I’ve been traveling my entire life, but I’ve never thought about travel writing as a career.
Good thing because as veteran travel writer Annette Thompson told an NFPW workshop, “You can’t always pay the mortgage as a travel writer.”
Thompson, who is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers and a former longtime journalist with Southern Living magazine, has written numerous freelance stories and operates an online magazine called Second Chance Travels.
Travel writing today is a challenge because of dwindling markets and tighter publication budgets. She noted that she does not accept assignments that only pay her by providing her with exposure – meaning, the magazine publishes her piece with a byline, but she receives no payment.
Many would-be travel writers mistakenly think that writing about a destination makes for a strong travel piece. Thompson explained that good travel writing includes stories about people. For example, don’t say you are writing about Birmingham. Instead, identify an angle about a unique aspect to that place, such as the clay artists who make plates for the city’s restaurants. She also noted that expenses usually are not covered.
To succeed at travel writing, Thompson said writers should do the following:
- Network. You need to know other writers and editors, and the people who represent the destinations, she said.
- Join a travel association. Membership provides networking, conference and travel opportunities. While SATW is difficult to gain membership to, Thompson recommends North American Travel Journalists Association; International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association; and Travel Blog Exchange.
- Know your DMOs and CVBs. A DMO is a destination marketing organization. A CVB is the convention and visitors bureau.
- Find a target. “Identify where you want your story to go,” Thompson said. Most publications have stories that are 30 words to 50 words, in addition to longer forms. She encouraged her audience to start with the shorter pieces as a way to get their foot in the door.
- Hone your pitch. The blurb that you send to an editor should have a one-sentence opening, a concise nut graph – which is what the piece is about – and a brief mention of your prior experience. She also suggested pitching well in advance, perhaps as much as 18 months before publication.
- Have an online presence. Having one-page online devoted to your career provides a place to post your previous stories that have published and will give others confidence in your work.
- Have a writing partner. This is someone who can act as your audience and read your material before you pitch it.