How to Make Real Money Writing Travel Articles: Part Two
(A Three-Part Series to Help You Double, Even Triple, Your Writing Income)
By B. Howard in Cleveland, TN
Part 2 – The #1 Easiest Article to Resell… and How to Take the Pictures
You’ll Sell With It
It occurred to me some years back — years after I’d begun writing travel articles, truth be told — that rather than coming up with 100 articles and trying to find a market for each one (a labor-intensive and tedious way to make a living) I’d do better to write only 20 articles and sell them each at least five times.
The result would be the same: 100 sales — but only 20% of the work. Plus I figured I’d then have time to write a great many more articles, and sell those, too.
Now, as I mentioned last week, there is one type of travel article in particular that’s very easy to write — and it’s one that will sell over and over again. I’m talking about the “Photo Essay” or “Round-up Article.”
I hit on this type of writing almost by accident.
I was on the phone with the editor at Tours & Resorts Magazine, pitching him an article about Lookout Mountain National Civil War Battlefield Park. He thought for a moment, and then said: “That’s a bit too narrow in focus for us.”
Fortunately, I had learned how to listen. And, ever optimistic, I didn’t hear him say he wouldn’t buy the idea. What I heard was: “Broaden the focus and I’ll buy it.”
I came straight back at him with: “Okay, how about a round-up of say, a half-dozen battlefields?” He liked the idea and I got the go-ahead. The result was “Touring Southern Battlefields.”
But it wasn’t quite that easy. I had photos for only one battlefield.
Now, you’ve heard Jen Stevens say many times that if you can include photographs with your travel articles, you will often have a better chance of selling them because what you’re selling is, in fact, a “package.” That’s absolutely true.
She usually comes at it article-first. You have your idea, you write your article, and then you pick (or take) the photos that best illustrate it.
Coming at the Package, Photos-First
However, there are times — many times, in fact — when I’ve come at that same “package” from the opposite side of the road, so to speak. What I mean is: I start with the photos, and then I figure out what the article is. This Tours & Resorts piece was one such occasion. I had to shoot first and write later.
For me, it works like this: I visit a number of related locations, shoot some photographs, and then tie them all together with short chunks of descriptive text. Those chunks of text can be as short or as long as you care to make them.
I like to think of each one as nothing more than an extended caption for one of the photographs.
If you’re ever intimidated by the blank page — not sure where to start or how to string your story together — this is a terrific way to approach your article. You can simply let the photos tell the story. You use these “extended captions” to draw out of them what you want your reader to focus on. And what you end up with is an article.
You could place your photos (and thus your text) in chronological order. That’s what I did for the battlefields piece — Shiloh being the earliest, Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia being the final battle in the series.
But, really, you can place them in any order that makes the piece flow smoothly from beginning to end. Say your article is about architecturally interesting B&B’s in your town. Presumably, your photos illustrate the most interesting or distinctive attribute at each hotel. So you might, for instance, line them up from most to least dramatic and then discuss them in that order. Essentially, you can let your visual instinct dictate the way you structure your story.
Ideas for “round-up” articles are easy to come by. And editors love them. Look at the covers on any newsstand, and you’re bound to find at least one such piece in every magazine — travel or otherwise.
I did one entitled “Caves of The Tennessee Valley.” It sold to several major newspapers, as well as to a major magazine. I did another called “Museum Hopping In London” and sold that multiple times as well.
You can write a “round-up” about anything — state parks, state landmarks, national cemeteries, grand hotels, expansive resorts, restaurants, camping sites, fishing spots, and on and on.
I’m living proof that you can make a good living selling (and, critically, reselling) “round-up” articles and photos packaged like this.
Taking Photos Editors Buy
Now, since I’m suggesting you come at this photo-first, I want to give you some ideas about how, exactly, to take the sort of photos editors like to buy.
First, though, I want to make a few things clear:
- While your photographs do have to be technically good — meaning in focus, well-composed, and properly exposed — they don’t have to be spectacular. (It helps if they are — but it’s not critical.)
- You don’t need an expensive camera to shoot your photos.
- These types of photographs are illustrations — not art. That said, you should think creatively when you’re taking them.
Six Tips to Improve Your Photos
Here are six practical tips to help you do just that and take quality — saleable — shots every time you go out with your camera:
- Don’t take the same old stereotypical pictures that everyone else takes. Find a new angle. Stand on a chair, climb a tree, get down on your knees, walk around your subject to find new and interesting angles.
- Shoot just after dawn or just before dusk — the light then is warm and will add interest to your shots.
- Include people in your images. People sell photographs.
- Fill the frame. Get up close to your subject. Nothing looks worse than a frame full of almost nothing.
- Don’t center your subject. Think of your frame as divided into thirds — both vertically and horizontally — and put your subject at a point where the lines intersect.
- When you’re starting out, increase the chances that your shots will, in fact, be “technically good” by doing two things: One, shoot on an overcast day (which will minimize the extremes in light and shadows that can ruin otherwise-good shots). And two, use a tripod (which will eliminate camera shake — the culprit behind most fuzzy photos). You can buy a light-weight tripod new for as little as $29 — $10 or less if you buy it on eBay.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For some infinitely practical (and easy to follow) advice about creating sellable “round-up” articles — and a whole host of other tips, tricks, and secrets for turning your travel experiences into cash — check out Jen Stevens’ Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course.
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.]