Recently, I shared with you my rather hopeful 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. As mentioned in the second part of this three-part series , this helpful guide – which appeals to travel writers of all types, from aspiring bloggers to veteran magazine journalists – was originally 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 – and especially useful for those interested in contributing articles to magazines, websites, and the like. Of course, in an effort to update the book for 2012 readers, Jacqueline has devoted a brief chapter to the newest possibilities offered by our digital age, such as mobile apps and eBooks.
Providing a slew of handy tips, suggestions, and shortcuts, this indispensable handbook will certainly teach you ways to research, organize, write, publish, and market travel articles of all kinds, whether you're hoping to justify the expense of a trip to Paris or simply planning to cover an annual event in your hometown. In addition, you'll find useful travel tips and recommended trip essentials, and as I've indicated in the second part of this blog series, you'll hopefully 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 keep in mind the audience for whom you're writing.
Following my interview with Jacqueline about her experiences and expertise, I decided to share some of the best lessons culled from the The Travel Writer's Handbook. For the second part of this blog series, I offered several tips from Part One of the guide, such as considering the importance of research prior to a trip. Here, now, are just some of the key points gleaned from Part Two:
Chapter 11: Asking the Question – “The query letter or email is the most important sales tool in the travel writer's repertoire. Although it looks like an extra step in the writing process, it's usually the quickest path to publication... Sometimes your query will sell your story before you write it; sometimes it will elicit the encouragement that indicates you're on the right track; and sometimes it will help you see that this particular idea isn't worth pursuing.” A query letter should be carefully written, demonstrate a focused article idea, and showcase your publishing experience or relevant background. Before querying, do all necessary research for the article and consult the publication's submission guidelines; some magazines, for instance, require a few sample photographs with each query. While an official assignment is usually the goal of a query, be prepared for an editorial “go-ahead” (which falls somewhere between a rejection and an assignment).
Chapter 12: Going on with the Show – “One basic precept we encounter again and again – and travel writers need to be reminded of it again and again – is that there's no such thing as 'writing generally.' Writing has to be for somebody – a particular publication, a particular reader.” When writing a specific travel article, take some time to choose your unique slant, figure out your message, identify your viewpoint, create an enticing hook and plot, craft a satisfying ending, and brainstorm possible titles. As with fiction writing, remember to “show, don't tell” – and don't forget about the all-important rewriting phase.
Chapter 13: Small (and Large) Talk – “The face-to-face interview is one of the travel writer's most important tools. Interviews translate abstract ideas into human terms, and they're indispensable for many types of stories.” Never be afraid to ask for an interview, which can be done in person, via email, or over the phone. Just remember to gather enough background information ahead of time, aim for specific answers during the interview, always ask the subject's permission before using an audio recorder, and never relinquish editorial control. Develop your own method of warming up to your subject, take note of the physical details (such as the setting and the subject's appearance), and be clear about what's “on” and “off” the record.
Chapter 14: Photos: Bringing 'Em Back Alive – “The successful travel writer knows illustrations in print or online help sell his story, because they enhance and enrich his words, giving the editor – and subsequently the reader – the entire picture... Even an inexperienced photographer can take pictures useful for recreating the travel experience, and a travel writer with modest shutter talents can illustrate his own stories.” Digital cameras have made the process easier, but you should always take care when choosing a camera (and any other photographic equipment) before your trip. It helps, too, to practice with your equipment ahead of time, brush up on some basic photo mechanics, be prepared for varied weather conditions, stretch your creativity when taking pictures, and consider the captions and articles that will accompany your photos. It's also important to back up all images, consider your rights carefully, and get signed model releases whenever necessary. When all else fails, you can reach out to countless sources for non-photographers.
Chapter 15: Find a Pattern, Make It Fit – “Most popular travel articles follow one or another of twelve patterns. Falling into four general categories, the patterns interlock and overlap, and often more than one pattern is discernible in a published piece... So it's a good idea to start with a popular pattern when you're planning or looking for a travel story.” Most of the time, travel articles will be written from your own experiences, crafted for special audiences, designed to take readers on a journey, or compiled with easy “pegs” in mind, such as a roundup article about America's most unique museums.
Chapter 16: All You Don't Know but Can Find Out – “Mobile applications (or 'apps') are fast replacing traditional travel guidebooks, and for good reason: They're lightweight, portable, interactive, inexpensive to publish, and quick and easy to update. That makes them appealing to publishers, authors, and travelers alike.” Just remember to take care when choosing a publisher for your apps, and don't forget about the possibility of self-published eBooks.
Chapter 17: Minding Your Own Business – “People think that, being travel writers, we are flown hither and yon, first class all the way, with all expenses paid by the client who will print our stories and photographs and pay us for our work... The reality depends on circumstances that vary from trip to trip, from year to year, from day to day. Yes, being a travel writer generates some trip advantages and some tax advantages. No, it doesn't create a payless paradise of pure pleasure.” While it's possible to take advantage of travel freebies, such as press junkets, it's important to maintain your integrity at all times, which means finding out what such freebies entail in advance, avoiding promises of positive coverage, and being fair with your subsequent reviews. It's also important to note that some publications won't accept stories generated from press trips and other travel freebies. So, abide by your own code of ethics and hang onto all receipts – you never know when something might be tax-deductible.
Chapter 18: Good Writing Is Hard Work – “Writing is a public profession. You reveal so much of yourself. You may be writing about somebody quite different in a setting far away, but there's always a great deal of you in the story. Your secrets, your mistakes are there for the world to see. This is not a profession for one who takes each rejection slip as an indication of total failure or as a personal insult.” Generally speaking, today's travelers are looking for stories that showcase interesting people or dispense travel advice, but no matter what you write, you should try to find a fresh approach, prepare yourself for constant change (such as rising prices, evolving technologies, and hotel closures), and continue to stretch your writing skills.
Naturally, that's just a small portion of the helpful lessons learned from The Travel Writer's Handbook. If you long to be a travel writer, perhaps you'll consider seeking out this handy resource, which has even taught an experienced writer like me a few new tricks. It's important to note, however, that this handbook doesn't promise a surefire path to becoming a successful travel writer. As with most careers, it requires a lot of time, patience, and trial-and-error – rejections, I'm afraid, are an occupational hazard. As Jacqueline and Louise state in the introduction, “The ideas expressed in The Travel Writer's Handbook have, in our experience, proved helpful, and we hope they will prove helpful to you. But, of course, there is no assurance that all the pieces of the puzzle will always fit together advantageously. In the end, each of us must find our own way to satisfaction.”
For other perspectives on becoming a successful (or, at least, fulfilled) travel writer, take a look at my previous posts about the downside of being a perfectionistic travel writer , the top 10 ways to improve your travel writing , and the truth about writing travel guides .
So, what about you? Where have you learned the most helpful hints for being a successful travel writer?
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