Updated November 30th, 2017.
Do you want to be a travel writer? Chances are you already are! Do you travel? Do you keep a journal? Take notes on facts such as bus times, the price of street food and the cost of a beer? Do you collect inspiring travel quotes? Take photos of absolutely everything and then use them to motivate other people to travel? Have you even started your own travel blog to keep the folks at home updated? Well guess what… you’re on your way to becoming a travel writer! All you need to do now is to figure out how to get paid for doing all this and then hey presto – Bill Bryson’s your uncle.
People ponder such ‘dream jobs’ as travel writing and think – how on earth could I get into that? Our advice is – stop dreaming, start doing! There’s no science behind travel writing and you don’t need to spend your backpacker budget on expensive workshops. Becoming a travel writing is simply about getting your writing seen by as many people as possible – and we’re here to tell you how!
What Do You Want to Write?
1. Getting Started with a Blog:
Great advice for any budding writer is to get your work online in the form of a blog. It’s easy to set up websites with the likes of WordPress, even if you are not tech-savvy. This will help you to get over any nerves about sharing your work with other people (even though this could just be your Mum and Dad) and it’s a fast way to receive feedback and constructive criticism of your writing – and see if it does what it’s meant to do – inspire people to travel!
2. Publishing Your Own Travel Book:
Do you have epic adventures to retell? A different perspective on travel to share? Are you travelling in a unique and exciting way –hopping the whole of Asia on a pogo stick perhaps? Could you turn your experience into travel memoirs such as favourite travel books, Holy Cow, Tuk Tuk to the Road, Shantaram and Eat Pray Love? Or weave the truth with fiction in a thriller such as Alex Garland’s cult classic ‘The Beach’?
Writing a book may seem like a huge task, but by breaking it down bit by bit each day – you may found you’ve written 60,000 words (the size of an average novel) while you’ve been away! So that’s just one page of an A4 word document a day for four months – the typical length of a backpacker’s trip in South East Asia! So put down that bucket and get typing just a page a day! And, although getting a publisher for your book may be as difficult as getting a tuk tuk to fly, did you know that you can easily publish your own e-book and start selling it online – or even print your own books with print on demand services! Imagine how it will feel to hold your own book in your hands!
3. Getting Published in a Magazine:
Although the digital age is here – who doesn’t love leafing through a good mag with exotic photos of your potential next adventure? There are many magazines out there looking for writers, from local to airline magazines or even try to pitch your work to the likes of National Geographic and TIME Travel.
Before you choose your topic for a travel article, imagine you’re the editor of a travel magazine who opens their emails in the morning with your article sitting in the inbox. What do you want to receive?
Every month here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we receive hundreds of articles and some catch our eye more than others. The worst: “How can I write for you?” “What type of articles do you print in your magazine?” All this info can be found on our website and if the writer was serious about writing for us – he could have found it for himself! As we’re goodhearted folks, we always reply and direct you to the right place, but don’t even expect a one-liner back from the big boys. Editors don’t like timewasters. Make their life easier and respect the magazine by knowing what they are all about.
How to Get Your Piece Published in a Magazine in Four Easy Steps:
1. Pick a Topic!
Do your homework: Familiarize yourself with the style, tone and content of the magazine. Look at the article guidelines on the magazine’s website and do the basics right – things like word count, how they want the article to be submitted, and if they need photos.
Fresh, new content: Read through back issues, look at what articles that have been published recently and choose a different topic. The magazine won’t want a feature on diving in Thailand if they had one last month.
Who are the audience? The most important question to ask. There’s no point submitting an article about the Top 10 Luxury Spas in Thailand to a budget travel magazine, or vice versa, an off the beaten track journey on local transport in Myanmar to Condé Nast Travel. Think about age, budget and culture.
It’s a business! Remember that the magazine is a business and try to figure out how it makes money. Look at adverts. For example – if you send in an article lambasting all of the hotels in Thailand (a key advertising stream of that magazine) then your article naturally won’t get printed!
