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Self-Publishing Guides and Directories: What You Need to Know

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Authors and organizations who possess in-depth knowledge of a particular field may consider publishing guides and directories to that field. Examples of fields where these publications are common include travel, dining, shopping, technology, schools, and employment. Some of the most famous of these publications include Zagat’s for restaurants, Michelin travel guides, and Writer’s Market for writing opportunities.

There are both opportunities and challenges for these types of books, especially for self-published authors.

Is It a Guide or Directory?

In many respects, a guide and a directory are the same thing. But a guide would be more likely to include author commentary and expanded entries, whereas a directory could be a bare bones listing of contact information and a brief description.

The target market for the book should be the determining factor of whether to create a guide or a simple directory. Readers that have less experience with the field could be more interested in guides.

Expertise, Experience, and Research Required

The research required to create guides or directories can be the biggest expense. Readers value guides from authors who are experts in the field, especially those who have personal experience with what is listed. For example, restaurant goers would expect and appreciate a guide from someone who actually ate at the restaurant. That takes time and money.

Authors may alternatively choose to solicit listings, paid or unpaid, from potential entries.

However the listings are gathered, the methodology should be disclosed to readers.

Photo, Image, and Logo Issues for Guides and Directories

Photos of products or locations in listings can be helpful or problematic. They’re helpful in that they can bolster the authenticity of the listing. But they can be problematic in a number of ways.

Photos and Images

Authors may be tempted to “Photoshop” the photos, meaning that they’ll electronically enhance the photos, thus exaggerating either the positive or negative qualities of the listing. They may be more tempted to Photoshop to enhance listings for which they are compensated.

While many listings may welcome inclusion of photos and images of their products or services, others may not. Some may want to provide their own (maybe even electronically enhanced) photos to the author, or may want to approve the photos that are included. And there’s the legal issue of property releases (landmarks, buildings, grounds, and objects), model releases (people), and permissions for logo use that the author may need to obtain to include them in listings. Photo and image credits for the photographer and source also need to be noted in captions.

Stock Photography and Image Issues

Some authors may default to using stock photography. That again presents the issue of authenticity. Does this authentically represent the listing? Often it does not.

Then there’s the issue of using stock photos in a book that’s commercially available for sale. Stock photo and image licensing requirements and permissions vary, and need to be fully understood before including any licensed photos or images in a book that’s commercially available for sale (which means the self published book you’re selling).

Questions regarding photo, image, and logo use should be discussed with an attorney familiar with intellectual property.


Photos and images may also increase the cost of producing the book, even for print on demand. Color photos can quickly ramp up the cost to print a book, thereby reducing royalties, revenues, and profits.


Disclaimers are a big issue when it comes to publishing guides and directories. An attorney should be consulted to create appropriate disclaimer statements that would cover items such as the following.

  • Paid sponsorship. Has the author been paid to review or experience the listing? A free product, service, or even a straight cash payment could influence the author’s presentation of the information. Any compensation needs to be disclosed to comply with regulations such as those from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States.
  • Listings can change or be inaccurate. Listing information can change fast! As well, there’s always the possibility of errors. So including statements about the potential inaccuracy of information is a must.
  • Opinions of the author. Unless the information is primarily just contact and location information, the evaluation of each listing will include opinions of the author. However, even the inclusion of any listing can be construed as an opinion because the author valued it enough to include it! And what if the author presents a listing in a negative light and the company or person gets offended?
  • Limitation of liability. Just because a listing is included doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for all readers. In fact, it may be a bad choice for some. Statements about expectations of results and limitations of liability are necessary to legally protect authors.

There may be other legal issues to be considered. An attorney should be consulted to evaluate issues specific to the proposed guide or directory.

Updated Editions Offer Opportunity... and Expense

Because information for listings can change frequently, it can present an opportunity for authors to publish updated editions, even annually or more often. But with that opportunity comes the time and dollar cost of continually researching and updating all the information.

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Deciding whether that investment is worth it will take an evaluation of potential sales. Will the market see the value in buying updated editions on a regular basis? This may require some testing of the market to see what publication frequency would resonate with the target audience.

Some guides also have limited life due to the function they offer readers. For example, a traveler may buy a guide to Europe this year because he’s traveling there this year. But he may not travel there next year. This would require an evaluation of the total market potential since it may not have a loyal continuing fan base.

Future updated edition possibilities should be considered before publishing even the first one!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2020:

Peggy, it's why I don't publish guides or directories! Even if I did them online, it's a constant maintenance project. I'd rather do other things.

I know you publish a lot of posts about sites in your area. But that's a whole lot easier to keep updated than a guide or directory. And I think it's a lot more personalized and insightful. Plus, with the longer post, it's probably more apt to show up in search engines, too.

Hope you're doing well. Thanks for your support, as always!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 16, 2020:

By the time a guide book would be published, portions of it would probably already be out of date. We have purchased some in the past, but doing research online is what I would opt to do these days. All of the legal aspects are daunting and are undoubtedly costly, as well.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 06, 2019:

Hi Liz! I think guides are daunting, too! That's why I don't wander in that realm. But I have clients who have. What projects those are!

Yes, the photo situation is a big issue that few take time to consider. I would love to see some of the beautiful places in guides (and on Instagram!) in real life to see if it matches reality.

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a lovely day!

Liz Westwood from UK on June 04, 2019:

The thought of attempting to write a guide book is daunting. There's a vast amount of information out there to sift through. I read your comments about photos with interest. I assumed naievely that all were done to a similar standard. But what you say makes sense, that some guide writers will make photos of places sponsoring them look better than those of other rivals.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 02, 2019:

Hi Linda! From seeing what you share here on HP and elsewhere, I could see why doing a guide might be of interest to you. If you ever wander into that adventure, let us know. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2019:

Creating a guide interests me more than creating a directory, but it sounds like a lot of work. Your advice is excellent, as always.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 31, 2019:

Hi Mary! With the kinds of articles you write, you definitely have an interest in these types of publications. I've even found your articles to be great "guides."

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a beautiful weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 31, 2019:

Flourish, neither will I! But I do have authors in my network who are attempting it. Huge project!

Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 30, 2019:

I now understand better how to read these guides and directories. There's a lot of these going around and many times, I find them helpful.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 29, 2019:

I won’t be doing this either! Too many potential pitfalls then you need to sell it!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 29, 2019:

Bill, I'm taking a pass on guides and directories, too. But I do have authors in my tribe that are considering them. So I thought it would be worth talking about.

Having a great week! Hope you are, too. Thanks for stopping by!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 29, 2019:

I'll pass, thank you very much, but thanks for the information. :) I hope you are having a spectacular week, my friend.

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