By Tom Schueneman, Editor, The Traveler in San Francisco, CA
I’m writing from Florida City, near the southeast entrance to Everglades National Park, where I’ll spend the day exploring before I move on down through the Florida Keys.
This next week I get to do what I love — explore new places, write down my thoughts, take photos, and then assemble it all for future publication in my ezine, The Traveler.
I just returned from AWAI’s Copywriting Bootcamp, and this is the first time in days I’ve actually had a moment to sit down and write. While that program focused on copywriting (the art of writing marketing sales copy), I was struck by how much of what the experts shared makes sense in travel writing, too
As an editor of a travel publication, I cull through dozens of submissions a week. I wish more of them employed, in particular, two very smart copywriting techniques articulated at this conference.
Before I divulge them, I want to point out two fundamentals I think every freelancer should keep in mind:
As a travel writer, your job involves selling: an idea, a destination, a point of view. If nothing else, you’re selling your own voice — selling the reader on listening to what you have to say.
Also, as a freelance writer, you’re in business. And to be successful in business, you need to sell something. Remember that as you prepare your next query letter. You’ve got sell the editor on your idea.
Now, that said, let me move on to the two copywriting techniques I think are most important to travel writing — and will improve not only your writing, but your ability to sell it.
COPYWRITING RULE #1: Know Your Audience
You’ve heard this time and again in this e-letter, but it’s so important, I think it bears repeating. You’ve got to know who your audience is to make a connection with them. At the very least, you must be familiar with the look and tone of a publication as well as its submission guidelines.
But it goes deeper than that. Think about the readers, the men and women opening up the magazine or newspaper. Who are they? Picture them in your mind. Are you writing to a middle-aged man? A twenty-something woman? What makes these readers tick?
I critique travel articles for students, and when they submit their work, they are asked to define their target audience. Often I get statements like, “Adults that love the outdoors.” I am an adult who loves the outdoors. But does that mean I am the same as all other adults who “love the outdoors?” Hardly.
A more targeted audience definition is one that’s more specific. For example: “adult males over forty who enjoy hiking and nature photography.” Now you have a much better idea about who you’re writing to. And that means you can craft a more compelling article for that audience.
The more precise a sense you have for the audience you are writing to, the more effective your writing will be, and the happier you’ll make not only your editor, but your readers.
COPYWRITING RULE #2: Find Your USP
A USP is a “unique selling proposition.” Translated into travel-writer lingo, I think of this as the “Big Idea.” It’s your unique angle, what sets your article apart from the rest.
Developing a compelling and truly unique USP is not easy. But it is critical. Few places in this world haven’t been written about before. And editors find themselves flooded with articles about all the same things to see and do in all the same popular tourist destinations.
It’s imperative that you come up with a fresh angle that will draw people into your article and make them want to read on to the end.
The USP is similar to the “promise” or theme that a good travel writer will develop in his or her lead. But it also goes a little deeper than that. A well-crafted USP informs every sentence that you write. When you keep a unique angle in mind as you write, you’ll find your article is more focused and more energized.
I recently published an article in The Traveler called “Speaking Easy: Understanding British Pub Menus.” This was, ostensibly, an article about British cuisine, the premise being that many people think British food is terrible.
The author takes a humorous approach to her subject. And her USP is that she goes through a typical British Pub menu and describes items like “Bangers and Mash,” “Bubble and Squeak,” and “Spotted Dick.”
By the time you read through to the end, you have a good notion of what makes a typical British dish, and you think that, in fact, maybe the food isn’t so bad after all — if you’re prepared for it, that is.
That article was the most widely read in the issue it appeared in, and that’s because the author had come up with an excellent USP – a unique angle that sucked the reader in and carried him through to the end.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]