Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
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by Kayleen Reusser
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Start at Home
Start with where you live. Is there a famous landmark nearby? Years ago, when I first started writing travel articles, I thought of the Johnny Appleseed Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The famous fruit bearer's grave is located in a park where the festival is held. An estimated 250,000 visitors attend the festival, visit several military encampments, and buy hundreds of each fall. My article sold its first time out to Good Reading, a monthly magazine. Later, Capper's bought a reprint.
I followed that with an article on the world-renowned Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Festival, which takes place on Labor Day in Auburn, Indiana, 50 miles from my home. After attending the festival and viewing dozens of elegant vintage vehicles, I believed people would like to know more about this unique event. The next year, I checked with the ACD Festival public relations people to make sure my dates and facts were current. Then I wrote an article about the festival for Whatzup!, a Fort Wayne-area entertainment guide.
Of course, travel articles depend on photos for publication. Photos add pizzazz, visual interest, and information to a travel article. I usually carry a camera -- now digital -- to every event, looking for that particular shot that will thrill an editor and help him decide to buy my article. For the Johnny Appleseed festival I snapped a couple dozen shots, including one of a Civil War reenactor dressed like a doctor standing outside his tent. Both Capper's and Good Reading used the photo with the article. Since I sold the photo of the Civil War doctor and the article for first rights to Good Reading, I was free to publish both again.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera at the ACD festival. The public relations departments of the festival kindly supplied slides and professional photos for the article. The downside is that since the ACD photos were complimentary, no payment was made for them, only for the text. Since publications usually pay separately for photos, I try to take my own whenever possible.
A further note on photos. Not every shot I take is for publication. Many are for research purposes. During a recent visit to Nashville, Indiana, I photographed the interior and exterior of several shops. When I was writing the travel article about the town and needed to describe products for sale inside shops, the photos enabled me to remember which stores sold what. [Editor's note: It's also helpful to snap shots of information signs, which can help remind you of what that beautiful scenic photo was all about.]
Consider People and Buildings
A travel article can be about a person, as long as there's a travel tie-in. A few years back, I wrote an article about Gene Stratton-Porter, a popular nature novelist who lived in Indiana during the early 20th century. Since both of her Hoosier homes, one in Geneva and one in Rome City, are state historic sites, I included directions, cost of admittance, and hours of operation. The editor of Women's Household liked it and published it, paying me $100.
A travel article can also center on a certain building rather than an area. Upon planning a visit to eastern Montana, I queried the editor of Cowboys and Country Magazine with a roundup of possible article ideas. He voiced interest in a restaurant in Billings called The Rex. The building dated back to the late 1800s, when Buffalo Bill Cody's chef quit traveling and settled down to establish his own business.
My focus was on the history of the place rather than the food, although I mentioned its specialty: Montana-raised Rosemary Roasted Buffalo. The Cowboys and Country editor liked the historic angle and the menu details I included. Since the restaurant had a dark interior, I asked the owner for photos, which he had hired a professional photographer to take. He willingly provided several.
Use Your Vacations
If the only time you can research a travel destination is during your vacation, go for it. I had heard of Amelia Island, 30 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, for years. Finally my husband and I decided to visit the area. I hit the jackpot for visual interest and historic value. This tiny island has existed under the reign of nine flags and has a Civil War fort that visitors can explore. The town of Fernandina Beach has 90 houses on the national historic register. There's even a Ritz-Carlton resort. The editors of Florida Retirement Lifestyles and Whatzup! purchased my article on this lovely area.
Even when my husband and I traveled to Alaska for our wedding anniversary, I was on the lookout for travel writing ideas. I struck gold when we climbed aboard the Discovery Riverboat on the Chena River near Fairbanks. I took lots of photos and notes during the relaxing and informative 3-hour trip. On our return, I queried my editor at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper for which I freelance. The paper had decided to begin a weekly travel section. My article on the Discovery Riverboat was its first article. Better yet, three of my photos were used to illustrate the article.
Be alert to anniversaries for tourism-related events. When I read that the 50th anniversary of James Dean's death would occur in 2005, I put it on my calendar to write a travel article about him, and the celebration his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana planned in his honor.
Since Dean is a nationally known figure, I researched online markets and the travel sections of Writer's Market and The Writer's Handbook for multiple sales. However, I've learned not to limit my searching to obvious travel publications. For example, Grit published my article on the Peru, Indiana, Children's Circus as part of its center spread. Although my focus was on circus skills and discipline the children learn from adult volunteers, I also turned the piece into a travel-related article by including ticket information, dates of performances, and the circus' Web site.
Travel article ideas are everywhere. The challenge for us as writers is to look around and decide which one to tackle first.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Kayleen Reusser has written hundreds of articles for dozens of publications, including Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul 2, Today's Christian Woman, Grit, Decision, Scouting, and Fort Wayne Magazine. She writes regularly for the Travel, Neighbors, and Ticket! sections of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. She is the editor of a jail chaplaincy newsletter. Visit her website at http://www.KayleenR.com.