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Seven Tips For Writing and Selling Travel Articles
by Jan Burns

If you like to travel, you may have thought about trying to write about your experiences. I've sold many travel articles over the years, and have found it to be fun and profitable. Travel writing can be a competitive field, though. Seven things have helped me to make sales, and they might help you, too.

1. Local and regional travel writing is great, because your travel expenses will be low, and you can revisit sites easily to get additional information and/or pictures. You can write about places you have visited often, and feel comfortable writing about.

Target newspapers or magazines that might be interested in your articles. Study their travel sections. How many free-lance articles do they use? (When it says "Special to the Paper" or "Correspondent" under a person's byline, it means a freelancer wrote the article.) Note how the writers present their information in the articles. Are they written in first person, or third person? Do the writers interview people in their articles? What information do the writers include in their sidebars? You now know what types of articles the editors buy – so write your article(s) accordingly.

2. Write about places you love, because your enthusiasm will shine through. For example, London is one of my favorite cities. I've written about its pubs, the River Thames, British food, afternoon tea, and the Tower of London. Writing these articles was a joy, rather than just a job. Of course, I include basic information, but I also include the little things I have discovered about them that I found truly fascinating. Editors have told me they love my personal insights. I have sold some of these articles four or five times, after adding updates and checking to make sure the details are still correct.

3. Before starting an article, I always give it my "twenty questions test". I want to make sure I have enough interest in the subject, and that there's enough information available to make it a viable project. If I can't come up with twenty questions, it usually means I either have too narrow of an idea, I'm not interested in it enough to pursue it, or I need to do more basic research about the idea. I will usually then cross it off my list, or possibly shelve the idea until I gather additional information. When I started writing I would often waste time and energy by starting an article enthusiastically, only to find there wasn't really a market for it. I rarely do that now.

4. Submitting photos with my articles has increased the size of my paychecks nicely. Editors will pay as much or more money for my pictures as for my article. If you're not already a photographer, seriously consider getting a camera and pulling out the instruction booklet to learn how all the features work. It's worth your time and effort to shoot pictures, whether you have a digital or film camera.

Publications generally have guidelines for what types of pictures or images they will accept. When in doubt, ask.

5. Writing sidebars can get you more money. This may seem obvious, but this easy way to increase your earnings can be overlooked. I use sidebars to give information related to that found in the main article, but either for space or other reasons didn't include it there. For example, in an article I wrote on Bandera, Texas dude ranches, I included a sidebar listing other U.S. dude ranches, their physical descriptions, and unique guest activities. A second sidebar listed the details about each of the dude ranches I mentioned in the story.

6. Many (if not most) newspapers don't want a query letter; they just want you to send your whole article, on spec. Magazines probably want a query letter. Learning to craft an effective query letter is well worth the time and effort it takes to produce a good one. Querying saves a lot of time, since an editor may have a specific direction he/she wants you to go in, or might have an article already written on the subject.

After writing a number of queries I finally developed a query format that I use every time. First paragraph is either the actual lead of my story or an interest-catching idea to hook an editor. My second paragraph is made up of anecdotes or facts. The third paragraph describes my personal interest, and/or association with the article topic. Fourth paragraph closes with me asking the editor if she is interested in seeing the article. I have a one-page bio which I attach to the query.

7. As you're researching your article, try to come up with more than one article possibility from your work. For example, if I were going to San Antonio to write a newspaper article on the Riverwalk, I'd also try to get pictures and story material about the missions there, and perhaps information and pictures of the colorful Mexican Market (El Mercado).

When I started writing travel articles years ago I had lofty dreams of having someone else totally pay for my exotic travels. That has never materialized. But, every trip I take I sell articles that cover 25% to 50% of my travel expenses. I find that pretty enjoyable.

Travel writing is a great way to combine love of travel with your writing skills. Just remember to choose good topics, know your audience, and take great pictures.

© Copyright 2006, Jan Burns

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