Personal Stories

Announcing Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism

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That’s. My. Name. On. The. Cover.

I still can’t get over it.

There’s a book, a real book that will sit on people’s bookshelves, that they will read and learn from, that has my name on the cover.

Last week, I went and picked up a very important delivery: a box of advance copies of my first book, which is being published by Lonely Planet in September 2019.

Allow me to be the first to introduce Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism.

Dark Skies Book Photo

While this book has been in progress for a long time, this is the first time I’ve been able to publicly share that I wrote the book, who’s publishing it, the basics of what’s inside, and when it will be published. While you can’t yet buy a copy of Dark Skies (or even make a pre-sale purchase), I’m sharing the news today for a few reasons:

  1. I plan to start shouting about this a lot. After all, I wrote a book about my favorite travel topic! I want to visit so many more destinations that we featured in the book, and which I can promote on this site and on Space Tourism Guide. ✨
  2. Publishing a book is one of my 40 Before 40 Goals, and I want a big win right out of the gate this year. ??
  3. I want to share more about this journey so far, and now you can follow along as I work with Lonely Planet to promote my book, astrotourism as a travel trend, and my mission to help more people see the night sky.

So let me dive in and share more about Dark Skies and how it came to be. 

How I Started Working with Lonely Planet

You might wonder how someone writes a book for Lonely Planet. It sounds like the travel dream job, right? 

I actually started working with Lonely Planet 3.5 years before I pitched Dark Skies last summer. I initially began writing for an editor in Seattle – about Seattle travel – because one of my Twitter followers looped me into a call the editor had done looking for a Seattle-area writer.

My Seattle editor and I worked together for two years before I moved to the Bay Area. When I made the move, I let him know I had moved, because I assumed our work would conclude. I also asked whether there were any opportunities in the Bay Area. I was in luck!

He introduced and transferred me to a new editor who overseas California articles, including the Bay Area. One of our first projects was part of the 2019 Best in the U.S. campaign about California’s Redwood Coast. I’ve been working with her for the 18 months since I moved here. One of our first stories went live a few weeks ago: A quick guide to San Francisco’s best neighborhoods 

In addition to articles and photos, I worked with various Lonely Planet people on other projects. I led an #LPInstaWalk, leading a bunch of photographers from around the Pacific Northwest along the Seattle waterfront. I did a special sponsored post, Four scenic trips on four wheels in Northern California, with an editor who oversees those kinds of projects. There was even a time where I worked with a PR person and marketing person to potentially create an audio walking guide.

In short, it took years of working with different people on projects before I even had a chance to pitch a book to Lonely Planet. I worked hard in those years to establish I was trustworthy and met deadlines, as much as I worked to demonstrate I could write engaging, quality content.

I didn’t just walk in on Day 1 and pitch them a book idea. Like this blog, my ‘overnight success’ has been years in the making!

How I Pitched a Book to Lonely Planet

Dark Skies Book Photo

After all of those years… How did I end up getting a contract in my inbox one day offering me the chance to work exclusively on Dark Skies?

Again, it wasn’t a quick process.

At the beginning of last summer, I received an email invite from one of the marketing people I know in the Oakland Lonely Planet office. I do think it helped a lot that I live in Oakland, and had met people at their office before. I wasn’t just an anonymous freelance writer – they knew me, and I think they liked me! The email invited me to a meeting with a member of the team from London, to brainstorm book ideas. 

The night before the meeting, I mentioned to Mr. V that I was thinking of pitching a space/astrotourism book. He thought it was a good idea. Even if they loved it (which I thought was a long shot) and even if I didn’t get to write it (another long shot), I might at least get to work on part of the book. I could certainly promote and sell it!

At the meeting, I timidly proposed the idea. I knew I had hit a vein – possibly gold – when several people in the room got the idea and could think of sections that would make the book interesting. I left that day excited but uncertain if it would pass the test of other departments and in what way I might be involved (if at all!).

A few weeks passed, and I followed up by email. As a freelance writer, I’ve learned you should always follow up. After several follow-ups and several weeks, I finally got good news. They were interested in the book idea, and even more, they were interested in having me write it!

By mid-August, I had a contract and a deadline. I only had 10 weeks to write the whole book if we were going to make the 2019 publishing cycle!

