Break Into Freelance Travel Writing for Money

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If you can’t dazzle them with detail, baffle them with bull. That’s a perfect way not to land a travel writing assignment. So why do novice writers, having seen a blurb touting, “Become a travel writer, see the world!” jump ship on everything they ever knew about writing?

Travel writing is a viable market – actually fantastic for savvy beginners. But for every professional quality piece, editors say a hundred wannabe travel writers miss the boat. What makes the difference? How do you get your articles noticed in a highly competitive market? Choose your target publication carefully. Hundreds of markets, besides the top travel magazines, seek polished travel pieces.

So here are ten tips to get your sales on track:

  1. Choose a destination that suits you. You’ll dig deeper, finding the angle. Develop a niche. Become an expert.Experienced travel writers, like mall smart freelancers, get extra mileage from a trip by recasting for different markets. Keep all your data, too. A note from Branson, MO might be the filler you need next year in a piece about steamboat tours.
  2. Know your readers. John Bigley, co-author of 1500 travel articles and co-creator of Lovetripper.com says. “Don’t assume readers know what you know. Every destination and every angle is of interest, but you have to collect details to tell the story.” His partner, Paris Parmenter, says it’s not about your personal preferences. Focus on potential readers. Maybe the music at the nightclub in Madrid didn’t light you up, but was it right for the genre? Were visitors enjoying themselves? Did the place attract the right clientele – what did the clientele have in common with your readers
  3. Talk to people. Bigley and Parmenter think local residents give readers a feel for reality, that elusive sense of place. Locals put you on to out-of-the-way places, seldom seen sweet spots. Anyone can walk Key West’s Duval Street for island charm, but go up Highway 1 to Cudjoe Key. Locals know a three-story iron tower designed in the 19th century as the cure for mosquito infestations. Built by an entrepreneur, it was meant to attract colonies of bats that would eradicate mosquitos. Bats never came, but still, it’s a work of art.
  4. Let another voice create intrigue. James Plouf, editor of Travelwriters.com says, “Dialogue helps a story immeasurably, but few writers include it.” A single salient quote from a native is invaluable. Choose quotes that recreate the experience – skip the hearts and flowers. Plouf looks for light and lively, a sense of fun. Engage an editor’s imagination and you have made a sale.
  5. Spend significant time at the destination. You can’t fake it. Rewording brochures, culling details from the Internet, or visiting San Francisco, riding one cable car and calling it a day will not make you a travel writer. Get out there. Find the jewels. Toss in surprises, talk to other travelers. How did the experience resonate with them?
  6. “Don’t send your diaries that aim to say all and actually reveal nothing,” says Pouf, whose publication makes connections between writers and markets. Editors agree, a laundry list of what you did on your summer vacation — those golly-gee-it-was-fun stories – come in by the dozens and are summarily rejected. “Every place has been written about before. Find the new perspective. Focus your idea. Name names. Do the math and quote pricing. Give up your travel secrets! Editors adore details.”
  7. Avoid making sales pitches, let the reader react and create his own opinions. Our job, as travel writers, is to recreate experiences. Sights. Sounds. Tastes. Visions and textures. Do you know many travel readers never leave home? You may be writing to a shut-in, a recluse, an executive too busy to follow your path. They count on you to bring the mountain to their armchairs. Invite them on a virtual vacation and fuel their imagination.
  8. “If you can’t find something positive to say, don’t say anything at all,” advises the Society of American Travel Writers. Whistle blowing has its place, but probably not if you want to make a living writing about travel. If your trip was so bad you can’t find the positives, experts say scrap that piece and move on.Watch your language and syntax.
  9. Use imagery in place of adjectives, go for specific nouns and action verbs. Replace passive verbs with active for fresh, bright prose. Make brevity, clarity and conciseness your style. Make sure if you recommend visiting a bazaar, your prose doesn’t turn bizarre. Put your writing aside for a day then read what you wrote – preferably aloud.
  10. Produce your finest writing. Then polish it, proof it, clean it up and proof it again. There is no room for sloppiness. One typo in a query letter might send your most fascinating idea into the circular file. Review the rules and conventions of making professional submissions. Familiarize yourself with your target market’s requirements and don’t deviate. Choose the right market.

Where Do You Find Travel Writing Assignments?

Some writers toss around enough flowery superlatives to sink the QE2, but fail to convey the real color, flavor and atmosphere of their destination. Readers, weary of wading through heavy paragraphs and vagaries like sumptuous, breathtaking, or magnificent, put the magazine away and tune to the travel channel.

Get in perfect form, then look to women’s and men’s magazines, children’s magazines, newspapers, Web-based publications and trade magazines directed at professionals like teachers, doctors, or lawyers. Scan the listings in Writers’ Markets or Writers’ Weekly and you’ll see what I mean. But no matter how eager an editor might be, she’ll reject poor-quality submissions.

It’s not at all baffling, really. It’s common sense. Selling your writing usually boils down to writing what you know, polishing your prose, and selling yourself and your work to the right editor.

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  1. How to Travel Free and Make Money, Too « ontext.com - March 3, 2009

    […] Read OnText’s blog post on travel writing. […]