Ecuador, Day 4: How to Sell Your Articles to Editors
It’s the last day of our Ecuador Travel Writing Expedition and we’ve just spent several hours shopping in Otavalo at the largest indigenous market in South America.
Saturday is the busiest day of the week at the market, and the main square is lined with booths, each selling a different local craft or ware.
From intricately- woven sweaters and tapestries to hand-made jewelry to colorful scarves and blankets to local artwork, the selection of goods is astounding. And the prices aren’t half bad either. (Beautiful handmade scarves for $1.50, alpaca blankets for $12, turquoise earrings for $15…)
It’s the perfect place to pick up a few (or an extra suitcase of) souvenirs before it’s time to say goodbye and head back home.
And, while several attendees made out pretty well in their bargain -shopping today (even picking up a few new bags to lug home all their new purchases), I think perhaps the best souvenirs they’ll walk away with are all the great travel writing tips they’ve picked up this past week, too.
As you saw in my note on Thursday, most attendees are even leaving with finished articles they can send to editors when they get home.
So, freelance travel writer, Steenie Harvey ended the workshop with a few tips for selling those articles to editors.
**Read the writer’s guidelines. Before you can begin the process of contacting publications, make sure you read the writer’s guidelines for each place you’d like to submit so you know exactly how to proceed and who to contact. Does that publication accept full stories or do you need you to query first? Is there one main editor that you should contact or should you be e-mailing a specific department?
**Know your publication. Become familiar with the publication that you’d like to submit your story to. See what other types of articles they’re running and make sure yours fits with the tone, writing style, and viewpoint they’re trying to convey. Realize their target audience and make sure you’re submitting an article that they’ll want to read.
**Follow instructions. If an editor gives you a 1,000 word max, only write 1,000 words. An editor won’t be impressed that you were able to write more; they’ll be annoyed you don’t understand how to follow instructions. Also, if they suggest you write about a specific event or draw for a destination, don’t go on to write about a completely different topic. (For instance, Ie: Iif an editor asks you to write about how Cotacachi, Ecuador is known for their its leather goods, don’t come back with an article ranking the local discotecas and karaoke bars.)
**Stay on deadline. Most publications plan their issues months in advance. And your stories need to be in by a certain date in order for everything to go out on time. Don’t take an assignment if you don’t think you’ll be able to complete it on time.
**Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read. It may sound obvious, but proof-read your articles carefully — at least three times before sending them in. Use spell-check on your computer and, if possible, have a second set of eyes go over it, to catch something you may not have noticed. Try to make sure all your facts are correct, too. Even small errors could tarnish your credibility with knowledgeable readers.
**Stay positive. Remember that you’re trying to convince your reader to travel to a destination, not frighten them into never going there. Try to keep your articles light and focus on the positive points of your trip, even if there may have been some negative ones. For example, you wouldn’t focus on the fact that you got mugged on a trip to Quito, but you may encourage readers not to walk around by themselves at night in an unknown city.
**Use the correct format. Most publications today request electronic submissions; however, in the off-chance that one asks for a print version by mail, you should be prepared to send them whatever format they require. You can usually find this information in the Writer’s Guidelines. Most publications that work with new writer’s will ask that you send your article or query letter in the body of your e-mail, instead of as an attachment, to avoid the issue of viruses.
**Keep it short and sweet. Editors are busy people. And your article isn’t the only one they’ll be receiving. Keep your e-mails to them correspondence short. And make sure that you identity yourself with your full name and contact details. Unless you contribute to a publication regularly, they won’t be able to identify you simply by your e-mail address.
**Don’t be a badger. I’ll say it again. Editors are busy people. And your article isn’t the only one they’ll be receiving. Be patient when submitting articles. If you’ve been given an assignment and you clearly followed the writer’s guidelines, it may take a month or even two months for them to get back to you. Try not to get frustrated. And certainly don’t take your frustrations out on the editor if you’d like to continue working with them.
**Don’t make ridiculous demands. Remember that being a travel writer is as much about the exciting lifestyle and perks as it is about the payment you receive for your articles. When you’re just starting it, you shouldn’t be making ridiculous demands or monetary requests. And if you do eventually receive an expense account while traveling, don’t abuse it.
These tips might sound obvious (and we certainly try to drill them into the heads of each and every reader who buys one of our programs and/or attends one of our live events), but they go a long way.
It’s not so much that you’re competing against the best of the best writers in the business when you try to sell your travel article to editors. It’s that you’re competing with hordes and hordes of really bad writers who don’t follow these simple guidelines.
Do it right. Follow the rules. And you’ll immediately put yourself ahead of the pack.
[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.]