Advice From A Travel Writer Who Has Made It, To Another Who Wants to Make It…


Apologies for the scanty posts on my end these days. Between trying to write queries, procrastinating and trying to write queries and procrastinating – I have been caught up in a slightly depressing hole where I land up doing everything but writing.
Any empathy guys?

This is when I start to look online frantically for tips, guides, encouragement, inspiration, or a simple reality check. So I came across an article written by Tim Leffel on the Myths of Being a Travel Writer.

Although full of the ‘unvarnished truth’ (which I do not want to call pessimism) it’s one of those articles that you need to read once in a while, now and then, to give you a good kick on the ass, and a reality check.

Good news is that I am capable of reading such articles with a pinch of salt – and using them to my benefit. I felt that Tim was sitting infront of me giving me advice as someone who doesn’t beat around the bush, but really wants to help too.

Here are some extracts from the article of raw reality and useful advice that stayed with me and hopefully will stir something (positive) in you:

-“…Like any position where supply far exceeds demand, you’ll need to follow the right steps and then pay your dues. It’s not going to happen overnight…”

-“…The work is no picnic either. Guidebook writers are assumed to know every city and town in depth, but in reality they seldom spend more than a few days in each place. During that time, they are zipping around between attractions, restaurants, and similar hotels, frantically taking notes that will sufficiently jog their memories later. They then spend their evenings typing it all up, while real travelers are out having fun…”

-“…Rates for a 500-word article range from $10 to $1,000, the latter being for a seasoned writer doing a story for a Travel and Leisure type publication. Even with a dozen years of experience, the bulk of my freelance pieces earn me between $25 and $300…”

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-“…For every article slot in a magazine, there are hundreds of writers trying to fill it. It’s like an audition for a movie part or tryouts for a pro sports team. Editors are up to their ears in material and much of what crosses their desk from new writers isn’t worth printing…”

-“…Don’t assume just going somewhere is a reason to write an article. Even remote corners of the globe are visited by more writers than we need. (I’ve seen enough articles on Iceland and Antarctica to last a lifetime.) Unless you’re going to be the first person landing on Mars, you’d better find a good story angle. ut you’d better be able to find a truly unique slant that has never been tried before…”

-“…Long tomes about dodging beggars and waiting around for the bus to get fixed are not stories; they are journal entries. That’s where they belong…”

-“…Read a magazine story or book chapter from someone like Bill Bryson or Pico Iyer and then read your story. Then have your most brutally honest friend do the same. If your many-page travelogue is every bit as gripping or funny and flows just as well, then by all means don’t give up until you get it published. If not, edit, edit, edit…”

-“…Get good at doing short, informative stories and you can get assignments. Editors mostly need articles that say something succinctly and then get out of the way. This is where the work is, especially for a beginner. Eventually you may build up a good reputation and garner a big feature assignment. Try to do it in reverse order, however, and you’ll be getting more rejections than you can count…”

-“…Most stories are accepted “on spec,” meaning you write the story without knowing if they’ll accept it. If they do accept it, don’t buy the champagne yet. You will get paid upon publication—after the story actually shows up in print. (If they don’t go out of business first.) In the best case, this will be within two or three months. More likely, it will be six months or a year. By the time you see a check from the story you wrote in the first month of your round-the-world journey, your yearlong trip could be over…”

-“…If a travel provider cannot see an obvious payback from providing you free hospitality of some sort, don’t expect to get it…”

-“…Read a few good books on the subject and really do what the authors say to do. The advice is nearly always tried and true. You will need to study the publications you’re pitching in detail, send good query letters, write about unique subjects that you’re really interested in, and make sure everything you submit is as good as it can possibly be—and on time…”

-“…Remember who your “customers” are. The buyers of what you are selling are editors. If they don’t want to publish your material, your creative ideas will never go beyond your journal or your letters home. Realize that if you’re not comfortable selling yourself and your ideas, this is not for you. Being a travel writer, at least until you’re established, is 90 percent marketing, ten percent writing…”

-“…Get feedback whenever you can, especially on your “leads” (the first paragraph, which needs to grab people). Then take that feedback seriously. In the end, you may not be sipping cocktails in Tahiti, all expenses paid, but you’ll be getting paid at least something to do what you love…”

On that note, I will get back to (trying) to write a good query.

The full article can be read here.