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Jackie here, writing to you from our Ecuador Travel Writing Expedition.  Today, we visited the local village of Iluman, where about 27 shamans (the indigenous name for healers) live.  

Highly respected in the community, locals come from all of the surrounding communities to meet with these healers whenever they are feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually ill.

We had the rare opportunity to meet two of these healers, as well as participate in a special purification treatment, to help cleanse our spirits.

If you’re wondering who spat in my face, it was the shamans.

As part of their purification treatment, the Shamans spray a mist of sweet-smelling alcohol from their mouths over each person to cleanse them and then later spit that same alcohol over a burning candle, spraying a stream of fire at each person and casting away any negative energy.

While the subject of this e-mail might suggest otherwise, it’s actually a very sacred and purifying process. But of course, you had to read farther into my note to find that out.

And that’s exactly what I wanted you to do.  As freelance travel writer Steenie Harvey put it today, when writing your travel articles, “you have to catch your reader’s attention in the first five seconds.” And it helps to have an attention-grabbing title or headline.

Steenie led a session today on headlines and leads and noted that when you’re sending something into an editor, it’s especially important that you have an eye-catching headline and subject line on your e-mail to pique their interest and get them to read on.  So your article will stand out from the pile of other submissions.  And they’ll want to publish and ultimately pay you for your piece.

She says that the editor may end up changing your initial title, but you want to catch their eye. And make them think “Hey, this sounds like a story worth reading.”

To help you decide whether your story headlines will be successful in captivating your editor’s (and ultimately your reader’s) interest, you can use the Four U’s.  Is your title:

Useful
Urgent
Unique
Ultra-specific

If your headline satisfies at least two of the above specifications, you should have an enticing and captivating lead for your story. (It’s difficult to get all four every time.)

Your next job is to follow your title up with a good lead.

Here are some suggestions Steenie gave us for doing that…

1. Paint a picture.  Using rich descriptions can really transport the reader to where you are.  And make them want to read on and get the full experience.  Try to use all of your senses when exploring a place, so when you articulate it to your readers, they are not only able to visualize it, but understand the sounds, smells, and perhaps even tastes (especially if you’re writing about a restaurant) of the atmosphere.

2. Start in the middle of the action.   Instead of starting at the beginning of your journey, throw the reader right in the center of it.

They will be immediately drawn into the action and will want to keep reading to find out what happens and how you got there in the first place.

3. Start with a conversation.  Pulling out direct dialect from your travel experiences can help the reader visualize that they are right in the story, listening to your conversation as you are having it.  

Sincerely,

Jackie Gray
Great Escape Publishers

[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.]

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