By Freelance Travel Writers, Steenie Harvey, Michael Harvey, and Jennifer Stevens
FROM STEENIE HARVEY
The first piece I ever submitted to an editor got published — but I also gathered a fair few rejection slips in my first couple of years of writing.
If your first queries or completed articles get rejected, don’t sink into depression. If your idea is strong enough… if your writing is good enough, then some editor will want it. It’s just a case of finding the right editor and the right publication.
That’s really the key — make sure you target the right magazines. And just because one editor rejects you doesn’t necessarily mean the next one on your list will do the same. Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your writing isn’t any good.
For me, the best way of dealing with all those slings and arrows of adversity was to develop the hide of a rhinoceros. Rejection can actually be character-building — it certainly made me more doggedly determined to succeed. I knew I was on the right track. But in those early years, I now realize that for a lot of the time, I was sending off my work to the wrong type of magazines.
Think about this. Why would an editor want your wonderfully-crafted article on the best tapas bars in Seville if a similar article is scheduled to appear in next month’s issue?
That’s why it’s important to always have more than one publication in mind. And with travel writing, your horizons are so much broader than if you’re writing about the dubious joys of crocheting or car mechanics.
And keep polishing. I just sent off an article about Naples in Italy. I thought it looked good enough on the first draft, but I’m glad I didn’t submit it immediately. On the second reading, I decided to cut out most of the nonsense I’d written about a shrine to Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona. Unless International Living’s readership is entirely composed of die-hard English soccer thugs, (and I don’t think it is) why would the audience be remotely interested in rubbish like that?
FROM MICHAEL HARVEY
It’s quite simply a question of confidence. Having what you believe to be a really good article rejected is hard to deal with. Naturally enough, when it has been rejected by several publishers you start to have doubts. You could easily start to think that your article, or your writing in general, is substandard or just not good enough. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to rid yourself of nagging doubts. You just have to believe that you can be a successful writer. Have confidence in your own ability.
I know writers who get lucky with their very first submission. A by-line, and money in the bank at the first attempt. But I also know good writers who collected enough rejection slips to paper a wall, before they got their first break. It would have been easy for them to quit, but they didn’t.
How do you know if your writing is at the highest standard? Tough question, and no easy answer. The course you have just completed should have given you a solid foundation to build on. If, as you say, you are thoroughly researching publications before you submit articles, then you are doing all the right things. The way to write to the highest standard is to write, write, write and keep writing. The highest standard would be perfection, but is it attainable? To a certain extent yes, but it’s all too true that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. What one Editor thinks is perfect, another might reject.
FROM JENNIFER STEVENS
Don’t get discouraged. I know. easier said than done. But really, it’s just part of the way the business works. There are umpteen reasons why an editor might reject a piece. It could be your writing, sure. And it could also be that you’ve misread your audience. But it could just as easily be that your timing is wrong — the editors might have a piece similar to yours already slated to run.
Unless the editor tells you why she isn’t publishing your piece (and most of the time she won’t) then you’ll just have to trust that you’re doing everything you can to control the parts of the equation over which you actually do have some control.
1. Double-check that you’ve read your audience right. Have you targeted the absolutely best publication for your article? Is there another, similar publication where you might submit your piece instead? (Remember, start small. There’s nothing wrong with building your portfolio by getting clips in on-line publications or smaller print publications. If you’re aiming for a by-line in National Geographic Traveler right out of the starting gate, you’re setting yourself up for rejection. After all, why should the editor there publish unknown you when he can publish H.M. Queen Noor instead? )
4. Have you defined your idea tightly enough? It’s hard, I know, to edit yourself. You have so much to say. Your trip was so great. But the thing is, you’ve got to be absolutely sure that the details you’re including are truly relevant to the story you’re telling. You should be able to digest the “so what,” the “big idea” of your story into eight or ten words. If you can’t, then you may be trying to get too much into one piece.
3. Fiddle with your lead. Remember, you’ve got about five seconds to grab your reader’s attention (and that first, critical reader is the editor you’re hoping will buy your article). Have you opened with the strongest image?
4. Get yourself a copy buddy — someone who will read your articles and give you some constructive feedback. If you have a spouse or a friend who can do this for you, great. If not, go online to the AWAI student forum at: http://awaimember.groupsite.com/main/summary. That forum is populated by other travel writers just like you, and many of them will be happy to give your stuff a read if you’ll return the favor when they need a reader.
[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.]