American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
A Helpful Handbook for Hopeful Travel Writers, Part 2
In my last post, I shared a recent conversation with Jacqueline Harmon Butler, co-author of The Travel Writer's Handbook: How to Write – and Sell – Your Own Travel Experiences (Chicago: Agate Publishing, Inc., 2012, $18.95), the seventh edition of which was published earlier this year. Originally, this helpful guide – which appeals to travel writers of all types, from aspiring bloggers to veteran magazine journalists – was assembled by Louise Purwin Zobel, who produced the first five editions of the book before her death in 2008. The last two editions, however, were revised by Jacqueline, an award-winning travel writer and travel-writing instructor who currently lives in San Francisco.
With 18 informative chapters, a glossary of relevant terms, and a list of suggested expenses for travel writers, the current, well-updated version of this bestselling handbook provides a thorough, step-by-step overview of the travel-writing process, from choosing your target markets and pitching article ideas to preparing for research trips and, yes, writing the actual stories. After reviewing this helpful reference guide (and dog-earring several key pages), I confess to learning quite a few tricks of the trade, though, admittedly, this handbook is particularly helpful for those trying to break into the travel-writing business. It's especially useful for anyone interested in contributing articles to magazines, websites, and the like – though Jacqueline has devoted a brief chapter to the newest possibilities offered by our digital age, such as mobile apps and eBooks.
Besides providing a slew of handy tips, suggestions, and shortcuts, this handbook is also rather inspiring. “While some publications – both print and online – have quietly shut down operations,” the introduction begins, “that neither forecasts the end of travel nor the end of the written word. Even when the popularity of some destinations changes as a result of world events, travel itself remains a constant. The desire to see and experience what others have enjoyed remains a desire of the reader. Yes, there is a need for travel writers today and beyond.”
Although it won't offer you basic writing techniques – after all, plenty of other books provide lessons on grammar, punctuation, and so forth – The Travel Writer's Handbook will definitely teach you ways to research, organize, write, publish, and market travel articles of all kinds, whether you're planning to review a favorite restaurant in your hometown or hoping to recoup the costs of a globetrotting adventure. In addition, you'll find helpful travel tips and recommended trip essentials. Hopefully, you'll also come to understand the awesome responsibility that the travel writer has to the reader – not only to get the facts and details right, but also to convey the emotional experience of a particular destination, activity, or issue – and to bear in mind the audience for whom you're writing.
Following my interview with Jacqueline about her experiences and expertise, I've decided to share some of the best lessons culled from The Travel Writer's Handbook. Here, then, are just some of the key points from Part One:
Chapter 1: Joining Substance to Style – “The travel writer is not the passive tourist who always eats at the name restaurant because 'everybody goes there.' You'll seek out your own adventures and feel confident that what you have to say about them will prove valuable to others.” While being a travel writer is an intriguing and rewarding job, it's important to note that it's also ongoing and demanding, requiring instinct, insight, imagination, enthusiasm, curiosity, and patience. While it's not the most lucrative field, “its fringe benefits are irresistible.”
Chapter 2: Putting Yourself on Stage – “In the digital age, it's more important than ever to build a reputation. In person, of course, you should keep commitments and be on time. Be someone people can count on to do what you agree to do... Make sure that you write truthfully and your stories are well researched. These days, most writers also have websites or blogs to showcase their work.” Using social networks to promote your work and joining travel writers' organizations or writers' groups can also be beneficial.
Chapter 3: Research Is the Answer. What's the Question – “While it might seem as though the trip itself is the story and pre-trip research is unnecessary, 'being there' is never enough. To write successfully about travel, we need to begin at the beginning and learn all we can before we leave home.” You can gather such research in a variety of places, such as your own bookshelves, a local library, the Internet, tourism bureaus, illustrated lectures, and interviews with knowledgeable travelers. Be open to current and upcoming travel trends; develop a useful system for organizing your data; and remember to use discretion when perusing travel resources – not everything you read is accurate or worth your time.
