Interview with Travel Writer Roy Stevenson
Roy Stevenson attended our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Portland, Oregon back in 2007. He earned back his conference fee in his first 90 days. And today, he’s paid to write about cruises, wine-tastings, luxury resorts, and one-of-a-kind tours
CHRISTINA: Hi Roy. You attended the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop a few years ago in Portland. How would you say that weekend impacted your travel writing?
ROY: The workshop was completely responsible for my successes as a travel writer. I estimate that it put me in at the intermediate to advanced level and spared me three years of trial and error.
It saved me from finding out the hard way what works and what doesn’t, in terms of how to get started travel writing, how to dream up story ideas, how to write enticing query letters, and the myriad other tricks of the freelance travel writing trade.
CHRISTINA: What would you say was the biggest tip you took away from the workshop that helped you get so many articles published quickly?
ROY: I still use all of the advice that I got at the workshop, and it’s still paying off. I’ve adapted a few things to suit my personal style, such as creating my own format for query letters to editors, and I’ve developed my own writing style or “voice” as Jennifer Stevens suggested that we do.
The biggest tip I took away from the workshop was that you should pitch your story idea to several magazines simultaneously, rather than just sending a query out to one and waiting around to hear back from that editor.
I also learned from Jennifer that, with some creativity, you can sell your stories to magazines in different countries, often at the same time. For example, this July I’ll be covering a large military vehicle event in Kent, England for an Australian jeep magazine, a U.S. off-road vehicle magazine, and a U.K. military vehicle modeling magazine–and will bring in over $1,000 for this article.
CHRISTINA: Can you describe one of the most memorable or interesting situations you’ve found yourself in as a travel writer?
ROY: I’ve had some marvelous experiences as a travel writer. Every year I go to Europe for three or four weeks, supported by pre-selling articles to magazines and newspapers. Last year I pre-sold 23 articles to 11 different magazines and have sold another five since returning. I made enough to pay for my entire trip.
In August, I’m going on a two-week self-guided press trip to S.E. Alaska supported by a number of articles that I’ve pre-sold to magazines. I’ll be on the road for all of June doing tours of Southern Oregon, wine tasting in the Columbia River Gorge, and a four-day beer and brewery cruise on a historic 126-foot schooner.
CHRISTINA: What sort of other perks have you received as a travel writer?
ROY: I’ve had personal tours of the military tank museum at Bovington, England, escorted by the world’s foremost expert on armored vehicles; a four-day wine cruise through the San Juan Islands on a schooner; champagne tasting at Rheims and Epernay, France; exploring marina towns in the Puget Sound while on assignment for a yachting magazine.
I’ve also attended Renaissance fairs in England on assignment for a magazine; walked the D-Day invasion beaches at Normandy on assignment; stayed at dozens of plush resorts, boutique hotels, and B&Bs around the U.S; walked through some haunting ghost towns around the Pacific Northwest; watched a world-famous rodeo in Eastern Oregon; visited dozens of fascinating museums and castles around the world on a press pass; and many other trips.
Right now, I’m in a magnificent B&B near Port Angeles, Washington that is an exact replica of George Washington’s house at Mount Vernon. I’m writing about it for a local airline magazine. Last night, I stayed in a resort at Deer Harbor, on Orcas Island, on assignment for a sailing magazine and was wined and dined at a historic gourmet restaurant. Tomorrow, I have personal guided tours of Sequim and Port Angeles by their tourist reps.
CHRISTINA: Wow, those trips sound amazing! They also sound very different from one another. How do you come up with all these ideas and new publications to pitch them to?
ROY: So far, I’ve had my work published in more than 150 different magazines, newspapers, online magazines, and in-flights. I’m always on the lookout for new places to pitch my stories to. I search on the Internet, at my local bookstores, and in Writer’s Market. I’m always looking for story ideas wherever I go. It has become deeply ingrained in me now, so much so that I find it difficult to travel without having my “story antenna” up.
I’ve also cultivated relationships with several editors to the stage where sometimes they’ll contact me and ask me to do a story for them on a particular place–and I never say no to these requests.
CHRISTINA: Any advice for someone who is thinking about breaking into the industry?
ROY: Start by writing about local places and people. Once you’ve been published frequently locally, you’re ready to move up into the better-paying magazines. I have over 80 articles about places in the Pacific Northwest, and those bylines helped me get published in the bigger national and international travel magazines and newspapers.
Also, never be afraid to pitch ANY magazine that you think your story would be a good fit for. I’ve often been surprised at what magazines have accepted my articles, and what magazines never even reply to my queries. There is no predictability in this industry.
Take lots of photos when you go on assignment, too, and use a good camera. Mine is a point-and-shoot. But it’s a good point-and-shoot.
CHRISTINA: What’s your favorite thing about being a published travel writer?
ROY: Undoubtedly the travel…and visiting places that many people never get to see in their lifetime. Getting comp accommodations, meals, entry into tourist attractions and events are great. I never have to wait in line with the other tourists—press are always allowed immediate entry into tourist attractions. It’s nice to get checks in the mail for writing about places that I enjoyed visiting and sharing my experiences with other people.
CHRISTINA: Thanks Roy!
[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.]