Travel editor Orion Ray-Jones says he’s looking mostly for stories he doesn’t want to put down. Stories that glue him to the page and have him repeating details to his friends and family the next day.
Read on for Orion’s interview with AWAI’s Christina Merchant and his advice to first-time travel writers, below…
CHRISTINA: Hi Orion. When you think about the writer you most like to work with… what makes him or her so special?
ORION RAY-JONES: The writers who really make me excited have the ability to really glue me to the page. A great story is the kind you can’t put down, the kind that can prevent anything from distracting you. The travel writers whose works I seek out create the kind of pieces that I find myself repeating to friends and family whenever I get the chance. They find fantastic stories that have never been told and then approach them from novel angles with poetic language and unique voices.
CHRISTINA: If you had to name one thing you wish more freelancers understood, what would it be?
ORION RAY-JONES: Be original. Bring me topics that will surprise and intrigue me, and develop innovative ways to present them, both in terms of how you report the story and how you structure the language. That first-person travelogue of syrupy, adjective-laden writing about a Tuscan wine tour is too painful to bear. I know there’s wine in Italy, and unless you’re famous, I’m not interested in your diary about tasting it. Surprise me! There are so many bad clichés in travel; avoid them.
CHRISTINA: What would you say is the most important thing somebody starting out can do to improve their odds of getting published?
ORION RAY-JONES: New writers should be constantly writing and reading.
If you’re not already blogging, you need to start. Not only does daily writing improve your skills as a reporter and editor of your own words, it produces clips to show off to potential clients.
And, as these clips haven’t gone through the filter of an editorial staff, they give editors a true idea of your unadulterated voice and journalistic abilities.
It also forces you to stay on top of what’s happening within the travel industry. Plus, within our quickly evolving media landscape, an understanding of effective digital content is essential.
Just as important as creating your own content is consuming that of others. It often amazes me how little travel literature aspiring travel writers read. You have to understand the market, and the only way to do that is to study what types of content are being published.
CHRISTINA: What’s the best way to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry?
ORION RAY-JONES: Subscribe to every influential travel magazine. Bookmark every noteworthy newspaper travel blog. Read, view or listen to every award-winning travel book, video or podcast. Study the structure of these pieces; what makes them innovative? Try to figure out the patterns in what topics certain outlets are choosing to publish. Take note of what destinations and angles have been overexposed and therefore will be of little interest to commissioning editors. Suffer through the bad stories, deciphering what makes them unreadable.
The only way to develop your skills and make it in this business is to be really passionate about the craft of travel writing. I can spot a love of language and adventure in the first sentence of a good pitch, and that makes me excited to give a novice writer a chance.
CHRISTINA: Can you tell me about one of the best travel articles you remember? What makes it stand out in your mind?
ORION RAY-JONES: One of my favorite articles to work on was a story in which we forced a young writer to “get lost.” Having been raised on cell phones, digital cameras, GPS navigation and the internet, she had always been hyper connected. Texting, tweeting, blogging and posting to Facebook were daily addictions.
We took away all her technology and sent her to California’s Lost Coast with nothing but a Moleskine and pen for a road trip that changed the way she connected with a destination and its inhabitants. As the story progressed and she began to let go of her short-attention-span urban pace, the prose began to relax as well.
The sentences became longer, the language more linear. But the story wasn’t indulgent and self-centered; it was the history and beauty of the destination and the richness of the characters that provided the majority of the copy. There was a great undercurrent of metaphor connecting her experiences and surroundings with her own internal transformation and subconscious understanding about what it means to be a traveler.
Handwritten excerpts from the journal accompanied the story, providing an engaging visual tool that further supported the narrative and its point. A hearty mix of humor, self-realization and practical travel advice provided a perfect balance.
CHRISTINA: Thanks Orion, see you in Chicago!
[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.]