Thursday, November 6, 2008

Travel Articles Writing Tips

Travel is booming. No doubt about it. It seems like everyone with a mouse and keyboard has visited Orbitz, Expedia, et al, for the best rates on trips to ... well, to everywhere. Dropping prices make travel that much more appealing to an ever-widening group of Americans.

This mini-boom in travel has had the side effect of increasing the number of travel-article markets, both on-line and off. Magazines that wouldn't have considered running travel a few years ago are clamboring to bolster their travel-related content. And why not. The travel industry is a mega-monster constantly seeking to gobble up new customers. In publishing lingo, that translates into travel-related advertising revenue. Come one, come all. It's gravy time!

You can cash in on the scramble for travel features. Just remember that, in a glutted freelance market, you're not alone. To give yourself a competitive edge over other travel writers (including those who specialize in the genre), keep these tips in mind.

Know your market

Just as not all magazines are alike, not all travel markets are the same. It's no surprise that medical magazines gear their travel pages to their readers (doctors, mostly) and where they most want to go. Environmental magazines concentrate their coverage on hands-on eco-related excursions. Cruise magazines want destinations accessible by ship.

Try selling a piece on the bars of Puerto Vallarta to Sierra and you're simply wasting your time

Do sweat the details

Some magazines have a strict taboo against fam (familiarization) trips. If you're planning on accepting anything from a travel agent, airline, cruise line, or hotel, make sure the editor knows up front and doesn't object.

Similarly, some magazines want all rights to publication (including Internet rights), some want only print rights, and some negotiate rights separately. Understand in advance what you're giving up so that no one is disappointed or disillusioned afterwards.

Don't get greedy

One of the prime tip-offs inexperienced writers give seasoned editors is something like this: "I've got a great idea for a travel piece to Miami and want to know if you pay expenses." Or this: "I'd like to write an article for you. How much do you pay?" Or one of our personal favorites: "I want to do an article for you. Can I have an assignment?"

Here's a guy the editor has never worked with before, whose credentials may or may not be accurate as presented, and who may or may not actually come through with the article that the editor requested to see and can actually use. Now he wants expenses? An assignment? A payment guarantee? Uh-huh. Sure.

In short, don't insult the editor's intelligence by trying to get him to commit to something before he's actually seen the piece and gets comfortable working with you. What this all boils down to is that you have to give any relationship time to grow--and that includes a writer-editor relationship. When the editor is convinced you're a writer who delivers what he promises, you'll know it. Then if you have an idea for an assignment, or need help with costs, or need a certain amount of money out of a piece, you can ask for it without fear of alienating him.

Slant your article

It's a simple enough concept. Your recent trip to the jungles of Peru might fly in Smithsonian or National Geographic, but with a little fine-tuning, you can also make it appealing to magazines with a greatly different subscriber base. If you're going to sell the same trip to Rolling Stone or Mother Jones, work in a human-interest element. (Remember your guide and how he introduced you to his family, all struggling financially to stay alive?)

Somebody once said there's only one story, but there are a million different slants. It's true. With the right slant, you can sell the same basic trip to dozens of different magazines.

Don't get too personal

When used properly, working yourself or people you know into the article can be effective. But unless the magazine thrives on personal reminiscences (and few do), you'll do well to keep personal intrusions to a minimum. After all, editors want to share the place with their readers, not the writer writing about it. A little "Marge and I" goes a long, long way in a travel piece.

Build a reputation

In order to capture those all-important repeat sales, you'll need to convince your editors that you're reliable, factual, and prompt, as well as a damned good writer. You can do this by following these maxims:

  • Never promise anything in a query letter that you can't deliver.
  • Never miss a deadline without a very good reason, and then alert the editor as far in advance as possible of just how late you're going to be.
  • Always fact-check your articles through diligent research at reliable sources before submitting.
Take care of this business first, and you can't help but be a successful travel writer. I guarantee it.

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