Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't Die of "Exposure"

Some of my favorite writing blogs have been featuring a lot of chatter about writers taking on assignments that don't pay. I have become quite passionate about the idea of writing for free recently, due in part to the fact that I've had some successes with my writing from paying markets and know that my work deserves compensation. And to be quite frank "exposure" isn't going to pay my bills! So I urge you, if you are serious about making a career (or even a fun hobby) out of freelance writing, DON'T write for free. Here are some common issues surrounding this whole writers debate:

**"I want to be published" -- I say, you need to put value on your time and energy. If you're spending time writing and researching copy for free, that's time you could have spent researching and writing a query to a paying market.

**A sure way you know you need to be paid for your writing is if the publication or website/e-zine accepts advertising. If a publication is pulling in ad dollars, they should be paying their writers!

**Are there ever exceptions to this rule? Sure, all rules are made to be broken. I've been a volunteer writer for a non-profit organization that I'm passionate about for about two years. BUT this is not a publication that is trying to "come up" on the backs of hard-working writers. Donating your talents to a cause is a great way to donate to something you believe in.

I have written a couple of articles for free when I was just starting out. But I recently withdrew an article that I submitted to a very popular travel site because they only pay in "exposure." Shortly after withdrawing the article I got a well-paying writing assignment from an editor who wanted two articles! I think the universe gave me a gift for standing up for my writing!

So to restate an often used quote - "Writers die of exposure" -- so will your business if you write for free!

My favorite writing blogs (mentioned up top):

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Writer's Resource: Mastheads

I posted about this on Written Road, but I wanted to share this tip with you. was started by a fellow freelance writer who wanted to organize her magazine mastheads and provide writers with updated mastheads (don't you just love simplicity?). The organization project has grown into a free resource with over 70 mastheads -- with magazines of all genres, including travel.

You can learn about new staff changes from magazine insiders and sign up to receive an email when the site is updated. The website also has a message board and articles about breaking into top magazines.

The travel section is extremely underrepresented, but with your can help, it could include every major travel magazine. Submit a masthead by faxing a copy to (760) 462-3980, scanning it, or typing and emailing it to

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Traveler's Pen Roll Call

The purpose of Traveler's Pen is to offer insight and resources to beginning travel writers. We want to know that the site is helping you and offering you useful information. Keeping up a blog takes time and research, so if you are using the site and read it regularly, drop us a comment and let us know that you're out there, in cyber-land getting inspired to follow your travel writing dreams! Since we've been running the blog for several months now, your feedback is important. We hope to hear from readers soon!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Writer's Resource: Vagablogging

If you're at least interested in travel writing, then you've heard of Rolf Potts. Rolf, in my opinion, is the king of travel writing. He has a very successful book, Vagabonding, which revoluntionized long term travel. His work has appeared in all the top travel magazines: Outside Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Conde Nast Traveler, and many more. He has keeps a very accurate and updated blog, Vagablogging.

When I first decided I wanted to be a travel writer, his blog was the first thing I read. I wanted to mimic and study his style and approach. So, I sent hours reading his archived articles and taking notes. He also has a page answering every beginning travel writers question: How do I get started.

Monthly, he interviews some of the travel writers in the business. As well as keeps his readers informed on the latest in the travel writing world, magazine articles, and his personal observations. His blog should definitely become part of your daily read.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Writer's Resource: Ten Tips

Jen Leo wanted me to spread the word about her post yesterday on Written Road. As a successful travel writer, she's often questioned about breaking into the business. In her post she offers ten tips to help a beginner get started.

1. Get Don George's Lonely Planet Guide To Travel Writing and Michael Shapiro's A Sense of Place.

2. Invest in a travel writing class.

3. Build a database of editorial contacts. You can get leads from a local library (periodicals section), or take the easy way out and buy the list from This is a massive list that you could cut down to fit your needs. And surely there will be regional magazines on there that you are looking for.

4. Read Read Read. Books, magazines, travel newspaper sections, all of it! If you want to write for magazines and newspapers, pick a few and start reading them. If you can afford a few subscriptions, great. If not, spend some time in the periodicals section of your local library. Read at least six months worth and study their style, what they've written, and what they haven't written about. If you want to write about your personal journeys, Travelers' Tales has more than 100 books that serve as great examples of travel essays.

