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(A Three-Part Series to Help You Double, Even Triple, Your Writing Income)
By B. Howard in Cleveland, TN

Part 3 – Getting Started: From Notes to Published Page

Over the past two weeks, we’ve covered what I call the Photo Essay or Round-Up article and how to shoot the photographs to support it. But how, specifically, do I get from idea to article?

Research To Find at Least Five Attractions

First, I do a little research. If I know I’m going to visit a specific location, I might pull up information about it on the web or even buy a guide book.

Next, I sit down at my desk with a yellow pad and do a little thinking. I list all of the features relevant to that location: landmarks, attractions, historic sites, hotels, country inns, beaches, museums, and so on.

Then I eliminate from my list all that can’t deliver at least five perceived subjects (attractions, if you like).

For example, if there are only three photogenic country inns within a 50-mile radius of my location, I eliminate country inns from my list. If I find there are eight or nine beaches, say, on the panhandle of Florida, I keep beaches on the list.

And so I reduce my article list to four or five real possibilities. Once I have my list, I sally forth, camera in hand, and visit at least one site of each of the four or five possibilities, shoot some pictures, and then go back to the yellow pad and make a few notes.

Contact Editors

If I find I have two or three viable projects, I make a few phone calls, write an e-mail or two, and even send out a couple of queries. The phone calls and e-mails will be to editors I already have in my database and that I know like to publish the type of articles I’m proposing.

The queries are to editors I’ve never dealt with before: the idea being to expand my database. By the time I get through, I may already have sold one or more of my projects several times.

Take Photos

If I get a response, even one, from even one of the editors in my database, I go on to phase two, which is to photograph all of the sites I intend to include in the project. This may take several days, or might even be spread over a couple of weeks, depending upon how far-flung the individual sites may be. It took me several weeks to photograph all the sites for the Battlefields article I told you about last week.

When the photography is complete, I’ll have several hundred images on hand. In the old days, those images would have been 35mm transparencies. Today, they’ll be large digital files. At this point I (and you, too) need to become extremely critical.

Eliminate the Substandard Shots

I edit my images down from several hundred to only a couple of dozen, or so. I will not keep any image that is in any way substandard. I don’t mean that I put them on one side: I get rid of them completely. Now that doesn’t mean I keep only stunning or spectacular images. The way I have to shoot — on the fly — my images aren’t always stunning or spectacular. They do, however, have impact, variety, and eye-catching color. What I mean is that I get rid of any image that’s not perfectly composed, perfectly focused, and perfectly exposed. Remember?

Pick Images and Write Descriptions

Next, having gotten rid of the chaff, I concentrate on the wheat and pick out two or three images that I feel will effectively illustrate each location or site. (I like to give the editor — and he likes to receive — a choice as to which images he will use.)

Then I number each image and write text that effectively describes the given site or location and is relevant to the two or three photographs that go with that particular locality. What I mean is this: The text I write must be applicable to any one or all of the two or three chosen images.

Finally, I sew all of the chunks of text together with a well-chosen transition phrase. What I now have is a complete package — text and photographs. A little proofing, some re-writing, and the package is ready for the editor.

Build and Tap Into Your Database of Editors

Okay, let’s talk about the aforementioned database and the rules of submission. Building your database should be a labor of love. Do it right, and it will provide you with a good income for years to come.

The best place to start is right in your own back yard — with your local newspaper or newspapers. Then expand outward from there until you have approached every newspaper and relevant regional and national magazine in the country.

Be sure to request editorial and photographic guidelines. Building your database this way takes a lot of time, effort and dedication, but it is worth it. If you can build a base of, say, 50 editors that will regularly buy your work, you will have a gold mine, indeed. If you can sell to three or four of the 50 every month, well… you do the math.

Follow These Rules For Submitting Your Work

A warning: Editors are extremely territorial birds. Before you submit your ideas to more than one editor, research each publication. Find out the territorial boundaries and do not cross them.

For instance, The Atlanta Journal Constitution is distributed state wide, and even beyond some state lines, so this means you cannot sell an article to any other newspaper or magazine in Georgia until the Constitution has finished with it. You can, however, offer a package simultaneously to the Constitution in Georgia, the Nashville Banner, the Kansas City Star, and so on. You can even offer the same article to two or three newspapers in the same state provided the distribution boundaries do not conflict.

Finally, don’t blow your first chance to make a good impression. Follow the publications’ guidelines to the letter. Show only your best work. Keep the quality of your photography high. If you have any doubt at all about a given photograph, don’t show it; throw it away. Send your prospective editors quality only… and they will always want to see more.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more advice about writing and selling the sort of “round-up” articles B. Howard likes to write — and for the tricks of the trade that will land you the best assignments — 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.]

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