What you know about good travel writing holds true, in my view, of all good writing.
The skills I teach in The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course, many of which I’ve also discussed here in past issues of The Write Way to Travel — like how to read critically, analyze your audience, grab a reader’s attention, organize your material, and so on — those skills will serve you well no matter what kind of writing you do.
So, too, will falling into the good habits the most successful travel writers employ — like noticing stand-out details all around you, discovering article ideas wherever you look, writing daily (or at least regularly).
And what you know about getting in touch with editors and marketing your material applies well beyond travel writing as well.
This week, I thought to introduce you to a few ways you can parlay your travel-writing know-how into related writing opportunities — some of which often pay better than travel writing typically does.
*** Pursue an Interest
One way to increase the number of writing commissions you get is to position yourself as an “expert” in some field. I’ve put “expert” in quotes because while having an advanced degree in horticulture, for example, would allow you to claim an official expertise — you needn’t endure all the coursework to build a reputation as somebody who writes with authority on that subject.
Let’s say you love to garden. Whenever you travel, you do so with an eye to what’s in bloom. You go out of your way to tour botanical gardens. You take in flower shows. You visit castles for the grounds. When you trek through a rainforest you’re more interested in the bromeliads than the howler monkeys.
There is absolutely no reason why you can’t start writing stories that are plant-related. They could be plant-and-travel-related — perhaps you write a piece about Sweden’s summer gardens or about fall displays in America’s mid-Atlantic or about a plant-related nature hike through the Ecuadorian Andes.
And you might position these articles for travel publications — or you might not. You could just as easily write for Horticulture magazine or Chicagoland Gardening or the Australian publication Your Garden, for example.
I have no official schooling in real estate. Yet I suppose I’m what you’d consider an expert of sorts on international property investing. I’ve spent much of the past decade on the road for International Living and Island Properties Report — seeking out not just travel ideas readers of those publications would enjoy, but also investment opportunities. I really don’t think I could count the number of undeveloped beaches I’ve strolled along. I certainly couldn’t put an exact figure to the number of homes I’ve toured around the world.
And so, a bit by default mind you, I’ve developed a certain perspective the average traveler (and even the typical travel writer) doesn’t have. I can talk about relative values. I can tell you what $50,000 will buy you on Nicaragua’s coast and what the same cash will get you on a lake in Guatemala, for example.
And so when the BBC was looking for somebody to talk to about direct, individual foreign investment in Ireland, they called me. When AARP wanted to do a special feature online about where to retire overseas, they called me.
There’s no reason why you can’t develop for yourself the same sort of specialization. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to Scuba dive — do it. If you really love it, learn about it. And write about it.
If you’ve always loved to cook — and your friends praise your magic in the kitchen, try out a cooking school in India and write about it. Or take a food-and-wine tour through France and write about it. Or stay close to home. You could do a round-up piece for the food section of your local paper about five places you can learn to cook nearby.
Pursue what interests you. There’s no reason why you can’t parlay those interests into an “expertise” that can increase your writing income. I assure you — collect by-lines for three cooking-related articles, and all of a sudden, you’ll be not just a travel writer… but a food writer, too.
*** Cash in on Expertise You Already Have
I’ve met a remarkably diverse selection of folks in the travel-writing workshops I’ve taught over the years. Architects. Physicians. Teachers. Accountants. University professors. Guitarists. Opera singers. Painters. These folks already have an expertise. You may as well.
So think about what you read for your “professional” career. Why not write for one of those publications? Your stories needn’t be travel-related at all, though they certainly could be.
A “clip” is a clip is a clip. What I mean is that as you’re starting out and working hard to get those first three by-lines so you can show editors you really are a professional and begin to develop for yourself some track record as a writer — it doesn’t matter if those clips are travel-related or not.
Certainly, a travel editor would like to see some travel clips. But it’s not absolutely critical. The editor wants to see that you can write. And she can discern that from a non-travel piece just as easily as from an article devoted to travel.
*** Break into Promotional Travel Writing
If you’re really most interested in travel and travel writing, then you might consider branching out beyond straight editorial into travel-related promotional work.
Writing persuasively is critical to good travel writing. And as you gain success as a travel writer, you’re polishing the techniques you can employ to persuade your reader to take action — to book a trip that follows in your footsteps, for example.
As you can imagine, that’s exactly what a travel brochure is meant to do — sell a destination or a tour or a service or a hotel. And so many of the same skills you already possess will apply directly to marketing writing that’s travel-related.
As a rule, marketing writing tends to pay better that editorial writing. That said, however, I’d suggest you start small — just as I suggest you start your career writing articles by approaching lesser-known publications.
Look at small tour operators overseas who might need help with their websites, for example. Perhaps you stayed at a great B&B in rural Mexico — you stumbled across it by accident and their promotional materials just don’t do the place justice. You could offer to do a new brochure for them.
In the same way you’re building your portfolio of travel articles you can build a portfolio of travel brochures or travel marketing materials. And just as one by-line leads to another so does one marketing job.
While you might not be paid — at least at the outset — more than a couple of hundred dollars to put a short brochure together, you can raise your fees as you gain experience and clients. And one way to cash in on travel perks would be to offer a hotel a new brochure or new website copy in exchange for a few nights’ stay, for example.
I write a lot of travel-related direct-mail copy. This tends to be longer marketing copy sent to a specific audience to sell — in the case of most of my clients — tours or conferences.
I’m usually writing about a destination I’ve covered in editorial (so I’m comfortable writing about the character of the place). I’ll write, for instance, about a week-long health and healing excursion to Ecuador or an investment trip to Honduras. To me, it’s a lot like writing travel editorial. And, typically, it pays much better. An experienced “copywriter” as such marketing-writer types are called — can earn anywhere from $1,800 to $5,000 or more for such a project.
[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.]