Obviously, your goal as a professional travel writer is to sell the articles you write. But doing that — selling your stories — requires more than simply writing “good” or even “great” articles.
It requires knowledge of your “audience” — and of the magazines, newspapers, and promotional publications that are likely to pay you for the words you put on paper.
The sad truth is that you can write a marvelous article… an article that’s deserving of publication in a leading travel magazine or maybe in the travel section of The New York Times, but if you send your piece to the “wrong” publication, it will never be accepted, no matter how good the writing.
If your article is to avoid the dumpster, you must have for it a particular reader in mind — before you start to write. Even if you don’t have a particular publication in mind, you need, nevertheless, to have a clear idea of the person you’re “targeting” to read your piece.
Now, it may seem strange to talk about what is, essentially, a marketing decision before you even have a “product” (an article) to market. However, the most successful travel writers understand that the market determines what you’ll be able to sell.
*** Matching Interest to Audience is Critical
Let’s say for example you have a passion for gardening, and you plan on touring the many well-tended parks, squares, and gardens in Savannah. You imagine a garden-themed travel article that might go into, perhaps, a gardening-focused publication.
Let’s also say you’re an adventuresome sort who travels on the cheap, enjoys offbeat cultural offerings and quirky, out-of-the-way cafés and shops in the sort of up-and-coming neighborhoods often populated by artists. Then you might think about an article geared to a younger, hipper, more budget-conscious readership.
You wouldn’t want to pitch your quirky-bargain story to the editor at the garden publication. And, likewise, the budget-travel magazine would be the wrong one to approach with your garden-focused story.
Once you have a handle on the kind of readers you’re after — the specific audience that would find each story idea most engaging — then you must track down the exact publications those people are reading.
To pick up the same example: That means you have to seek out gardening publications for your gardening article. And you’ve got to find bargain-travel focused publications with younger readers for the off-beat piece you have in mind.
*** How — and Where — to Find the Right Audience
It takes a little bit of research to track down the publications that will be right for each of your stories, but it’s time well-spent. Get this part right — get to the right audience — and you’ll avoid a heap of disheartening rejection letters.
Here are a few good resources that will help:
1. Writer’s Market — this annual publication lists 8,000 or more (mostly North American) publications that buy articles — travel and others.
This resource is a must. You can order it online and have a copy sent to you. Or you can save the many, many trees that must have sacrificed their lives for this hefty volume and subscribe, instead, to the online edition, which offers a searchable database and other resources you’d likely find useful. Our readers and ITWPA members can get a discount membership here: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/product/writers-vip/?icid=WDH80001
2. Writers & Artists Yearbook — A directory for writers, artists, playwrights, writers for film, radio, and television, designers, illustrators, and photographers, this is a good resource for British and European markets.
3. The Guardian Media Directory — Also focused on the British and European markets, this listing contains over 10,000 contacts, from regional newspapers to publishing houses.
You should also check out issue #32 in our online e-letter archives at www.thetravelwriterslife.com. There you’ll find the step-by-step approach Lori used to find publications best-suited for her Belize stories.
Online you’ll also find excellent resources. Check out Karen Pevenstein’s article on the 18 Must-Have Websites Every Travel Writer Should Know About.
*** Once You’ve Targeted a Publication, Study It
Step 1: Read the “Writer’s Guidelines” for each publication you’re interested in contacting. You can find these, most of the time, online at a publication’s website.
Step 2: Then, get your hands on a few back issues of each publication. Often, travel content at newspapers is posted online free. (You may have to pay to access past news and business articles, but usually the travel material is yours for the reading.) If you can’t find issues online, then write to get one or two (for this service, publications will usually charge you the cover price plus a postage fee) or try your local library.
Whatever you do, don’t skip these two steps. They are critical to your success. I’ve said it before: If you don’t target the right audience, you won’t sell your story.
Then, with the back issues in hand, study the writing carefully.
* What kind of writing do the editors seem to favor? Do they seem to like snappy pieces with humor or a more scholarly approach?
* Is the language level in their stories very simple or do they seem to favor more sophisticated writing?
* Is there a focus on sports, dining, history or some other special interest?
* Does there seem to be an editorial bias — such as upscale opportunities or bargain ideas or women or history or family travel or environmental issues?
The answers to those sorts of questions reveal all sorts of hints about how you should approach the publication and — when it comes time to write — how you should go about putting your piece together.
*** Test Your Idea’s Suitability… and Refine It If Need Be
You may discover, as you read through these back issues, that your original instincts were, in fact, wrong. You may find that one of the publications you targeted is not, after all, an appropriate market for the article you plan to write. If that happens, just go back to your list of publications and find one or two new ones to look into. Or, adjust your story idea accordingly.
Eventually, you’ll come up with a solid list of story ideas and suitable publications for them.
[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.]