*** How to Turn a Bad Hotel into a Good Travel Article
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Eating Guinea Pig
*** Reader Feedback: Writing for Other Markets
Before you scroll down to today’s writing prompt (about eating guinea pig and drinking turkey-flavored soda), take a look at this question I received from one of our readers last week:
“If you’re sent to do a piece on a specific location, such as a hotel, and it turns out to be terrible, do you still have to write the article as promised? If so, what do you say? If you don’t feel you can in good conscience write an article about it, do you have to reimburse the value of the trip and expenses?”
I passed this question along to freelance travel writer and editor Jennifer Stevens (Jen is the author of our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program). Here’s what she said…
“If you’re sent to cover a hotel for a publication — doesn’t matter if you’re paying your own way, if the hotel is comping you, or if the publication is picking up the tab — if what you find makes it impossible for you to write the article you and the editor agreed you’d write, then you need to contact the editor immediately (ideally, while you’re still on-site).
“But don’t haul off and write the guy an email after just three hours in the place — even if your bathroom sink did fall off the wall, and even if a rat did run over your foot. First, come up with an alternate idea you can pitch. In other words, don’t simply tell the editor: ‘This place is a dump. There’s no way this is going to work as a good-value luxury-retreat piece, which is what I came here to write.’
“Instead, take a day to do some poking around elsewhere. Are there some other hotels nearby that might better fit the bill? Is there any aspect of the mediocre hotel where you’re staying that might be worthy of coverage? Maybe you’ll find that the hotel’s spa is fabulous, in stark contrast to the neglected guestrooms. Well, you could shift the focus of your article to good-value pampering and recommend a different hotel, this spa, and maybe a couple great restaurants.
“Think about ways you can salvage your by-line and your paycheck. Suggest to the editor something else he can slot into the space he’d reserved for your original piece.
“Now, if you just can’t see a way that you can turn this disastrous trip into an article for the editor you’re meant to be serving, well, then so be it. Speak up earlier rather than later. The more time he has to find something else to fill the hole in his publication, the better.
“Your next order of business, then, should be to think hard about what audience would, in fact, want to know about the hotel where you’re staying. The best way to figure this out is to find out as much as you can about the hotel.
“Do they offer special programs? Could you talk to anybody who is participating in one? Do they offer special discounts — for whom and when? Is there one saving grace about the place? If so, who would find that one thing an enticement? Maybe the hotel has fallen into disrepair… but it’s sitting right on an amazing surfing beach. Well, what could you write for a readership of surfers?
“Find the right audience, and you can still write about this hotel — even if what you write ends up worlds away from the article you’d first intended to come away with.
“You also asked whether if, in this situation, you’d need to reimburse the value of the trip and expenses. I’m guessing you mean if the hotel had comped you your stay — maybe even the full trip — and you weren’t going to write about it, do you need to then pay for your trip? The short answer is: No.
“Hotels, tourist boards, tour operators, and the like sponsor writers in hopes of getting some press. It’s not a guarantee for them. They invite the folks who, they feel, are most likely to get something published. Are you obligated to write an article and sell it? No.
“But you are expected to make a good-faith effort to do so. If you discover on the spot that your ‘assigned’ article clearly isn’t going to fly, you really should try to come up with another article that will.
Should you hold your nose, lie through your teeth, and write an article the gets the place good (though completely undeserved) press? No. But it is in your best interest to write something.
“If you take a trip and never write anything about it, the likelihood that you’ll be invited back on another trip is slim. (OK, so you may not want to go back to this particular, mediocre hotel. But often it’s PR agencies that arrange press trips. And the agency may represent other clients whose hotels you’d most certainly like to visit.)
“Plus, it’s your collection of ‘clips’ (proof of your track record in getting things published) that most helps you land press trips. So it’s in your best interest to find something you can write about — even if the only mention the awful hotel gets is a short note about the great daiquiris Ralph the bartender mixes and the to-die-for sunsets you can enjoy as you chat with him.” — Jen Stevens
Tomorrow I’ll send you more specific advice from Jen on how to manage negatives in your stories… She’ll tell you how to be honest and still make a buck.
OUR 300th ISSUE OF THE RIGHT WAY TO TRAVEL
In just over a month, we’ll be publishing our 300th issue of The Right Way to Travel. To celebrate, I’d like to include as many success stories from you and your fellow readers as possible.
If you’ve got a success story to share — an article published, a photo sold, or an import/export goal reached — and you’d like to be included in our round-up of stories, drop me a line here: email@example.com.
Be sure to include your full name, email address, city, and state (in case I need to reach you — I won’t publish that information).
And don’t forget to scroll down to this week’s writing prompt and a reader comment…
Director, Great Escape Publishing
[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.]
PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK: Eating Guinea Pig
Freelance travel writer Steenie Harvey sometimes uses this article excerpt in her workshop presentations at our travel-writing events — an example of the kind of personal anecdote and rich detail that characterizes the best travel writing:
*** Cute, cuddly…and it comes with chips
The guinea pig stared at me. I stared at the guinea pig. Then I took a deep breath, counted to three – and ate it.
There’s much more to visiting Peru than taking in Machu Picchu, the 500-year-old ‘lost city’ of the Incas, which is considered the must-see attraction of South America. And eating guinea pig, a local delicacy, is one of the more memorable diversions.
It tasted awful, although on first inspection it looked rather natty. With great aplomb, brandishing trays on shoulders, a team of waiters had brought forth our roasted creatures (with side orders of chips). Each guinea pig, front legs perched on a sweet potato, wore a half tomato cap with a decorative mint sprig. The animals’ mouths were propped open by slices of carrot in what disconcertingly seemed like hey-how-you-doing smiles.
From The Times Travel Section, January 28, 2006
Have you ever eaten anything weird? Think about it this week (or venture out to find something unique). I found these weird drinks online: Turkey and Gravy soda… Dinner Roll Soda… and Pea Soda.
Follow the lead of this Times article and turn your own culinary adventures into a travel piece. If you want, send it to the Travel Post Monthly, where the editors are looking for exactly this sort of thing… and more. You’ll find the writer’s guidelines here: http://www.itwpa.com/writers_guidelines/
READER FEEDBACK: WRITING FOR OTHER MARKETS
“I’m in sunny Mexico, where the sun is soothing, the water is clear, and the area is booming. I just was able to check my e-mail and discovered that my Spanish dancer photo won the Feb. “Paint the Town Red” contest. My excitement boiled over, I yelled, and woke my husband from his siesta. (He’s back to normal now.)
“As I go along the beginning of my new adventures, I feel the need to let you know the successes that you are creating. My story on “Lipodissolve” will be in the May or June issue of Southern Health Magazine, and I have been given monthly assignments. I’m taking good notes to do some travel articles on my two-week stay in Mexico, have started on a series of children’s books, and am looking forward to whatever comes my way.
“Thanks, again, Ladies. Your direction and support give me more confidence each day.”