Kentucky tourism is buzzing, with more than a million visitors a year streaming into the state to imbibe on the Bourbon Trail. Indiana University Press, located in Bloomington, just a couple of hours northwest of Louisville, is capitalizing on the surge in Kentucky interest with a trio of titles that offer travel tips steeped in knowledge of the state.
It’s among several university presses that are leveraging their regional focus to produce travel guides this season, and they may be well poised to grab the attention of travelers who are looking for a true insider’s view.
Part of IU Press’s goal, says trade and regional acquisitions editor Ashley Runyon, is to promote Indiana and the surrounding region to the rest of the country. “We want to look at it from the perspective of the folks who live here,” she adds. To that end, the publisher enlisted Cameron Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess, the Kentucky natives behind the website My Old Kentucky Road Trip, to write a series of books based on the thousands of miles they’ve logged across the state.
In Famous Kentucky Flavors (Mar.), Ludwick and Hess follow a culinary path, mapping out the state by flavors and food festivals. They showcase well-known treats—bourbon balls, fried chicken—and introduce local delicacies such as burgoo, a thick, spicy stew. The veteran road-trippers are also the authors of the forthcoming Presidents, Battles, and Must-See Civil War Destinations (Mar.), and the book that kicked off the My Old Kentucky Road Trip trilogy in 2018, The State of Bourbon.
IU Press is also distributing Lincoln Road Trip (Apr.), published by Bloomington’s Red Lightning Books. Indiana writer and photographer Jane Simon Ammeson journeys beyond Springfield, Ill., the subject of most Lincoln-focused tourism, to travel the “backroads and byways where he lived most of his life,” she writes in the book. She crisscrosses Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, meeting Lincoln-family descendants and eating at back-road taverns old enough to possibly have served the 16th president.
“As a university press, we’re not going to do a ‘top 10 best road trips,’ ” Runyon says. “We’re going to focus on the history and making it fun.”
Other university publishers have taken a similar tack. This season, University of North Carolina Press adds to its Southern Gateways Guides with the reissue of The New Guide to North Carolina Beaches (Apr.), by Raleigh, N.C., author Glenn Morris, last published in 2005, and the new Backpacking Virginia (May) by Johnny Molloy, another Southern writer, whose books include UNC Press’s Hiking North Carolina’s National Forests.
“For us, it’s all about author and voice,” says Lucas Church, acquisitions editor at the press. “We offer an author-based exploration and a love of the place; that’s what we’re underlining here.”
In April, UNC Press will release a revised and expanded edition of North Carolina Lighthouses by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Bruce Roberts, who have coauthored several books on lighthouses in the state. It includes updated historical research, as well as a redesign that incorporates blueprints of each lighthouse and watercolor maps.
With so much high-quality photography and design dominating travel media, Church says, a lot of attention went into the books’ visuals in order to compete for sales at bookstores and gift shops. “These aren’t just bullet points and a couple of maps, and that’s a big investment.”
Updated color photography and detailed area expertise are also a hallmark of University of New Mexico Press’s revised and expanded Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide by Mike Coltrin (Apr.). Originally published in 2005, the revamped book includes color photography and up-to-date trail descriptions rated by difficulty levels. The addition of more than two dozen new family-friendly outings, suitable for all ages, speaks to the growth in New Mexico tourism since the book was last published, says acquisitions coordinator Sonia Dickey.
The guide’s reach has included placement with national outdoor retailers, including REI. The press also has author events planned around the release, at the Sandia Ranger Station and at Bookworks in nearby Albuquerque—evidence of local support working hand in hand with local expertise.