Understanding Writer’s Guidelines: How Travel Writers Get Paid
Can you make a full-time living as a travel writer?
Yes, you can. Some established travel writers we know log annual earnings of $50,000 or more working full time.
Can you get super-rich working strictly as a freelance travel writer? Probably not. This kind of writing is more about the lifestyle, the freedom, the travel opportunities…
Travel writing is also a career ideally suited as a sideline – a way to travel better than you might ordinarily, a way to make your travel pay for itself, a way to potentially write off on your taxes the travel you do.
How Much Do Publications Pay for Articles and Photos
As a freelance travel writer, you’re paid according to your level of experience and the budget of the publication for which you’re writing. In most cases, you’ll have to accept what the publication offers. Particularly when you’re just starting out, it’s not a good idea to try to negotiate with an editor. You’ll be perceived as difficult to work with.
The range in article payment is significant. Some publications pay $.25 or $.50 or $1 per published word. Others pay a flat fee that’s anywhere from $50 to $1,200 or more per article.
What about photos? That, too, depends. As with articles, the money you can earn from your photos falls into a wide range and depends on both the quality of your photos and the budget of the publication. Payment for photos lands anywhere from $50 to $1,300 or more per picture.
If you’re providing a publication a full copy and photos package, that publication may work out a “package” fee with you. Or your earnings may be itemized, x for the article and y for the three photos they use, for example. This simply depends upon the way the publication is set up to do business.
Some Real-Life Examples of Pay Scales at Travel Publications
Here are a few examples of what publications pay:
- Coast to Coast Magazine pays $75 – $1,000 for articles between 800 and 2,500 words. The magazine pays upon acceptance. They publish articles an average of four months after acceptance.
- The European travel magazine Wanderlust pays approximately $187.50 per 1,000 published words. Like at many other publications, the fee is based on published, not submitted words. Upon publication Wanderlust sends an invoice request along with a copy of the magazine. Payment is made within 30 days of receipt of an invoice.
- Transitions Abroad pays upon publication. The fee is normally $2 per column inch – and there are about 50 to 55 words per inch. However, if you’re a repeat contributor, the fee is negotiable. Writers receive an additional $10 per published photo.
Where to Find Payment Information
To find a publication’s payment information, check the Writer’s Guidelines. You’ll also learn there when you’ll get paid – whether it’s upon acceptance or publication of your article.
In that same section, the guidelines will also usually include information about whether the publication pays a “kill fee” or not. A kill fee is the amount – typically 25% to 50% of the agreed-upon assignment fee – that a publication will pay you if your assigned article doesn’t, in fact, ever run. You are only eligible for a kill fee if you’re working “on assignment.”
If you’re working “on spec,” no kill fee is due you. In other words, if the editor has told you, “Go ahead and write that piece and send it to me. If I like it, I’ll publish it,” then you are Working on spec. If the editor chooses to publish your article once she sees it, great. If not, then you’ll simply have to shop it around elsewhere.
On occasion, a publication will list only a wide payment range or perhaps no payment information at all. Don’t be deterred. If you’re interested in writing for that publication, go ahead and submit your query to the editor and make no mention of payment.
Hook the editor on your article idea. Once she’s interested, then you can start talking money. Once it comes up, don’t haggle if you’re just starting out. Take what’s offered. Early in the game, a by-line should be more important to you than the money you’re earning. It’s those clips – whether you were paid well for them or not – that will get you more and higher paying work in the future. Once you’re established, you’ll have more negotiating power.
How to Earn Extra Fees for Each Assignment
Travel writers can earn extra money on an assignment in a variety of ways, for example:
- If you’re targeting a print publication, provide photos or illustrations.
- If you’re writing for the Internet, you can offer not only photos and illustrations, but also audio clips. For example, if you’re writing about a local festival in Honduras you might include audio clips of people singing Honduran folk songs.
- Like photos and illustrations, audio clips can be packaged as sidebar resources warranting supplemental fees. However, it’s important to check the Writer’s Guidelines for your target publication. Don’t simply assume the editor will be thrilled to get (and pay you for) all of these extras.
- Restrict the duration of the rights you grant for online publication. Many Internet sites want to have access to your articles forever. But this can be a negotiable point. Writer’s Market suggests you offer a limited time period for use of your article – anywhere from three months to six months to one year. Then you provide the site with the option to renew each subsequent time period at a lower price than your original fee. For example, some writers charge half their original fee for the renewal.
- If you sell only limited rights to any given article, then you’re free to shop that same article around in a different market and get paid for it again – with no extra work for you.
- Or, you can take the same pile of research you’ve already done, rework your article for a different audience, and then sell the different version of it. You haven’t had to reinvent the wheel – yet you’re getting paid more than once for what is essentially the same information, just delivered with a slightly different twist.
[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.]