If I can be a travel writer, anyone can…” said Steenie Harvey before revealing her story to us — starting with how she dropped out of school at 15 to live “in a hippie dippy commune.” From serving drinks in a strip club, to trying her brown thumb at organic gardening, to attempts at selling her paintings (she was laughed out of an art gallery)… nothing seemed to work…
Until one day, broke but undaunted, she dusted off an abandoned typewriter she’d found in the shed of her new home in the Irish countryside. Defying all the rules of formatting and protocol, she sent in her first submission to a British newspaper — and landed a check for $180 and a byline. She was hooked.
Since then, her articles have been published in newspapers and magazines the world over — from the Washington Post to International Living — and she earns considerably more per piece. But she told us how she built her portfolio through trial and error. It took her years, she said, to learn all the secrets she’s revealing to us here.
The attendees say they feel lucky…
Some would be happy to score discounted or free travel in exchange for an article and a modest payment. Others are looking for a side business. Some want to make travel writing a full-time gig.
No matter what their end goals, it’s clear that by following the insights Steenie and our other speakers have shared today, there’s nothing holding anybody back. As Steenie herself put it: If she can do it, so can you.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that people who are living a life that I dream about must have something I don’t. More education. More connections. More chutzpah. More luck.
It’s just not true. Starting with Steenie, and extending to everyone else in the room — a retired judge, a nurse, a realtor, small-business owners, teachers, and all the rest — we’re all capable of being travel writers.
In fact, today is just our second day of class and many of my fellow attendees already have publishable pieces in hand. The rest aren’t far behind.
All they need to do is put the lessons we’re delivering here — and those revealed in Jen Stevens’ home-study travel writing program — to work. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Here’s something else we discovered today…
The Fine Art of Writing Stories That Sell… and Selling the Stories You Write
Steenie, John Forde, and Jen Stevens are quite a trio of experience and anecdotes, with an impressive number of bylines and frequent-flyer miles between them. When they speak, people listen.
But will their audience heed the warnings they issued?
Not enough freelancers, they said, pay attention to the details, the little things, the niceties that editors notice. Or, put another way: When it comes to dealing with editors, it’s very easy to undermine your career by ignoring the obvious.
Don’t insult the editor of a magazine you want to write for… put your full name on your submissions and emails to editors… turn in your articles on time… get writer’s guidelines and follow them to the tee… read through back issues of the publication you’d like to write for… and the list goes on…
Sounds simple. Sounds obvious. But, it turns out, freelancers habitually violate these rules. The message is: Just by paying attention to these little (but critically important) things, you can immediately (and easily) set yourself apart from the crowd.
I don’t know about you, but I find that inspiring. You may not yet be brimming with confidence about the articles you write. But you can be absolutely sure to avoid shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to dealing with editors.
So now it’s down to the core of the matter — writing the article. We’ve been doing an exercise to find the best “hook” for our stories. “A good hook does two things” starts John Forde, “it draws in your reader, and sells the editor on your piece.”
Our first assignment was to turn our lunch break into a research excursion and return with the seed of an article idea. A restaurant we liked, an internet café that would be good for business travelers, a shop we couldn’t resist, a museum we loved…
You can do this at home, too. You simply find a spot you’d like to recommend to others.
Once you have a “topic” for your story, then the whittling begins. We brainstormed together…
** Who is the target audience for your piece?
** What makes the subject of the article unique or interesting?
** What did you particularly like about the experience?
** What might other people like about it?
As the writer answers these questions, the focus becomes clearer and more narrow. Then, the key details of the story get worked into a headline that is: useful, unique, urgent, and ultra-specific.
We don’t stop working the idea until it’s so irresistible, everyone in the room is ready to head there themselves.
Next, the money-making part kicks in as we brainstorm ways to turn this one article into at least three — and sometimes more — publishable pieces.
By the time we leave, every single attendee will walk out with a published piece — and a clear plan for how to turn the words they’re writing today into a byline and a check tomorrow.
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.]