Priscilla Shunmugam (who runs Ong Shunmugam) for example—she is probably one of the first Singaporean brands that brings out the Asian heritage as opposed to replicating the global look.
Speaking to those who are doing important work like that does help other people understand more about Singapore not just as a country for its developments and metropolitan society.
Could you walk us through the process of creating Lost Guides?
In continuing another edition from Bali to Singapore, I realised I wanted the latter to have deeper, more thorough and better content.
The Bali edition covered five neighbourhoods whereas the Singapore edition had 10. That applies to the interviews and illustrations as well. It’s indeed more work and requires more time, production wise. But when you’re creating something you don’t want it to be any less than you imagined it.
The Singapore edition took about six months to complete. In the beginning of last year, I was working on the publishing the Bali books—getting retail houses in other countries, marketing and getting press coverage in magazines and with public personalities. It was only later that I started the Singapore edition and at the beginning of this year, a crowd funding campaign which lasted about a month.
After which it was a lot of editing and getting other people to proofread the book. It’s only when you borrow the eyes of others that you find that you have made that one obvious mistake or missed out on something important.
We know that apart from the book, you also run the official website for Lost Guides. How do you decide what goes on the print and digital formats?
I first started Lost Guides as a website. I found that even though there are so many good things about it such as accessibility and affordability, it is difficult for a small brand like me to gain recognition in the digital sphere.
It’s much easier for me to reach out to more people with a physical book as compared to a digital platform. I would say that the digital website has got more destinations covered, but the guides are shorter whereas the content on the physical travel guides have more depth.
It’s really important to have a digital presence. If you have a book without a digital presence, you essentially don’t exist. People these days would want to interact with the publisher or author after reading the book. Having a digital presence helps you build your community too.
What makes an excellent travel guide to you?
One of the things I find really useful is when recommendations are clustered into neighbourhoods. It’s practical and helps the travellers plan their trips and so I made it a point to organise Lost Guides in that manner.Another thing that’s important is to present what’s really unique to the city. Finding places which possess energy that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.
Were there any intentional efforts to not include touristy areas in Lost Guides?
To me, it doesn’t really matter if it’s touristy. What’s more important is that I enjoy the place. I really love Gardens by the Bay – that might be a touristy place but you can’t deny that there are beautiful and interesting sights. It’s not really about ignoring the touristy sights but going where it offers you the most.
What’s the best thing that travel has given you?
The last time I visited Tokyo, I joined a cooking lesson hosted by a retired teacher at her house. Opportunities like that allows us to hang out with the locals and helps us understand their lives. It also makes you realise that it doesn’t mean that just because you’re in a different place, people have behave differently from you. Sometimes we listen to the same music, watch the same films and stuff.
Everyone assumes different things about different countries. Getting to those places helps you break down the barriers and stereotypes presented by the media.
What advice do you have for fellow self-publishers, or people who are thinking of doing so?
I never knew what was the ‘correct’ way of doing it when it comes to publishing. At the same time, I didn’t want to wait for someone to come around to publish my works. At the moment I do the writing and photography. I also work with designers on a freelance basis and commission illustrators and photographers to help contribute to each book.
I think one of the biggest things for me has been crowd funding, which I have done for both books. If you want to create a quality product, you have to pay for photographers, graphic designers or illustrators. You wouldn’t want to scrimp on that.
Crowd funding is also a way to build your own community, and they aren’t giving you free money. They are essentially pre-ordering the book.
Interaction with readers is really important. You need to thank these people for helping to spread the word, and contribute to the conversations that they have started.
Going forward, what would you like to embark on next?
I want to continue creating different editions on locations around Asia. I also want to create a personal travel journal for travellers with customised or special segments where people can write about their journey easily instead of just a blank canvas or notebook. It would be really exciting to work on that.