Nearly three weeks ago, I shared with you the top 10 ways to improve your travel writing , courtesy of Tripbase . In the post, I mentioned a reference guide called 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 Harmon Butler, an award-winning travel writer who currently lives in San Francisco.
With 18 informative chapters, 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 decided to interview Jacqueline about her experiences and expertise – and happily, she agreed to have a chat with me via email:
American Nomad: According to the bio on your website , you began to write about your travels after a memorable trip to Paris in 1979. What was your first encounter with the City of Light like, and what made you decide to pursue a travel-writing career 17 years later (in 1996)?
Jacqueline Harmon Butler: It was love at first sight with Paris. I felt like I was coming home and was surprised at my ability to easily find my way around and somehow understand the French language. Everything was enchanting for me. Over the years, I had been writing letters to my friends and family about my travels. One day, I saw an ad for a weekend travel writer's conference and decided to sign up. My story won second place at the conference, and I began to pursue a travel-writing career.
AN: What did you do prior to becoming a travel writer, and how has your background (both personal and professional) inspired – or at least influenced – your career as a travel writer?
JHB: I was an accessories sales manager in the fashion industry and traveled around in the USA, then in Western Europe. During those travels, I wrote about absolutely everything in my travel diaries. I have always been interested in food and cuisine, and so wherever I traveled, I always ate something, and so, food began to play a bigger role in my stories.
AN: Although I have an English degree and a background in journalism, my travel-writing career was actually kick-started with a simple query letter to a travel magazine while venturing across America in an RV. So, how did your enrollment in a weekend travel-writing conference propel your career as a travel writer?
JHB: Winning second place in the conference's writing contest gave me the confidence to send my stories out to potential publishers. Sure, the rejections hurt, but I kept sending stories out and slowly began to sell some of them. I met some other writers at the conference, and we formed a critique group to help each other out.
AN: Louise Purwin Zobel produced the first five editions of The Travel Writer's Handbook, so how did you initially get involved with this worthwhile project?
JHB: Louise was getting older and no longer had the stamina to research and update another book. My agent connected me with the publisher, and I was hired to update the sixth and seventh editions of The Travel Writer's Handbook.
AN: As a relatively young member of the Society of American Travel Writers , I often hear about how much the travel industry has changed over the past few decades. In your opinion, how has travel writing evolved in recent years?
JHB: With the economy in trouble worldwide, magazines and newspapers are shrinking. Many publications have ceased to exist. Consequently, there aren't as many paying outlets for travel stories and articles. Many travel writers are now posting online, writing blogs, submitting to online e-zines, etc. These markets either don't pay or pay very little. I have to be honest with you. My advice is to submit stories and articles to outlets you might not have thought about before. Be creative.
AN: Your book is incredibly helpful for amateur and professional travel writers alike – filled as it is with advice on everything from the researching phase to potential markets. But I'm wondering, besides getting a copy of The Travel Writer's Handbook, what's your number-one piece of advice for would-be travel writers?
JHB: My advice is to go somewhere – around the block, across town, or to a faraway destination. Take notes. Take photos. Notice everything. Talk to the local people. Taste the food. Watch what is going on and listen to everything. Read as many travel articles as you can find. If you liked any of them, ask yourself why. What was the most important part of the article? Did it inspire you to go to that destination?
AN: You mention a variety of travel-related books in your “research” chapter. Just out of curiosity, is there one travelogue or author that has inspired you most?
JHB: Rick Steves  has been an inspiration to me for years. His “down-to-earth” attitude is full of information and advice. One of the best things he ever advised was: “Never pass an opportunity to use the toilet when you see one because who knows when you will have another opportunity!”
AN: Given that I write a blog called American Nomad , I have to ask... What's your favorite city in the United States, and why?
JHB: I love San Francisco  because of all the opportunities to experience different cultures right in one city. Take your nose on an adventure: Smell the exotic spices in Chinatown, breathe in the odor of fresh baking bread, pizza, and garlic in North Beach, enjoy the fragrance of peppers and chili in the Mission District, inhale the fishy smells in North Beach, and then to Ghiradelli Square where the air is filled with the tantalizing smell of chocolate. Of course, there are all the cultural treats, beautiful views, and cuisine from around the world to enjoy and inspire.
AN: Considering all the articles and books that you've written over the course of your career, what's your favorite place (or places) that you've covered?
JHB: I like to write about Paris, France, and Venice, Italy.
AN: Oh, yes, I love Venice – it's an incredibly unique city! Still, is there any destination in the world that you've never been to but always wanted to visit?
JHB: I would like to visit Valencia, Spain, to taste the oranges.
So, if you long to be a travel writer, then I hope you've enjoyed my conversation with Jacqueline. If you'd like to learn a bit more about what it takes to be a successful travel writer, stay tuned for my next post  in which I plan to discuss some of the best lessons culled from 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