How to become
a travel writer


I am unable to respond to all requests for career advice, due to a busy work schedule. My best (and admittedly biased) recommendation? Take one of my classes online or in-person workshops (Seattle or Rome). But if budget woes prevail, below are some resources.


The best
bulletin board


Travelwriters.com
is the finest forum for an author at any level. Search the archives for answers to most beginner queries.


The best
job markets

Media professionals shop for new posts on Journalismjobs.com, an excellent website connected with the Columbia Journalism Review. Craigslist is good for offbeat gigs in the US and UK, but often contains poorly paid assignments and scams.

The best
journalism resources

The nonprofit Poynter Institute provides incredible advice archives online, as well as the annual National Writers' Workshops. I'm especially enamored with Don Fry, Chip Scanlan and Roy Peter Clark, author of the essential Writer's Toolbox.


The most
realistic article


Susan Spano takes a hard look at the profession in this Los Angeles Times article. " Most [travel writers]— myself included — have scant preparation and back into the profession, which is an illegitimate child in the world of the letters. There's no graduate program culminating in a master of travel arts degree. Journalists consider it frivolous and easy. Poets and novelists look at it as slumming," she writes.

Here's the bit I'm determined to prove wrong, however: " Professional travelers can rarely have dogs, gardens, children or any other variety of significant other."


My all-time
favorite story
on the genre


Columbia Journalism Review: Tom Swick lambastes the genre. The 2001 article is titled "Roads Not Taken" and kicks off with the question Why is so much of travel writing boring? Highly recommended.

"The Travel section has enormous potential precisely because of its life of low expectations. It need not adhere to the strictures of journalism that govern the rest of the newspaper – brevity, clarity, distance; instead it can accommodate leisurely, nuanced, occasionally passionate writing. Because it is not the most important section of the paper – quite the contrary – it can experiment, take risks, have fun. It should -- by virtue of its generous space, deadlines, and subject matter – feature the best writing in the newspaper."


Talkin'
money
 
Learn to dodge the bullet of bad assignments with "Should you take that job?". Tom Brosnahan challenges the industry's pay rates in "Is Guidebook Writing Worth the Money?". Finally, the UK's National Union of Journalists offers a Freelance Fees Guide, as well as EU late payment fees and a nifty interest calculator.

A few
favorite
blogs
 


Even the venerable Arthur Frommer admitted: “The blog has come to travel. Just as political writers have created their own Internet sites for daily comments (a Web log, or “blog”), distinguished travel guidebook writers are now writing about their own geographical specialties online.”

Several of the best double as industry watchdogs: Worldhum, Carl Parkes' www.travelwriters.blogspot.com and Rolf Pott's http://vagablogging.net.


Read before
you write

 


"While travelers have been sending back personal dispatches from the road for centuries, the first-person narrative – shaped like a work of fiction with a beginning, middle and end – has really come into its own only in the last 50 years or so,” pointed out Lonely Planet's Global Travel Editor Don George, also the author of Travel Writing.

Paul Theroux's first travel book, The Great Railway Bazaar, marked a turning point in 1975. The curmudgeonly bestseller was “a pivotal part of a widespread movement that liberated travel writing from the confines of pure guidebook writing, and began to equate first-person narrative with literary art,” George said.

Other contemporary authors have gained literary laurels: Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, Pico Iyer's Video Night in Kathmandu, Tim Cahill's Pass the Butterworms, Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard and nearly Jan Morris's entire catalogue, especially Journeys. Peter Mayle's 1989 memoir, A Year in Provence, sold over a million copies, was translated into seventeen languages, and became a popular British TV serial.” Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes won similar commercial success and a silver-screen debut. Bill Bryson has grown so monumental, he tackled A Short History of Nearly Everything in 2004.

Guidebooks too have their superstars. Arthur Frommer and Rick Steves, among others, have spun themselves into multimedia franchises. Even group-authored travel tomes enjoyed a boost: sales swelled 23 percent to $222 million from 1997-2000, then diminished slightly post-9-11. Nevertheless, as of 2005, Lonely Planet sold six million copies a year, dominating a quarter of the estimated English-language market .

Armchair anthologies are another growing venue for both new work and reprints. Travelers' Tales is a leader with 60+ titles in print. The imprint ranges from anecdotes (collected by country or region) to advice compilations like Mary Beth Bond's best-selling Gutsy Women: Travel Tips and Wisdom.

Major publishing houses – like Vintage, Random House, Broadway Books and Crown Journeys – are best approached through agents, who generally represent established authors with book proposals (20-60 pages) or new talent with finished manuscripts. Some travel writers prefer to skirt the system and self-publish, keeping a larger share of the profits. Tom Brosnahan led the charge with his 2004 memoir Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea. But he built on a stellar reputation, having sold nearly four million guidebooks worldwide in 12 languages for imprints like Berlitz, Frommer's and Lonely Planet.

“Publishing your own guidebook profitably can still be done today, but it's far more difficult,” he cautioned on Writers Website Planner, an advice archive he maintains online. “Well-known series grew up with world tourism, expanding the load on bookshelves in tandem with the increase in the number of travelers. Now the bookshelves are stuffed with good titles, the long post-oil-crisis economic boom is over, terrorism threats are crimping world tourism, and competition for readers is fierce.”


Reference,
scholarly texts
& writing advice
 


Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Associated Press Guide to Punctuation
Chicago Manual of Style
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Tourists with Typewriters
by Patrick Holland and Graham Huggin
Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing by Don George
The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda
Telling True Stories by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
The Travel Writer's Handbook by Louise Purwin Zobel
The Truth about Search Engine Optimization by Rebecca Lieb
A Writer's Coach by Jack Hart
Writing for Story by Jon Franklin
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

See more travel writing resources


Most convincing
study for more
travel coverage
 


Travel journalism splits into three broad groups: the inverted pyramid format, commentary and feature-style, also called narrative writing. The Readership Institute discovered that the latter increased satisfaction, as well as comprehension and retention of the material.

Its landmark Impact Study also revealed that the public craves more “go and do” information, nitty-gritty details like phone numbers, times, dates, addresses, contact names and Web sites. Women, especially, want more travel coverage. Younger readers favored a weekend getaways section, while occasional readers requested less staff-generated, local articles. International issues are desirable in the food, science, technology and environmental sections. Remember that the travel genre can stretch to include these topics – and others.


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