To blog or not to blog, that is the question (sorry for the awful rendition of a cliche). The upsurge and success of blogs in the online travel-publishing industry, has posed a hot question in the minds of accomplished and aspiring writers alike: what importance do we need to give to blogging (be it general blogging or travel-blogging) in building our writing careers, and why. So I thought I’d throw the question out to the experts for their opinion.
It was interesting to see the variation in responses, all of which can be broadly put into three categories: 1) Blogging is critical for building your career as a writer 2) Blogging can play an important role, but you can’t do it at the expense of traditional writing 3) It is unclear exactly how a blog can help your career, it would depend on what you blog about and how relevant it is to what you are aiming for in your career.
[*NB: This article is long. I was going to edit down the responses to give you a short, informative piece; but then I thought that everything these people are saying is varied, making it hard to generalize their opinions without losing snippets of their wisdom, so I’m going to put all of it out there*]
How can blogging be critical for your career as a travel-writer? According to Chris Mohney, former editor of urban travel guide Gridskipper, and currently at a position with Black Book Magazine, says:”The blogging format naturally suits travel writing — casual, descriptive, narrative, and easily updated and posted from anywhere. In addition to teaching you how to write about travel by letting you do so at your own pace and in your own voice, blogging provides a readily accessible “clip file” of sorts for the aspiring novice. And it also teaches one of the most important lessons for anyone seriously attempting this kind of career: write constantly, about everything.”
Michael Yessis, co-founder and editor at World Hum gives us his take from the perspective of an editor who assigns/buys stories: “If you’re blogging about travel, I’d emphasize that you’re writing about travel. That’s just the form your writing has taken. So if your blogging is your writing, it’s therefore a big part of your travel-writing career. You shouldn’t be sloppy because it’s just blogging. Editors you pitch can see everything you write online, and many will look to your blog as a representation of what kind of work they’ll get from you.
A blog can vary in importance depending on its purpose and what kind of travel writing you want to do in the long run. For instance, if you want to write a book about, say, traveling the Silk Road, but are blogging about daily airline news, that might not be the best way to build your career. You might instead try to be more focused on your larger goals. Perhaps you would emphasize the Silk Road in your blogging, with the aim of leveraging that experience and expertise when you write and sell your book.
It’s similar if you’re aiming to use blogging as a stepping stone to newspapers, magazines, essays, longer features, books, etc. Ideally, you’ll want your blogging to cover topics that you can pitch to those other outlets.
Things are different for writers just starting out or in the early stages of their careers, of course. You may just be looking to get any blogging work to get a foot in the door or find your voice. Blogs can be invaluable for those purposes, as well as learning to write every day and getting your name out there.”
David Miller, editor at Matador Travel, says: “Blogging has been invaluable to my career, allowing to reach a captive audience instantly. [Redacted] Whether my blogs have helped me to get work with print media (such as the upcoming Guide to Patagonia) is hard to say, but it sure doesn’t hurt for editors to be able to quickly scan my blogs, style, etc.”
Further exaggerating the importance of blogging, travel-writer and author Sean McLachlan says:”These days, people don’t think you exist unless you’re on the Internet. Websites are important, but blogs are more high profile because of their constant updating and interactivity. In my first month of blogging, I’ve received more than 1,200 hits, two interview requests, a come-hither look by a rather dodgy agent, and a paid reprint of one of my blog posts. In any genre of writing, it’s important to get attention, and right now blogs are one of the easiest ways to do that.”
As for Amanda Kendle, blogger at Vagabondish, Jaunted, Kathika and Hotel Chatter (to name a few!), blogging has made her quit looking at work for print publications, and focusing on a career as a travel-blogger: “I guess that because of the way the internet/blog world is going, I’ve switched my focus from building a career as a travel writer to building a (half) career as a blogger. My blogging has certainly helped me get other blogging work – nearly all of the new work I get comes from people approaching me rather than the other way around. Once I started getting more blogging work, I gave up on the print side. I don’t know if it was the right or wrong thing to do, but the reasons were that blogging paid faster and more regularly, involved less risk (it’s nearly never that a blog post I write gets rejected, but magazine articles do regularly, that’s just the nature of the beast), and are easier to research and write. I haven’t tried any print magazines for at least the last 18 months or so.”
