08/04/2010 04:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lonely Planet Founder Recalls Worst Publishing Mistakes

In 1972, Maureen and Tony Wheeler famously road-tripped across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and, the following year after settling in Sydney, they penned Across Asia on the cheap. They turned that one book into a travel publishing empire that now includes 500 titles in 8 languages (100 million copies sold!), TV programs, a TV production company, a magazine, mobile phone applications and a popular website. In 2007, they (together with investor John Singleton) sold 75% of Lonely Planet to BBC Worldwide for an undisclosed sum that several news outlets reported was in the neighborhood of £90 million. Now that the founders have a little more distance between themselves and the day-to-day of running a publishing company, they were able to comment on some of the publishing gaffes they've made over the years. "Any book has mistakes," said Tony, "whether it's a typo, a misspelling or something factual. Packed with facts, figures and names, guidebooks can be a recipe for disaster. I'm amazed we manage to get everything right 99.99% of the time." Tony's five most memorable publishing mistakes are not included in The Titanic Awards book, but are among the new interviews on

1. Wrong Numbers
One wrong digit can be disastrous. We do a lot of double checking, but every now and then a "1" becomes a "2" and all those young travelers arriving at the bus station at midnight phone a popular backpacking hostel and wake up an innocent bystander instead. We did it to Mrs O'Something in Ireland and, apart from changing her phone number, informing everybody she knew, and paying her damages, her lawyer suggested a family trip to EuroDisney would be a good idea.

2. Wrong Title
Sometimes it's not even the fine print. We managed to turn "Western Europe" into "Westen Europe" on the two-inch-thick spine of one edition, the 72-point typo snuck by designers, typesetters, proofreaders and printers before a packer in the warehouse found it.

3. Wrong Direction
"The next time this author researches a book, tattoo 'RIGHT' on his right hand and 'LEFT' on his left," suggested the editor after one book was completed. Getting right and left or east and west mixed up can cause horrendous problems. We got the east and west exits from a major railway station crossed up in one book and sent countless visitors on a wild goose chase for a popular budget hotel.

4 Wrong Correction
Don't let your editors -- the profession seems to have a penchant for political correctness -- make too many corrections. They'll turn classic John Wayne cowboy and Indian flicks into something about cowpersons and native Americans. I wrote about one of my own experiences with overzealous correcting in The Lonely Planet Story:

In 1954 baseball hero Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe and, after the wedding, the happy couple was photographed outside the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, a noted landmark in San Francisco's North Beach district. It's a famous photograph outside a famous church, but I was careful not to say it was taken after their wedding in the church. Because it wasn't. Joe was a staunch Catholic, and it was his second marriage (Marilyn's too), so there was no way he could get married in a church. The wedding took place at San Francisco City Hall, only the photographs were taken outside the church. A careful editor checked the facts and found out, just as I had, that Joe and Marilyn weren't married in the church, but then dug further. Fifteen years earlier Joe DiMaggio had indeed been married in the Saints Peter and Paul Church, to his first wife. So Marilyn Monroe got axed and replaced with Dorothy Arnold. Fortunately, I read the edited copy and caught this very accurate, but rather less interesting, correction and reinstated Marilyn.

[reprinted with permission from TW]

5 Wrong Translation
Translate your guidebook into a different language and a whole new field of error possibilities opens up. Like the German translation which declared that a red light district bar was the very best, the most superlative, the absolutely unbeatable, the incomparable. In fact, in English it was "topless."