Interview with Workshop Attendee Bob Kelley
Bob Kelley attended our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Santa Monica, CA in 2010. Since then he has had three consecutive Feature Stories published in Georgia Backroads Magazine. Not only is he making extra money, he’s having a great time writing stories about his home state.
CHRISTINA: Hi Bob! You told me recently that you just had another feature story published in Georgia Backroads. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What was it about?
BOB: This was a story about Samuel P. Jones, a 19th-century Methodist evangelist from Cartersville, GA, who was one of the most famous men in America in the late 1800s. His home, Rose Lawn, has been restored and is the crown jewel of Cartersville’s historic district.
As an example of his fame, one of Jones’ converts, Tom Ryman, built Ryman Auditorium in Nashville dedicated solely as a place for Sam to hold his revivals. As you probably know, Ryman Auditorium later became the “mother church” for country music….The Grand Ole Opry!
CHRISTINA: How did you pitch this story?
BOB: Several times through the year, I draw up a list of prospective story ideas and submit them to the editor of Georgia Backroads. He goes through and picks the ones that are of most interest to him. This is how I pitched this particular story. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Rose Lawn and Sam Jones until I stopped by the Cartersville visitor’s bureau and picked up a brochure. Rose Lawn was just down the street!
I find stopping at visitor bureaus, tourist welcome centers along the interstates, and just reading other regional travel magazines can provide an abundance of story ideas. While the locations may have been written about in the past, there is always a different angle to write about if you explore deeply enough.
CHRISTINA: That’s a very good tip. Were you paid for the article?
BOB: This most recent Georgia Backroads issue is the third consecutive issue to feature one of my stories. With photos, I average a little over $200 per story. Not a lot….but not bad for a small regional magazine… get enough of these running your stories and they begin to add up!
CHRISTINA: It seems like you’ve developed a good relationship with the editor of Georgia Backroads. What’s your secret?
BOB: I cannot stress enough about reading and following a publication’s Writer’s Guidelines. If the magazine doesn’t have published guidelines, then buy a few consecutive issues or look at back issues online to get a feel for style, layout, types of photos, etc.
My relationship with the editor of Georgia Backroads has been built on respect for and recognition of his magazine’s editorial and art style (sub heads, breakouts, sidebars, etc.), and I include suggestions for these in my final copy. More than once, he has complimented me on how quickly I “caught on” to the style of the magazine.
I also always get the story done and to him ahead of deadline. This gives him the chance to ask questions or have me research certain topics or aspects of the story further. I also submit more photos than I know he will need just to give him and his designer more choices in terms of layout. I even go so far as designate a headline for my stories and, to date, he has used each headline verbatim.
An editor, juggling stories and art with multiple contributing writers, appreciates everything and anything you can do to save him or her some time and effort. The more you can provide up front the more you can endear yourself to the editor and it makes them more comfortable about coming back to you for future stories.
CHRISTINA: Since joining us in Santa Monica last summer for the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop, you’ve been published several times in publications including Georgia Backroads, The Denver Post, local newspapers, and more. What’s next for you?
BOB: There is a particular comfort zone that comes with certain publications as your main source of revenue. However, cliché as it sounds, I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. My strategy, at this point in time, is to target other regional magazines and pitch stories to them.
For instance, there is one magazine, Northeast Georgia Living, that only features stories common to northeast Georgia. I plan to research and do some stories in this area of the state. I also want to get enough published work under my belt to approach local visitor bureaus and the Atlanta Visitor and Convention Bureau to try to get hired to update their tourism literature.
I decided early on that my “niche” would be Georgia tourism and historical sites. Upon close examination and research, I’m finding the state is filled with a rich tapestry of story ideas to explore and write about.
CHRISTINA: What was the biggest tip you took away from the workshop in Santa Monica?
BOB: There were so many good tips and ideas that I brought home from Santa Monica that it is hard to narrow them down to just one. The ones that I keep foremost in my planning are writing about what you know, taking photos to help illustrate the story, reading the writer’s guidelines, and being on the lookout for more than one angle to the story.
And, as I’ve mentioned, I always take more photos than I know I will ever need just to give me (and the editor) a variety of choices. Also, the more photos you take, the better the chances of getting that “perfect” shot. The speakers in Santa Monica were adamant about providing art with your story, and I truly believe this makes a big difference as to whether your story gets accepted or not.
CHRISTINA: Any advice for beginners who might be nervous about getting started?
BOB: There is a large degree of confidence that comes with being published and it only grows stronger with each subsequent story that is sold. It’s almost like an addiction…once you’ve completed one story, you can’t wait to move on to the next. Also, you find yourself constantly thinking about, seeking, and developing story ideas.
This is great because when you first start, you wonder, “What am I going to write about?” This soon becomes, “I’ve got to get this story done so I can move on to the next one!”
CHRISTINA: What do you consider the best “perk” of living the travel writer’s life?
BOB: Of course, I love the freebies such as admission to a venue or discounts on meals, etc. But what I truly enjoy is the wide access my ITWPA card gives me along with the added prestige of being considered an “official” journalist. Showing my credentials tends to give me instant rapport with my sources.
Also, being a travel writer allows me to meet some really interesting people that I normally would never encounter. Everyone has a story to tell and they are eager to find someone to listen to them. Once you’ve developed a slate of contacts and resources, the flow of story ideas seems endless.
CHRISTINA: Thanks Bob, and good luck!
[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.]