Archive for May, 2011

HOW CAN I BREAK INTO TRAVEL WRITING?

My life as a writer and a traveler frequently brings me into contact with people who aspire to become travel writers.

Recently a query came from a professional woman in Australia, a technical writer who loves to travel.  She prefaced her questions about the field with the correct observation that “it must be a very hard field to break into.”

With the caveat that although I was a full-time travel writer years ago, in recent years I have been doing only occasional travel writing, here are the tips I sent in response.

1. Decide whether you want to do this to make a full-time living. I was a full-time free-lance travel writer in the 1980’s and had to conclude I could not make a full-time living. And I had been a reporter at the Washington Post and a writer pretty much all of my life! I think it is even harder now, with the Internet. In those days, the main barriers to getting assignments and getting published were that major newspapers and magazines had their own staff to assign; the good ones would not allow you to take subsidized travel from hotels, airlines, etc.  and if you were on your own you could not afford to pay; and the number of people willing to do travel writing just for the fun of it, including professors on sabbatical, etc.  All of these barriers exist today…and it is probably even harder, because travelers increasingly turn to the Internet for their info. and this pays poorly, if at all.

All of this is to say that almost more than the writing, the issue is marketing your work. And most of us who are writers at heart are not too good at that….


2. There is quite a difference between writing an occasional piece based on your travels…and aiming for a salaried job at a magazine, for example. To get a salaried job, you will need to demonstrate a fairly extensive body of published work. To get that, you will probably need to free-lance for some time.    Now, with the Internet, one way to get some “clips” is to post online. There is little or no pay for doing this, but at least you could have something to show a potential employer.


3. If you have never done any travel writing, you probably should take a course somewhere….get some professional advice and criticism of your work. The course might be not just in travel writing, but perhaps in feature writing, especially since you have been mostly a technical writer. You don’t necessarily need a degree, but that experience should be helpful and should immerse you a bit in that world, giving you some ideas about marketing as well as writing tips. Also, search the Internet for advice on this field. I know there is a fair amount available.

4. You should be realistic about the work of a travel writer. It is extremely hard work, not all glamour and fun, for very minimal pay. For example, I have done a lot of writing for guidebooks. They simply never pay you enough to come near paying for your time. You end up working 15 hours  a day, just to cover the points to be included in a particular article or chapter, with no time to rest and no time to go into any depth with your research. Even just setting up a trip for a guidebook or other market that has commissioned you in advance takes a lot of time, although it is probably less now, with the Internet. Definitely in the case of guidebooks, but also for a lot of other types of markets, there is a lot of boring but crucially important detail work…making sure you have the correct, current names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, etc. of hotels, attractions and the like.

5. One way for you to start might be to come up with some unusual angles on places you know, close to where you live…And this is important: Do not try to write  “everything” about a destination. If you have a special interest or special knowledge…or even if you don’t…focus on one aspect of the destination. It could be food, artists’ studios,  or hiking, whatever…and give it your own spin. Study your own local and national media and try to figure out whether they are using contributions from free-lancers, or just copy from wire services and from their own staff.

 

A final word: My correspondent seemed to think that at least some of this advice was of practical use to her.  Here´s part of what she wrote to me after receiving my tips: :

…Thank you so much for the great practical advice.  …Although it definitely looks like it is a pipe dream to think I could make a living from travel writing, it would certainly make a very fulfilling hobby.  I especially like the idea of starting out with an interesting angle on a place close to home.  And your suggestion to focus on just one key element rather trying to cover everything is duly noted!