Travel Writing Tips from Three Pros
GoNOMAD Editors Max Hartshorne and Kent St. John and Julia Dimon of the TV show Word Travels presented a seminar on travel writing for beginners in February at the NY Times Travel Show. Below are some tips that they offered the 180 attendees at the presentation. You’ll also find some great outlets for beginning travel writers.
Julia Dimon’s Travel Writing Tips:
1) Find a Good Hook: Take a fresh point of view on an old subject or look for unusual new stories. Many of the places you will write about have been written about before, so you need to find something new and original to say that will grab a reader’s (and an editor’s attention.)
2) Be a Reporter: Traveling as a writer is different from traveling as a tourist. Take notes, ask questions, get quotes and notice the little details of your trip. How much did it cost, how long has it been open, how many people have visited, etc. Travel writing has been described as part reporting, part dear diary and part providing traveler information.
3) Write Vividly: Your goal is to paint a picture with your words and take the reader on a journey…even though they’ve never left the couch. Include sensory details. What did it taste like? Look like? Feel like? Smell like? What did the experience remind you of? Bring a sense of place to your story.
4) Read Other Travel Writers: For inspiration, read other travel writers to get a feel for what’s out there and what makes good writing. Dissect the elements of their writing. Some of the most famous travel writers are: Bill Bryson, Tim Cahill, Paul Theroux, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Bruce Chatwin, etc.
5) Know Your Audience: Get familiar with the publication you want to pitch. Ask yourself who their audience is. Is it young males who like snowboarding, teenage girls, parents with young children? What types of stories does this publication feature? What kind of story could you write that would fit in with their style?
6) Pitch An Editor: Craft a well written, succinct paragraph outlining what your story is about, why it’s relevant for their publication, why it’s important to cover now, and why you’re the best person to write it. If you’ve never had anything published before, it may be best to look online. Blogs, magazines, online communities offer more opportunities to get your work out there.
7) Don’t Get Discouraged: Follow up with editors but don’t be obnoxious. Editors are very busy and often get hundreds of emails a day. Pieces often get rejected. It’s nothing personal. Grow a thick skin and keep on pitching.
8) Promote Yourself: Travel writing is 20 percent writing, 80 percent marketing. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker, Travelistic, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Linked In and Digg to promote your work.
9) More than Words: More and more Internet sites are looking for video content. New media skills are the future. If you can provide video content for sites AND write, it makes you more valuable.
Julia Dimon is co-host of Word Travels, a 26-episode TV series about the real lives of travel writers. It’s broadcast nationally on OLN across Canada and internationally on National Geographic Adventure in over 45 countries worldwide. She is also a nationally-syndicated columnist for METRO NEWS with a column called “Travel Junkie” published weekly across Canada.
Julia is also the editor of The Travel Junkie (www.thetraveljunkie.ca), an online magazine for the young and restless traveler and has, herself, traveled to over 60 countries.
Contact her at www.juliadimon.com
Max Hartshorne, Editor of GoNOMAD
Think of the value you’re giving the reader...what use would your story be to them?
Max Hartshorne, GoNOMAD’s Editor, seen above with travel legend Rick Steves, had this advice for travel writers eager to break into the business. Here are some highlights
Have a point of view…be unique and have a voice! Strong opinions backed up by facts are much better than bland recitation of facts and history.
Write as if they will be printing out the story to take to the same place, what can you do to help them, what would you have done differently, and what would be the first thing you’d talk about if someone asked about your trip.
Take photos of the specific places, people and scenes you describe. Shots of buildings and winding streets are just not that interesting. But the blue house on top of the hill where the little old man lives is what I want to see.
Shoot videos… but not too long. One minute of video is an eternity…and people get bored fast. Still, there’s nothing as nice as being able to show instead of tell, and while photos are better than text, video is always better than photos.
Send short, punchy queries to the precise right person at the magazine, website or newspaper. Call ahead, get their email, and personalize it. If you’re sending out multiple queries at least make sure the font with their name on it is the same as the email’s text… We editors don’t like multiple queries but there’s no reason to make it that obvious. If your query is a full page long, it’s too long and should be cut down!
Subscribe to the outlet’s newsletter or RSS Feed, so you’ll know exactly what the outlet is purchasing and how to format. Make sure your idea fits in with our goals.
Use social media to get your stories more exposure. Twitter is a great way to share a new link to your article, and Facebook is a place for a really professional resume…keep the silly drinking photos out, put up your stories, photos and videos to show editors you’re serious about this business. Create an interesting blog and link to the best in the business…if they like you they’ll link back and blogs are a great way to become a better writer since it gives you that daily exercise of short writing.
Read Max Hartshorne’s travel articles on GoNOMAD.com
Kent E. St. John, GoNOMAD’s former Senior Travel Editor
There really isn’t anything mystifying about breaking into travel writing. Desire is but a first step. Like any career there are ways to climb a ladder and using the correct rungs can help you avoid a lot of wasted time and energy.
1. Read everything you can get your hands on. Reading is probably the most overlooked step on the road to travel writing. First of all those writers have been published, they must be doing something right. Secondly you will get ideas and knowledge about all sorts of things, such as places and people. Of course a book about travel writing is a good place to start. I recommend Don George’s Travel Writing published by Lonely Planet.
2. Learn what publications are looking for; they all have their own slant. A story about traveling through Croatia on ten dollars a day isn’t going to fit in Travel & Leisure. The good news is that if you search you will find a place where it will be accepted. An editor can tell immediately if you are at all familiar with their publication. If you are not you are wasting their time as well as your own.
3. Editors receive a ton of queries and except for newspapers do not want a completed article. All publications have guidelines available somewhere — read the guidelines first. These guidelines will tell you exactly how to submit to their publication, and it shows professionalism even if you haven’t a clip to your name.
4. Pitch an idea not just a place. I have heard of want-to-be travel writers who contact editors notifying them of an upcoming trip to Paris. What about Paris will that writer introduce an editor to? The travel editor most likely has been to Paris several times themselves. Use your own likes or even dislikes about a destination. That book you read about Thai influences in French cooking will finally come in handy.
6. Beware of travel writing courses that promise to have you traveling the world for free. There is no free ride in any career — effort gets results. The most successful people in any business love what they do. The rewards of travel writing are great, but the patience needed is greater. Once you figure that all out you are on your way.5.
Everyone is a local somewhere. You need not travel across the world to travel write. Start looking for stories nearby. This will also help you develop ideas for those exotic locals that you will eventually get to. “Think locally” is more than a bumper sticker; it is a skill that is coveted by travel editors.
Check out our friends at the Expeditioner to see how you can submit travel stories.