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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
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
© Copyright 2006, Jan Burns
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