Sunday, July 04, 2010

How To Be A Travel Writer

How To Be A Travel Writer:

There are lots of books, e-books, courses and seminars that claim to tell you how to be a travel writer. Some are good. Some are a waste of money. But, for absolutely no cost, I'll tell you the secrets you need to know so that you too can make money while traveling.

I won't go into a long-winded story about my past. But I will tell you this: I get paid for my words and images and so can you. You want proof? Here's a sample of my work: online, in print, photos, and more.

So let's get started!

1. Talent - You need to be able to write well. Period. This is something you can't fake. And if you don't have a good handle on the English (or any) language, you will not be successful. If you want to improve, I suggest taking a creative writing course and reading Strunk & White's The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition. That book is your bible. Read it. Know it. Live it.

2. Read - Read travel writing online, in newspapers, and travel literature. Get a library card and read everything you can. What do you like? What moves you? Emulate that.

3. Style - You need to have a style. Whether it's nuts-and-bolts or flowery prose. Hone your style. Become the king of your style. And you can have more than one!

4. Practice - Just write. Write about your town. Someone you know. Get a feel for color and structure. Does it makes sense? Do you like it? Let others read what you've written. Do they like it? Why? Do they hate it? Why? But don't be too critical! You're likely your own worst enemy when it comes to reviewing your material. I never read anything after it's been published. Why? Because I always feel I could have made it better. And once it's out there -- it's out there! Let it go!

5. Travel - You don't have to go far, but you have to go. And then witness things. Make notes. I use a pad and a portable audio recorder. Be meticulous. Take pictures. These can add extra dollars to potential sales if the quality is good enough. A small digital camera helps with note taking too: Photograph signs, names, menus. You'll thank me later!

6. Write - Luckily for you, almost anything can be a story. I've written about Chernobyl and Karaoke in Belize. But do you could write about a local museum or event.

7. Markets - Ah, selling! This is the tough part. These days it's getting harder to find buyers. But they do exist and you can make a living as a writer -- but it takes work. A lot of work. You have to think about your writing as a business. Target your piece to the relevant publisher. Don't send a story on golfing to a surfing magazine. To find markets you can buy the latest 2010 Writer's Market Deluxe (Writer's Market Online) or create your own list. That's what I did.

I spent several weeks combing through the internet in search of every English language newspaper in the world -- and for the email address of their travel/feature editors. Once I had that, I was able to send out query letters with machine-like precision. My goal isn't to sell the list, but since it took so much time (and really, our time is all we have to sell -- whether we're writers, engineers or nuclear physicists) to create, that I think it's only fair to be compensated. This is a business, remember! If you're interested, just drop me a note.

If you know another language, why not pitch publications in that language as well. And, don't forget that if you know people who speak different languages, you can hire them to help you translate your story. The more markets, the more money.

8. Sell-Sell-Sell - If you're just starting out, I've got some bad news. You'll likely have to write on spec(ulation). What does this mean? You work (write) and then pitch your completed story in the hopes that someone will buy it. Eventually you'll get to the point where your portfolio speaks for itself and you can just pitch ideas to editors. Writing on spec isn't necessarily a bad thing. It'll help you practice your craft and hone your skills. I know that is always looking for travel pieces. They don't pay (yet), but they do give you a venue for your work. Email Wanderism.

Sometimes you'll be offered a low price. That may be disheartening, but it doesn't have to be. If you sell the rights to your piece for one-time only and to a restricted geographical area -- you can sell the same stories multiple times. My Chernobyl story? I made $3000 by selling it several times. My mantra is simple: Do something once, sell it many times.

9. Tools - I almost need a page dedicated to good travel writer kit. If you're on the road, keep it basic. I recommend: A notebook. A good pen. A digital voice recorder. A good, compact, tough point and shoot camera. A laptop (I prefer Macs on the road). And, because you can't write all the time, a Kindle!

That's it! And you can likely leave the laptop at home.

10. Benefits - Being a travel writer sounds like a lot of hard work. It is. Period. And you likely will never become rich doing it. But there are loads of benefits:

- Free Travel: Once you're established, you can often join junkets provided by airlines, resorts, hotels. The catch is that you have to write about your experiences on the junket. Are you selling your soul? Not if you're honest!

- More Free Stuff: Armed with your business card and portfolio, the words "Do you host travel writers?" can open many doors -- especially hotels -- for free! Don't make promises you can't keep. Do tell them you're researching. You'd be surprised by how friendly the tourism industry is to writers these days.

- Fame, Fortune and Romance: Heck, you're a travel writer! Enjoy it!

Best of luck with your endeavors... keep me posted on your progress!

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