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Bahamas Report: Day 1 — Don’t Go Fishing

Dear Reader,

I can see palm trees and blue sky through the windows. It’s a travel writing perk you can’t underestimate, particularly if you live in a place where it’s already snowing, this time of year.

Our first-ever photography and guidebook writing workshop is underway on Paradise Island, Bahamas, and we’re off to a racing start. We’ll be piling into vans to head to Potter’s Cay to take photos of fish mongers and their catch three hours from now. But until then, we’re deep in disclosure-mode.

You know, most new writers and photographers have to play catch-up. That’s because it takes the Average Joe years to learn the secrets we’re whipping out here left and right.

Today alone our speakers have given attendees a foot in the door at Avalon and Hunter Publishing (more on that for you below)… they’ve handed over the key to getting anything published (no matter how little experience you have)… they’ve heard one seasoned editor’s list of annoying things writers do and how to avoid them… they’ve learned the one item that — more often than any other — distinguishes a salable photo from one you can’t unload… and that was all before noon…

And even though you couldn’t be here with us, we’ll pass along some of those same secrets to you in a moment.

You see, I didn’t want you to miss out on all the intelligence being bantered about. So I’ve asked Jen Stevens, author of Great Escape Publishing’s Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course and also a speaker here, to report back to you daily about what we’re all learning.

That said, I’m passing my laptop over to her now… Jen, it’s all yours…

Lori Appling
Director, Great Escape Publishing

Bahamas Report Day 1 — Don’t Go Fishing

Dear Reader,

B. Howard calls it the “Catch 22 of Travel Writing.” He’s right.

“You have to be published to get published,” he explained. It’s a discouraging position to be in — enthusiastic, eager to write, and standing with a bunch of rejection letters in hand.

It took B. Howard four years to land his first by-line, he told us this morning. But our past workshop attendees have slashed that time to as few as seven days.

They’ve been able to do that because at these get-togethers we arm everybody with the insider’s know-how they need to identify what editors want and the skills they need to deliver just that — whether it’s words or photos (or both).

At this program, as Lori said up top, we’re turning our attention to guidebook writing and photography.

B. Howard has authored 27 guidebook editions in 12 years, and back when I was the editor of International Living, I penned six of IL’s guidebooks, myself. So we’ve got plenty of in-the-trenches experience between us. We’re doing our best to digest it for our attendees here. And I’ll pass some gems along to you, too…

There’s guidebook work to be had, that’s for sure. In fact, Avalon Publishing has just been in touch with us to say they’re looking for somebody to write their Moon Handbook to the Bahamas.

And B. Howard said a minute ago that his publisher, Hunter Publishing, is trolling for somebody to write their Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico.

That’s just two drops in a bucketful of opportunity, and I’ll give you the details about each of them in a moment.

But first, of course, there’s that Catch 22 to contend with. Nobody’s going to hire you to write or update a guidebook if you’ve never been published before. So let’s start with that issue…

STEP 1 — Break into the business by starting small. The easiest (and fastest) way to build a portfolio for yourself is to start with short, “front-of-the-book” pieces. These are articles of 200-500 words (maybe even less) that you’ll find in all variety of publications.

You’ll have a lot more luck peddling this sort of piece when you’re starting out than you will if you approach an editor for the first time with a 2000-word article.

For practical pointers about how to put strong, salable “front-of-the-book” pieces together, go to our e-letter archive at and read issue #45.

STEP 2 — Approach smaller and lesser-known publications. Start by trying your local paper or an online publication.

Don’t worry about making a fortune at this point. You need clips. And that should be your primary objective. If you earn $50 for yours, well pat yourself on the back and go to the bank with a smile… because one by-line inevitably leads to another. And so not only will you have a clip to pass around, but you’ll have earned enough for a decent dinner out, too.

By the way, if you’ve taken my written travel writing course or a workshop with me, then don’t forget that you have an in with the editors at International Living, The Traveler, Escape Artist and a few more…

STEP 3 — Sell, resell, and repackage your work. B. Howard talked this morning about how he ended up a guidebook writer, and he said it all started with an article he wrote on civil war battlefields — a topic that held personal interest for him. He sold it. And then he sold another one.

And pretty soon he realized he’d amassed enough information about these places to fill a book. So that’s what he did. His first guidebook was to civil war battlefields. And today it’s in two full volumes.

Not only can you develop more than one article from any trip you take, but you can resell the same articles, too — without changing a single word. For a step-by-step guide to doing just that, go to our e-letter archive at and read issues #65, 66, and 76.


Follow those steps, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing a rich and impressive track record for yourself.

Of course, there’s a catch — isn’t there always?

As B. Howard puts it: “Don’t go fishing. Don’t expect an editor to do your work for you. You have to come up with the article ideas… that’s not your editor’s job.”

He’s absolutely right. And the key to knowing what editors want is knowing what interests their readers.

To find out, read a publication’s Writer’s Guidelines. And read two or three back issues.

Then, make sure your article idea is as specific and unique as it can be. I suggest, too, that you write with a particular reader in mind — somebody who has particular likes and dislikes, specific interests and worries. Do that, and you’re much more likely to come up with an article that will be of genuine interest to your reader.


Now, all that said… back to guidebooks, which is half the reason we’re all sitting here in this conference room when we could be out sipping rum punch with our toes buried in the sand.

As I mentioned earlier, Avalon Publishing is in need of an author for its Moon Handbook to the Bahamas. For more details, click here:

Now, don’t forget that wretched Catch 22: You’ve got to be published to get published. Point is, nobody’s going to hand you a guidebook commission if you’ve never had a by-line to your name. So get out there this week. Write a short article. Send it to a small publication. And get yourself a clip. A guidebook could be right around the corner.

More tomorrow…

Jen Stevens
Your on-the-ground reporter in Nassau, Bahamas

[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.]