Don’t get too political / controversial: If you want to be a news reporter, do that instead. Travel writing in most magazines is about information and inspiration. You’re not an undercover agent. Here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we sometimes receive political rants, serious polemics about governments, drugs, poverty, and social issues. Although they are interesting to read, you must look at the purpose of the magazine, its position in society and what it is capable of.
Cultural Sensitivity: Look at the limitations of the country of the magazine you are writing for – i.e. if you are writing for an airline magazine in Malaysia – choose your topic carefully to be sensitive to Muslim culture. i.e. An article about backpacking and an alcohol-fuelled lifestyle won’t go down well!
2. Writing Style
Don’t be too personal: Travel writing can be a life-changing experience, but people are rarely interested in reading about ‘how you found yourself on a mountain top in Burma’ – make sure the article is about the PLACE – and secondly about your experience through that place.
Don’t be too factual: Nobody wants to read a historical fact sheet they can get from Wikipedia or worst still, a dull itinerary of what you did day by day and had for breakfast – travel is about passion, sights, senses – make your piece unique.
Openings Are Everything: 99% of the time, editors decide if they’ll publish the article within the first paragraph. I once heard a rumour that a big book publisher in London would decide on which books to publish after reading only one sentence. A now-famous-writer managed to sneakily get his book published by making the first sentence an entire page. It’s a cute trick – but might not work all the time!
3. The Perfect Pitch
So your article is ready? Has your best mate, Mum and current travel fling read it to make sure it’s good? Okay, then you’re ready to put it out there.
Email Your Best Article: Don’t overload the editor by sending too many articles or ideas. Pick your best one or two and send those clearly and in simplest way possible.
Persist – but don’t annoy! One email a day is not cool. Even the three-day rule doesn’t cut it with travel writing. Give the editor chance to read and get back to you. Editors are busy people, so don’t get precious or demanding! Everybody wants to work with someone who is friendly and understanding. Don’t demand that they get back to you by a certain time. An idea is to provide more options of articles if you don’t get a positive response to your first.
Do Work for Nothing: We sometimes get emails saying: “I have an idea for an article, but I don’t want to waste my time writing it yet incase you don’t like it, so I will ask you if you like the idea first and then only write it if you do – therefore save myself time / effort”. Don’t Be a Lazy Writer! If writing is your passion – then write! Think of everything as practice and never be precious about adapting / experimenting with your style.
Timing: Look at the publication dates. Is the magazine monthly? Quarterly? Time it right so that your article is one of the first to be consideredthat month. The longer the month goes on the more the content plan gets filled up!
Don’t ask / expect feedback: Most editors will be too busy.
Flattery gets you nowhere: Sending a gushing email about how much you love the magazine and how much you think you’d be able to write for it won’t get you anywhere – if you love it and think you can write for it – then just do it!
Emailing yor article: Keep your covering letter (email) short and to the point. Include a bio. of your experience as a writer. For most magazines, your best bet is to send a large excerpt of your article (around three paragraphs), an overall summary and thumbnails images. Entice the editor, just like you want to entice your reader. Remember the reason that they got into travel journalism in the first place is because of the same passion that you have, so play on that! Make the editor want to leave their desk and travel!
These days you have to be a photographer as well as a travel writer and vice versa. Images are very important for the editor to visualize what the article will look like in print. They also need proof that you have the images to back up the article and that by using your article they won’t have to source images from elsewhere which could be costly. Don’t fill up their inbox with hundreds of images – just pick the ones that you think relate to the article the best. Send it all in one email package so that it is easy to put it all together for the editor, they are not searching for elements and can set their eyes on the entire package in one go.
Still want to be a travel writer?
And that’s about it! Travel writing (for me) one of the best jobs in the world – it isn’t accounting – so don’t make it into too much of a business. Experiment and HAVE FUN! Don’t be too much of a perfectionist and worry about every single word of your article. Don’t be afraid of people seeing / criticizing your work / getting knocked back – go for it!
You have to start somewhere and it is a learning process / trial & error / sometimes things won’t work, sometimes things will… just be friendly to everyone, don’t take yourself and your work too seriously. Be prepared at the very beginning to work for free / get experience with magazines / volunteer. If you are good enough and persevere you will get noticed / published and… paid for doing what you love.
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