Travel Writing Workshop

Monday I attended a 3-hour workshop on travel writing conducted by Jason Clampet, online editor for Frommer’s Travel Guides for Media Bistro in Washington, DC.  He condensed a weeklong class into an evening presentation, including questions, so he covered a lot of information quickly.

The good news is that new writers have more options to establish a platform now to get an editor’s attention, such as personal web sites and blogs, that can build a personal brand at low cost.  As for social media, he uses Twitter more than LinkedIn.  The bad news is that because of the reorganization of the business models for magazines and books and the conversion to more online publications, the odds for getting a positive response to your excellent query are only about 1:15.  (Other writers usually quote odds of 1:10.)

I guess the theme of his presentation was that persistence pays off.  You must study your potential markets carefully and note the specific staff person for your applicable section of a publication, usually not a senior editor.  Start with the most junior person, often an editorial assistant when making your pitch.  You also should brainstorm your ideas for a pitch and analyze both the unique qualities of your idea and specifically how it would fit a publication.  You also should note that there usually is a wall between the staff of the online version and the print version of a publication so you would need to direct your pitch separately, depending on how you see your fit.

Regardless of how the market is changing with the glut of writers and content mills that won’t pay writers, the traditional values of marketing yourself still apply.  Editors are looking for relevant clips, expect a finely crafted query that will instantly get their attention and may respond only after repeated queries of a long period of time with different pitches until you make one that fits a particular need at that moment.  E-mail queries are increasing accepted by most editors, and phone calls are not.  You may call an administrative assistant for more detailed information, specifically whom you should query for a particular section, but most editors only will be annoyed if they even will accept your call.

He was brutally honest in criticizing many publications that will not accept articles from writers who have accepted “freebies” for travel.  Since very few magazines have the budget anymore to pay your expenses, they are unrealistic in expecting writers to cover their own expenses.  Their rationale appears to be that you should write about the destination where you live because you are the local expert.  Travel writing is formulaic and provides a service for the reader rather than being a “creative” form of writing.  You want your personality to show through, but you must cover the basics first.  Travel memoirs are a hard sell.

Considering the extra expense of traveling to DC for such a short presentation, I think in the future that I will stick with the online offerings of Media Bistro or Avant Guild where I can learn many of the same ideas.


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