Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Myrna Oakley
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Newspapers across the country are downsizing, eliminating sections and cutting staff; other papers are ceasing publication altogether. Magazines are also downsizing, cutting staff or closing, so freelance writers are seeing many of their traditional markets disappear. That means more competition for getting those plum assignments. Don't despair, however; there are still many print and online opportunities for travel writers. Take this quick quiz to see where you fit into today's travel writing field.
1. Have I identified my beat? Do I have one primary beat or several beats that interest me?
In other words, what are your specific areas of interest and expertise, and what geographic regions and travel-related topics do you like to explore and write about? Some freelancers are constantly on-the-go to the most exotic locales they can find on all seven continents. Have-laptop-cell-phone-suitcase/backpack-will-travel is their motto. Other writers prefer staying closer to home, mining their own geographic regions for article ideas from weekend or scenic rambles, the best local eateries and coffee shops and cozy inns, to hiking and backpacking and exploring historic and renovated sites like vintage hotels, timber barons' mansions, railroad depots and covered bridges. We also need to factor into our marketing efforts the fact that many folks are vacationing closer to home in these economic times. For up-to-date information for all things related to inbound and outbound travel as well as emerging trends in travel, see http://www.travelmole.com and http://www.mediakitty.com. The bottom line: Work from your established beat, track current trends, and expand your beat to other areas of interest as you work to build resource networks and get those article assignments.
2. How committed am I to providing quality content for my editors and their readers? How well am I positioning my travel article ideas for the appropriate markets and the right readers?
Again, this is where your knowledge and expertise translate into credibility for your editors. You know your beat. You have established a network of reliable sources throughout your geographic area, your region, and/or your travels abroad. Writers who know their readers and who slant quality content directly to those readers and the corresponding markets will succeed in today's freelance world. Stay current with trends and magazine markets by logging onto http://www.woodenhorsepub.com. Publisher Meg Weaver offers a free weekly online marketing newsletter as well as other subscription services, including a database of over 2,000 magazine guidelines and current editorial calendars. The bottom line: MaryAnn Bekkedahl, Executive Vice President and Group Publisher, Rodale, suggests, "It's all about the content. Quality content attracts quality readers who attract quality advertisers. Together, quality readers and advertisers drive the revenues that can be re-invested in quality content."
3. How would I describe the readers I want to reach, inform, and inspire through my travel articles?
Whether you have been writing and marketing travel articles for awhile or whether you are planning to explore this freelance avenue for the first time, you've probably thought about your preferred readers. For example, are you an avid member of the active lifestyle set? Or are you more the soft adventure or on-the-beaten-path type of traveler? Does the affluent and wealthy traveler mirror your lifestyle or is the budget traveler a better fit for your travel style? There are even markets for couch potatoes, the armchair travelers who'd rather read that great article on Istanbul or Morocco or the Grand Canyon than travel there. There are also markets for the low-risk travelers who prefer staying at well known hotel chains and generally dine close to the inn rather than venturing down to the pier to take in the local seafood café overlooking the water.
Your own travel style will help you identify your readers and the corresponding markets for the types of articles you want to write. For example, don't try to sell an idea on ice climbing with crampons on Mount Hood to Outside Magazine if you're not a totally extreme-adventure type of writer. Focus on the readers that you best relate to and think of your readers as central to your personal brand as a travel writer. This will give you credibility. The bottom line: According to Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines, Hearst Corporation, "Be your reader. Understand from the inside out just what attracts her or him to a headline, an image, a feature [article]. Is the writing, the visual. . . and the voice compelling? Tell a story. Fill the [article] with what your readers crave, what inspires them." Levine also suggests that we need to be original and give our readers ideas and illustrations that they can't find elsewhere.
4. How have readers' travel research and reading habits changed in today's online and print environments? Are there other ways for travel writers to earn income on the web?
It's no secret that today's active travelers are savvy researchers when it comes to planning trips near and far. Above all, they want current and reliable travel information instantly. With the internet blooming with travel information sites, travel blogs, income-producing travel web sites developed by freelance writers, and social networking options galore, travel writers also need to explore these avenues and markets for travel writing. For examples of one of the newest trends, travel-writer-produced web sites designed to produce income, browse these excellent sites: http://www.ilovethefingerlakes.com by Ronda Roaring, who lives in up-state New York; http://www.europeforvisitors.com, by Durant and Cheryl Imboden, who live in the Midwest; http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk, by a writer couple who live in Scotland; and http://www.TimeTravel-Britain.com by Writing-World.com's editor Moira Allen. These sites offer hundreds and hundreds of pages of travel information along with relevant click-on advertisements related to travel.
Additional resources for travel writers:
Obtain current information from local County and City Convention and Visitor Bureaus and Visitor Information Centers as well as from State and Country Tourism Offices and their web sites. Another new trend: A number of these sites are beginning to use Twitter to engage and encourage travelers to ask relevant travel questions and share travel information.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Myrna Oakley is a Northwest freelance writer who writes Off the Beaten Path Oregon for the Globe Pequot Press series. She also wrote Off the Beaten Path Washington; Recommended Bed & Breakfasts: Pacific Northwest (Globe Pequot); Public and Private Gardens of the Northwest (Beautiful America); and Bed & Breakfast Northwest (Chronicle Books). She teaches Travel Writing and Novel Writing at Portland Community College Community Ed.