Nikki Scott, the founder of South East Asia Backpacker, has recently written an honest travel memoir about her adventures backpacking in South East Asia, setting up a business in Thailand and the highs and lows of expat life. So far the book, entitled ‘Backpacker Business’ is getting 5-star reviews on Amazon and she’s currently preparing her second book all about her travels in South America!
So could you write a book about your travels? Do you think you have what it takes to become a best selling travel writer?
Here are Nikki’s top tips for turning your travels into a book!
1. Pick a main theme/focus of the book
Although you have loads of experiences and loads of stories to tell, from loads of different places, your first step should be to decide on a focus for the book. What are you trying to say? You need a theme, or a few themes, that run throughout the whole book that will engage a readers’ attention. Travel (and life) is a messy affair, but your book should not be. Your theme could be a random idea like Tony Hawks’ books ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’ (where the author carries a fridge on his back through the Emerald Isle) and ‘One Hit Wonderland’ (where the author tries to get a number one single anywhere in the world), or a new way of doing an old adventure like ‘Tuk Tuk to the Road’, the adventure story of two girls driving a tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton, UK. Or, it could be a study of a concept within a country like Mike McIntyre’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ who tests the generosity of the American public as he attempts to cross the USA without a dime, catching lifts and bunking with strangers. What are some of the themes of your favourite travel books?
2. Focus on one country/region
Yeah yeah, so you’re a world wide traveller, who’s been to every country bar North Korea, and you want to write about all of them! However, from a reader’s perspective, it’s much better to read a book that is focused on just one country or region. Picking a focused destination will instantly make your book more sellable as someone who is heading to that country for travel can find your book more easily, If your readers are anything like me, they’ll love to read travel literature about the places that they plan to visit next!
3. Stop travelling, put your life on hold, hash it out all in one go
When I wrote my first book, I did it whilst living at my Mum’s very secluded farmhouse in the French countryside. I had no distractions, no friends to ask me to go the pub, just an endless supply of cups of teas from my lovely Mum!
Whilst on the road, leading the busy life of a backpacker, I had barely been able to concentrate long enough to write the first few chapters. At my Mum’s house, I wrote every day, roughly 1-2,000 words a day (making up approx. one chapter) and was able to finish the first draft of the book in around two months. I would recommend not re-reading chapters once they have been written a first time, it is too time consuming. Just plough through until you have all of the information down that you want to say. You can then go back and edit. And edit and edit and edit and edit and edit and edit and edit…
4. Pour your heart out
I’ve always thought that what grabs a reader is real honesty. Don’t try to make yourself look good or try to be someone you’re not. People admire brutal honesty and a lot of humour and shared compassion can be found in people’s mistakes and struggles. People don’t want to read a heroic tale of an unrealistic traveller, they want to see your human side, at times inspiring and at times vulnerable. Of course being so honest does have its complications, (do you want your grandma to know everything you did whilst travelling?!) – but we guarantee spilling the beans and pouring your heart out will be worth it in the end!
5. Don’t complain/slag anyone off
The worst type of travel writing has got to be an endless stream of complaints and frustrations from the author. A reader wants to be uplifted and inspired by your travel memoir, not depressed! Annoying travel buddies, bad relationships, travel mishaps, bed bugs, mosquitos and transport delays – try to see the funny side within your writing and tell us what you learnt from the hardships instead of going on a ‘moanathon’.
6. Don’t be too introspective
At the same time as being honest about your feelings, don’t make the book all about YOU. As the book develops, people will indeed empathise with your character, but remember, this is not your diary (definitely save certain details just for that!) – readers will want to hear as much about the places that you travelled, as your emotional experience with them. Vivid descriptions of destinations, interesting and unusual characters that you met along the way, insights you gained are all valuable material for a good travel book!
7. You should aim at around 80,000 words and get it checked
Most travel memoirs are around 60,000 – 80,000 words. A good way of writing a book is to outline your chapters first and then focus on writing a little bit each day, that way your mind is focused on one section at a time. It might seem like a mighty task, but little by little, your book will start to come together. When your first draft is finished, it’s good to send it to friends for their opinions and expect to make lots of changes to your first draft. God knows what number draft I was on when I at last finished my book, but it was well over five! When you’re eventually happy with the final draft, my advice would be to hire a professional proof reader to go through your text. It just isn’t humanly possible to spot mistakes in a text that you’ve read so many times before. An outsider, with fresh eyes, will be able to spot the errors you’ve missed.
8. You can send your book to an agent / publisher
Book done? Great! What next? How do you get your book out there on the book shelves of bookstores? There are two routes to go down. First of all, you can try to get an agent, and subsequently a publisher, for your book – which will allow you to reach a much wider audience in the long run. However, this route can be very competitive as it is difficult to get your book noticed in such a saturated market – plus only a select number of publishers will take on a travel memoir – one of the hardest book types to market. You will need to research agents and publishers online (many well-established publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts without an agent, so you’ll need that first) and choose which ones you think are best suited to your book.
9. Self-Publishing is a good option
For my first book, (after going down the above route first with no success) I used Amazon’s self-publishing platform CreateSpace to self-publish. In the end, I was very happy with the service and ultimate quality of the book. Self-publishing meant that I could design my own front cover, add my sketches into the interior of the book, and have ultimate say over the final edit. It was my baby – and because it was such a personal story, it was good to have control over something that was so precious to me. The downsides of self-publishing are of course – that it is still hard to get noticed on Amazon, and unless a publisher picks up your book from Amazon, your book won’t be in the shelves of Waterstones, WHSmiths and Blackwells.
10. Don’t expect to get rich, but do it anyway
Writing one book won’t make you a millionaire overnight, especially if you self-publish. The royalties that you make on each book are only fraction of the price of what the book sells for. That said, if you write say 10 books, you could be making a decent income from selling a few copies of each book a day! And what a way to make a living folks! We can think of far worse ways! What’s much more than the money, of course, is inspiring someone to travel with your words. So what are you waiting for? Get writing now!
By Nikki Scott