What It’s Like Writing a Book like Dark Skies

Dark Skies Book Photo

Writing a book like Dark Skies would be challenging in its own right. Writing it in 10 weeks was a real challenge. Especially as, if you’ll remember, I spent almost all of September on the road!

The basic process of writing Dark Skies was a collaborative approach between me and my editor. She provided me with a flat plan (a list of the topic for each page in the whole book) and a brief for each section. (I detail the sections of the book below.) With those pieces, it was time to write!

I sat down each day for a set amount of time, and worked through a set number of topics in the book. As each topic corresponded to a number of words and pages, I was committed to writing a certain number of pages each day. Every day. For 10 weeks. Now I didn’t write everyday, but I did write every normal business day when I wasn’t traveling.

Additionally, I listened almost exclusively to one album while writing. It helped me focus and get in the right mindset right away – and to hit my flow state where I could be productive and efficient. What was I listening to? > Album Title Goes Here < by Deadmau5. It was intense, but hey, it worked!

By my deadline at the end of October, I had turned in drafts of the whole book. From that point on, I worked with my editor on any adjustments she needed, reviewed proofs, and impatiently waited for that day where the email came with the copies of the book you see here!

What’s Inside Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism

Unlike most destination-based Lonely Planet books where each section is a different area or region, Dark Skies is broken down into sections based on the types of astronomical experience or topic. The sections are:

  • Stargazing – a short section with the basics of light pollution, stargazing, and why it’s important
  • Dark Places – 35 of the darkest stargazing locations around the world
  • Astronomy in Action – venues and experiences where you can experience astronomical science
  • Meteor Showers – a breakdown of 12 major meteor showers 
  • Aurora – learn about the best destinations in each country where you can see the northern or southern lights
  • Eclipses – a breakdown of eclipse science and a schedule of total solar eclipses in the next decade and how to see each one
  • Launches – details on the countries and locations where rocket launches occur
  • Space Tourism – my favorite section, all about tourism activities in space!

Together these sections create a global guide to astrotourism around the world. Even where my editor and I didn’t include a specific destination, I’ve given you the info to have astrotourism experiences anywhere. This is the ‘practical’ guide, after all!

How to Get Your Copy of Dark Skies

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to purchase Dark Skies right now – or to make a pre-sale purchase. We’re still about five months out from the official release date. For now, I only have a few ARCs (“Advance Reading Copies”) which I’m sending to some of my favorite journalists, travelers, and space enthusiasts. 

Dark Skies will officially be available for purchase September 1, 2019. Pre-sales will likely start in July.

In the next few months, I’ll receive the official links for all of the places you can purchase Dark Skies, and I’ll update this post with those links and price details once I have them. 

Have other questions about what it’s like to write a book or how I made it happen? Let me know in the comments!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Norman

    So happy for you and quite the exciting news. I remember a time when you were doubtful about continuing this blog, but it shows how important perseverance. And what a great great thing to use in pitches for you. Few people in the travel industry can claim they wrote a whole book for LP.

  • Verna m colliver

    I am late in coming to this blog post. I was drawn to it by a brief review of your forthcoming book in Book Page which I pick up at WOW, a county book mobile that schedules stops twice a month at my retirement community. The review immediately attracted my attention, having visited Cherry Springs, a PA State Park which has a Dark Sky Area, recently. My wish to see stars and the Milky Sky Galaxy as I remembered from my childhood on a farm in central PA was eventually realized late that night.
    Though the cloud cover that night at the park precluded stargazing until near midnight–then the skies cleared and I got my wish. I hope your book includes Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park.
    Verna Colliver

  • Guy

    Interested in knowing Valerie whether your book is covering Western Australia. A number of towns are starting up astrotourism spots.
    Mystery Road an Australian ABC series shows the Northern Australian sky in all its beauty with no light pollution if you are remote. Worth checking out.

  • Thomas S Spradley

    Congratulations on the publication of your book. I started reading it at 4am this morning and wanted to immediately go outside and look at the sky. But alas, too many street lights here in Citrus Heights, Ca, a suburb of Sacramento. I can’t wait to get back to the dark skies of El Sargento, Baja Sur. The chapter on how to stargaze is excellent. Thank you.

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