David Farley, travel-writer, editor, author and professor at NYU, says that since blogging is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s still unclear to what extent blogging will shape a writer’s career path. “Are people blogging in the hope of eventually writing for newspaper travel sections and glossy travel magazines or are they doing it just for blogging’s sake?”
He adds: “If you’re a good writer with interesting ideas, readers will recognize it and keep logging on to your site. And a lot of travel writers find blogging attractive because you can write what you want and you don’t have to beg any editors to publish your work. But therein lies the problem: unless your site really takes off and you can sell ads, you’re writing for free or for very little money. Sometimes I wonder if blogging then becomes a trap. On the positive side, the ultimate success would be getting a book deal out of it, which is happening more and more, not just with travel bloggers, but with bloggers in general. My editor at Penguin, for example, always seems to be reading the blogs looking for a novel idea for a book. And he’s already been quite successful in helping to turn a few blogs into books.”
That’s what happened to Kelsey Timmerman, writer, blogger and author of Where Am I Wearing: “As far as advancing my career as a writer, blogging has been every bit as important as dumb luck. It was dumb luck when Literary Agent A stumbled upon my blog, www.whereamiwearing.com and asked me if I had considered writing a book about the subject. This was before I had even left on the trip the blog was about.
When I returned from the trip I went to a writer’s conference in Muncie, Indiana, (not exactly a hotspot for meeting agents) and asked Agent B about pre-contract etiquette dealing with Agent A. Agent B asked about my book and was darn near more enthusiastic about it than me. Agent B became my agent and a few months later sold my first book, which shares a name with my blog. I started as a blogger and, with a little dumb luck, I became an author.
As for print publications…I rarely direct editors of newspapers and magazines to my blog, for the simple fact that they might visit on a day I write about shaving my tongue or farting on airplanes. However, I have adapted blog posts that eventually ran in print publications or aired as essays on NPR. In this way, blogging is more of a personal writing tool for me than an eye-catcher for editors.”
According to fellow travel-writer (clips in IHT NYTimes, AFP, Travel & Leisure), blogger, vagabond, and friend, Newley Purnell: “As much as I love blogging, reading blogs, talking about blogs, and thinking about blogging, I must admit that the practice hasn’t been critical in developing my travel writing skills. The most important elements when it comes to travel writing is the most obvious stuff: taking trips, dutifully recording observations and talking to people, writing it all down, and then pitching it to outlets. You just have to do it. Write the story and *then* think about selling it. If it’s good enough, it’ll find a home. Just write it. If nothing else, it’ll be good practice.
A few folks have found me through my blog, and this has led to an assignment here and there, but I think it can be damaging to focus too much on blogging at the expense of writing articles to pitch to newspapers, magazines, etc. Focus on writing articles. Frequently. There are many, many successful travel writers who don’t have blogs; many don’t even have their own Web sites, much less forums for their informal, non-work writing.
My web site began as a forum to showcase my clips — a place to store my writing samples. Blogging has always been fun — and it’s valuable in that you’re forced to write for other readers, not just yourself. But my feeling is that it’s most helpful to do traditional writing; if you’ve got time to blog, too, then great. One exception, I’d say, is that if you’re just starting out, a great way to generate clips is to write posts for other blogs. This way, at least, you’re writing for an entity larger than yourself and — this is critical — you’ll have an editor to help develop your work.”
Summing up, Newley says: “1) blogging is fine, but you’ve got to do as much traditional writing as possible, and 2) focus on writing and pitching articles separately, and consider writing for a bigger, more well-established blog than your own.”
There’s a lot of thought and input here from a good cross section of writers, bloggers, authors and editors; I hope you’ve found it useful. Depending on what you are planning to do with your career as a travel-writer, take from it what you want!