How To Write & Sell Travel Guides
An overview of how to turn your tales of the road into published magazine/newspaper columns, travel guides, and books with a regional flavor.
If you have a passion for living out of a suitcase, keeping a detailed journal, and relating your adventures to others, you can put it all to good use by honing your skills as a travel writer. While the ultimate scenario would be to find a publisher willing to pay all your expenses to exotic ports of call, there are plenty of print and Internet markets in the interim that are eager to buy new articles and, accordingly, help defray some of the costs of previous or upcoming vacations. In addition, a truly zealous wayfarer can compile enough material for a full-fledged book that bears the signature style of someone who isn’t just “at home in the world” but can invite others to feel exactly the same way.
Here’s a look at how to turn your trips into “tips” and share advice about that road-less-traveled with your fellow globetrotters!
Flip through any number of magazines or newspapers and you’re likely to find a section devoted to travel. Although editorial assignments such as this frequently go to seasoned staffers, you’ll notice that quite a few may have been contributed by local freelancers and/or are reprinted from other sources. In the case of freelance submissions, your first step is to contact the magazine or newspaper and request a copy of their submission guidelines. This will apprise you of the desired word length, upcoming themes and deadlines (perhaps tied to special events), as well as any “must-have’s” they would like to see included. “Must-have” information, for instance, might relate to road directions, sample hotel prices, weather, etc. It is also important to query whether the publication accepts accompanying photographs or prefers short, filler pieces that can be interspersed among staff-written features and advertising. If the travel stories are primarily extracted from previously printed material, don’t despair! Treat this as a referral list for pursuing some of those other avenues of publication! Cautionary note: whether you are writing travel items for Internet sites or traditional print media, make sure that you only negotiate one-time or first-use rights. Otherwise, you won’t be able to resell them elsewhere or (much worse) be able to incorporate them in your own book.
Peruse the travel racks of your local bookstore and you’ll discover something interesting: a lot of the chapters were individually penned by a variety of different people, each providing their particular level of expertise regarding the destination’s history, accommodations, dining establishments, etc. Even better, many of these guidebooks are updated every 1-2 years in order to address pertinent changes, providing an entrepreneurial author a chance to jump in and either propose a new topic or offer a fresh slant on a well-worn one. While it helps to have published clips of your travel writing to accompany your query, a demonstrated passion for the locale and an insider’s view on what will make the trip safer, more memorable, or cost-cutting for others is sometimes all it takes to garner a positive response from the editor. The two major differences between writing text for established guidebooks and writing magazine articles—in spite of the fact that both may carry your byline—is that the latter will have a significantly shorter shelf-life and contain more anecdotal material than a chapter written for the primary purpose of being informative.
BROCHURES & NEWSLETTERS
SOMEone is writing all that scintillating ad copy that entices readers to shed their cares on a sun-splashed beach or trek their way through a lush rain forest. Why shouldn’t it be you? With a little homework and a friend in the travel business, it’s not hard to find out who produces those glitzy tri-fold inserts or magazine-style promotions for family vacation packages, cruise lines, etc. It’s an incredibly tough market to break into, but opportunities nonetheless exist for writers and photographers who can combine an unabashed flair for “schmaltz” with an extensive level of knowledge regarding a particular region or locale. On a smaller scale, travel agencies rely heavily on walk-in business and/or the local media to get the word out about current vacation deals offered through their business. Do they ever produce in-house flyers or perhaps a newsletter? Harried as this business can get—especially during airfare wars and special promotions—many agents lack the time or writing skill to throw together much more than a page which looks—well, thrown together. The pay to help them out may be small or nil, but the professionalism you can bring to the operation not only provides you with some requisite portfolio pieces to take to other, better-paying markets but keeps you fresh in terms of generating current topics. (And don’t forget that working for a travel agency in the capacity of a writer will lend valuable credibility to your bio.)
LOCAL AUTHOR MAKES GOOD
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the hometown you have lived in and pretty much taken for granted the past 30 years could actually be on a total stranger’s vacation list of places to see. “But it’s not San Francisco!” you lament. The fact your local neighborhood ISN’T a major name can actually be used to your advantage, for what this means is that the market isn’t already saturated with articles and photos about this very same spot. Not only can you tap this situation to spin a refreshingly new story for any of the above listed markets, but also put together a complete book of your own and engage local merchants to help you sell it. Whether you opt for the route of self-publishing or query the nearest university press, it’s essential to concurrently make the rounds of every business or organization that rates a mention in your chapters. For instance: local restaurants, gift shops, bed and breakfast inns, historic sites, and entertainment venues would not only welcome the new customers your book could potentially generate for them but would be amenable to having the finished product on display for sale. (Their enthusiasm, by the way, usually has a direct correlation to how much space you’re providing to glowing commentary and/or interviews about them!)
SOME OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
Are you a photographer or do you know of someone who’d like to collaborate with you on capturing your subject matter in its best light? Nothing supplements good narrative better than a host of quality pictures to give your readers a realistic sense of “being there.”
Who is your target market: Families with young children? Business travelers who have a weekend stay to fill up before Monday’s round of meetings? Newlywed couples? Senior citizens? The answer to this question will help you determine which areas to concentrate on, whether it’s budget accommodations, kid-friendly museums, public transportation, or best places to slip away for a kiss! And don’t rule out the possibility of “sequels” if your work enjoys a successful first round; i.e., updating previously published material or writing it from an alternative slant to accommodate a different breed of traveler.
Keep in mind, too, the basics that contribute to every useful guidebook: How to Get There, Where to Stay, What to Eat, What to Wear, What’s the Weather, What’s the Cost of Admission and, if you’re writing about foreign countries, What’s the Currency, and What are the Customs. Many travel books also include easy to read maps, emergency phone numbers, and other recommended reading so that the first-time visitor will feel comfortable before he or she ever packs a suitcase!