Chapter 4: Tapping Your Natural Resources – “Going there is seldom enough for the travel writer. Nobody but another writer seems to realize that travel articles require subject and market research before you go, while you're traveling, and after you return home... Subject research is the keystone of the writer's craft; it's a big part of the plus value... The danger is that the research will become an end in itself. The writer becomes so enamored of the research materials that he or she keeps postponing the actual sitting down at that keyboard.” It's advisable, then, to spend your time wisely and research in the most likely places, from special libraries to related magazine articles.
Chapter 5: To Market, to Market – “Successful writing is always for somebody. It's for a particular publication, a particular reader. Successful writing is aimed and slanted, facts astutely selected to appeal to a well-defined segment of the reading public.” Luckily, there are countless outlets for travel articles, from health publications to inflight magazines to electronic media, so consider all possibilities, study your target magazines and websites, keep track of all editorial correspondence (including rejection letters!), and learn to use the same research for multiple projects.
Chapter 6: Prepare for Takeoff – “Whether you're going to Malagasy or Mali, whether your journey is to the next town or across nine time zones, do as much homework as you can when you're getting ready to go. Otherwise you're likely to be disappointed in dozens of wretched little ways – and plenty of big ways, too.” While planning your trip, determine your objectives, take into account your habits and interests, line up all interviews and required tickets in advance, research the destination's local customs and holidays, decide whether you need a tour guide or would prefer to travel on your own, and consider all other necessary details, from passports and proper apparel to money matters and health considerations.
Chapter 7: Hitting the Road – “There are several things a travel writer must carry – even if you have to leave behind your toothbrush and clean underwear. The first necessity is something to show you're a writer. Take along membership cards to travel or writing organizations, a press card if you have one, and a walletful of printed business cards that will serve to introduce you as a travel writer or journalist, especially if you're going overseas.” Of course, the list of trip essentials is potentially endless, encompassing items like cameras, audio recorders, travel journals, travel literature, mobile devices, alarm clocks, itineraries, tickets, flashlights, ear plugs, first aid kits, local change, personal documents (e.g., passports and health records), and the like. And don't forget about the matter of appropriate wardrobe and luggage items.
Chapter 8: Sense and Sensibility – “You have to remain aware and alert, continually searching for ideas and information. Even 'relaxed,' on holiday, your mind is always working... Give yourself a goal of finding at least five stories on each trip.” Consider taking a brief sightseeing tour to help orient yourself to a new destination, and don't be afraid to ask your guide questions. Try, too, to keep a lookout for special story angles, notice details with all of your senses, meet the locals (even in ordinary places like shops and churches), and take the time to embrace all forms of transportation, from ferries and funiculars to perhaps the best mode of travel, your feet.
Chapter 9: Follow the Reader – “Sometimes addressing a particular type of traveler will be important in your stories and articles. Keep your reader in mind when you query an outlet or when you actually write the piece.” Remember to take solid notes during your trip (whether via notebook or tape recorder), absorb the atmosphere of a place as well as the factual details, balance the positive and negative aspects of a travel experience, use specific details versus empty adjectives, and double-check all your information.
Chapter 10: Getting Things Write – “You may expect your story to write itself once you get home and listen to your tapes, look at your photographs, and review the printed material you've collected. But don't count on it. You usually need a many-pronged assault to compile the research for any story. If you're alert to the possibilities before, during, and after your trip, you can combine the various sources so they reinforce each other.” It might help to discuss your subject with others or refer to information in your stored research files, but no matter what, be sure to verify any and all information. “The satisfaction of feeling you've done your best to provide accurate information for your audience cannot be matched.”
For more helpful advice about being a successful travel writer – or at least getting started in the business – stay tuned for my next post, which will offer a few key lessons from the second half of The Travel Writer's Handbook.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Cover of The Travel Writer's Handbook courtesy of Agate Publishing, Inc. / Text © 2012 Laura Martone