David Morgan here again, filling in for Lori.
Yesterday, I shared with you some tips on article submission that I learned from my days behind the editorial desk. Sometimes the articles we received were great, but we couldn’t publish them because they weren’t specific, they weren’t unique, and they weren’t targeted for our readers. All mistakes that can be easily avoided.
I also had the opportunity to learn from some writers who had problems that go deeper than poor grammar. I read some truly terrible articles, but sometimes these still got published (after quite a bit of editing) if the information was what we were looking for. (Read more from yesterday’s note).
Today, I’ll share another tidbit that can help make your travel articles much more likely to be published. It’s called the “rule of thumb.” (And we’re not talking about hitchhiking.)
The rule of thumb is this: Take an article you’ve written, and put your thumb a third of the way down the page. If your main idea (the biggest benefit to your reader) isn’t above your thumb, cut until it is. That forces you to get to your main idea early. And it’s a good habit to get into. It’s often easiest to break into travel writing with short articles (more on that tomorrow), but this means you’ve got only a few sentences in which to get to your point.
Say you’re writing about renting a bicycle in Paris. You might first feel the urge to tell your reader why they want to go to Paris. You might then write about the flight from Boston to Paris, and then the train ride into town and the nice man you met, and then the great crepe stand between the hotel and bike shop. You might even reminisce a bit about the French girlfriend you had or wished you had back in the war, who strapped baguettes to her bicycle, before you get to the point of the article — which, you’ll remember, was how to rent a bicycle in Paris, and what to do with it once you have it.
All that stuff before the meat of the article? Go ahead and cut it out. It’s good to record these memories, and it can be a valuable tool to get the writing juices flowing. You might even be able to develop them into other travel articles. But do yourself a favor and cut the prelude before submitting the article. This is great material for your journal, but not for a substantive travel article.
Want another tip to seal the deal?
When you can’t figure out how to start an article (now that I’ve completely ruined it for you), forget the lead entirely and start in the middle of the story. Start where the action is, where the dialogue is. Some of the most successful travel articles I’ve read or written start with a conversation or a bar brawl. In the case of our Paris bicycle story, you could start the article off with the conversation you have with the old weathered Bateau Mouche driver you met as you stopped for a break along the Seine. Draw in your readers — and your editors — with the meat, the steak tartar, if you will, of your article. Skip the appetizers.
P.S. Travel writing and photography really go hand-in-hand. Submit a strong article with a few saleable photos, and your chances of earning a paycheck are considerably higher than if you submit a standalone article. Plus, once published, you’ll also earn more because you’ll be paid for the article as well as the photos. Join us at our next Turn Your Photos Into Cash workshop to find out all you need to know to sell your photos along with your articles — or on their own — from photographers, writers, editors, and other industry insiders.
[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.]