I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at last weekend’s Connect, Celebrate & Collaborate PWAC on the Prairies Regional Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I’ve been a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada since 1997 and have found my PWAC membership to be the most significant factor in the development of my career as a professional freelance writer. I eased into travel writing in 1997 and joined the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) in 1998. Each association has its own attributes and is recommended for anyone who is serious about their career as a professional travel writer.
Tourism Saskatchewan was kind enough to cover my costs to get me to the conference and asked that I focus on encouraging those in attendance (who were primarily from Saskatchewan) to find excitement in local stories and share them with the world. I also promised to share the highlights of my two-hour presentation on my blog and am pleased to include them here. If you are a travel writer, please feel free to include your own tips in the comments section. We all learn by sharing.
Travel Writing Tips and Insights
- What is a travel story? A travel story can be any story that focuses on a place or series of places strung together by a common thread. There’s no need to travel halfway around the world to find an interesting or exotic travel story. Things that are happening in your city, town, or region may be of interest to specific target markets. Your story might be about an upcoming event, a fascinating entrepreneur whose business might be of interest to visitors, a new hotel property or restaurant that is doing something special, an out-of-the-way natural highlight or phenomenon, etc.
- Keep your focus tight. It’s harder to sell a general “round-up story” about a specific location than it is to sell a story that zeroes in on a specific and unique angle. More generalized information might be useful or requested for sidebars in a story but it is the specific nuggets of new or unknown information that will attract the editor’s eye and snag you an assignment.
- Quirky is hot! Look for story angles that are odd, unusual, or unexpected. I tried to sell a story about matchbook collecting a few years ago and was told it was too quirky. I bet today it would sell.
- Niche is nice. Become known for being an expert in a certain field. Whether your niche is sports, culinary or arts related, having a specialty and becoming an expert will make you the go-to person for a story on that topic. My niche is chocolate travel, and by no coincidence, most of the assignments I’ve had lately have specifically been on chocolate travel.
- Look to trade magazines as being a source of regular assignments. Many trade magazines have a travel component to them and are looking for reliable freelancers to provide them with a steady stream of story ideas. They may not pay the best, but they have ongoing needs and may become a steady client, plus they usually just license first or one-time rights so that you are free to use the research for another piece or sell a similar story elsewhere.
- Try to develop alternate sources of income in addition to your writing. Photography is hugely important in travel writing and videography is becoming increasingly important as “value-added” services. Speaking engagements can be quite lucrative, and if you establish a niche, you may be asked to speak about it. As well, speaking engagements can often get you free trips on cruise ships or train travel as Irene Gordon wrote about in this post.
- Blogging is not a waste of time. If you establish your own travel blog and it develops a good audience, this will influence travel destinations that you may be approaching for complimentary travel. Plus, in time, your blog will attract paying advertisers or you can approach target businesses who may wish to advertise on your site for a fee.
- Remember that there is a code of ethics by which professional travel writers work by. Visit TMAC’s website and find them here.
I hope these tips inspire you and help you to think of travel stories and markets you otherwise may have missed. And if you live in Canada, please consider joining TMAC. I’ll be looking for you in Saskatoon in June when we’ll converge from across the country for our 2013 national conference.