5. Buy your books from your local travel store. Get to know the people that work there and let them know that you are looking for travel writing opportunities - network.

6. Attend author events. Network, network, network.

7. Ready to pitch? Get a subscription to so you have access to the "How to Pitch" section and start studying the way it is for different publications. They might even have a magazine that you are interested in listed.

8. Join a writers group for support and feedback on your writing.

9. Ask other writers how they broke in. Rolf Potts started by writing on spec, I started by getting an intership with Travelers' Tales. Others just submit until they're blue in the face. You can find out about several well known travel writers from Rolf's Travel Writers interview section on his website.

10. Last, but possibly the most important piece of advice--write. Write Write Write. Practice writing about place. Practice writing descriptions of where youare vs. anecdotes, vs. dialogue vs. history recaps. You can do this even without leaving town. Take notes where ever you are. What's the best table at the restaurant you are attending and why? Staying at a hotel? What rooms have the best views? Festivals, events, notable celebrities? What's unique and special about the place you are in. These are just a start.

Friday, July 07, 2006

eClass: MediaBistro's Travel Writing Bootcamp

Looking for a travel writing class that you can take from anywhere in the world? MediaBistro is offering their 8-week online class, Travel Writing Bootcamp this month. Here's what it offers:

*In this class, you can expect to learn:
*How to use where you live to break into the travel market
*How to expand your career as a travel journalist
*Which sections of travel magazines are easiest to break into
*How to write perfect pitch letters
*What to do when you get to your destination
*How to negotiate with your editor for travel compensation

The tuition is $499. If you're a member of Avant Guild it's $475. Click here for more details.

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Beginning: Megan Lyles

This month's interview features beginning travel writer, Megan Lyles. Her work has appeared in Travelers' Tales anthology "The Thong Also Rises". Megan is currently on a year long trip from New York to the tip of South America and keeps an excellent travelogue on her website.

Name/Age: Megan Lyles, 30.

Favorite travel writer: I can never pin myself down to a favorite anything, but I like Bill Bryson. I liked Kite Strings of the Southern Cross by Laurie Gough, and Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing. I liked a story by Thalia Zepatos in Travelers’ Tales India so much that a month later I was on a plane to Calcutta.

Travel writing, part-time or full-time: Part time

Name and publication of first published piece: "Riding the Semi-Deluxe" in the anthology The Thong Also Rises, edited by Jen Leo for Travelers’ Tales.

# of published pieces: Three. And I have some things out for consideration, and lots of ideas to pursue after I come home from traveling.

Why travel writing? The overly simple answer is because I’m a writer who loves to travel. To expand on that, I feel most alive – not always happy or comfortable, but alive – when I’m experiencing something new. When I’m traveling, the chance of the new increases with every meal, every conversation, every bus ride. Writing it all down helps me to understand it (and myself) better. And if I can share the experience with someone else, and give them a taste of that something new, all the better. Plus, I hate routine.

When was the exact moment you wanted to become a travel writer? There was no one exact moment, it was more like a sort of evolution of hopes. I’ve always written. (Somewhere among my things is half of a science fiction novel that I wrote in a Mead spiral notebook when I was in the seventh grade.) And I’ve always been a fan of travel writing, because it allowed me to travel vicariously when I couldn’t in real life. When I took a three-month trip to India a few years ago, mass e-mailed travelogues were coming into style, so I gave that a try. The response from my friends was extremely encouraging and that’s when the idea of travel writing first entered my head.

Still, the nice response only proved that India is interesting and my friends are kind, not that I was necessarily cut out to be a travel writer. So I took a couple of writing classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshops in New York, one of them with travel writer David Farley. I wanted to see whether this was something that I would put long-term energy into, and to see whether my skills could transcend mass e-mails. It was somewhere in Farley’s class that I decided I should go for it.

How long did it take to publish your first piece? I struggled over “Semi-Deluxe” for a long time. I was adapting it from an e-mail and after multiple attempts I still couldn’t figure out why such a funny event – being threatened by a giant pig while using a squat toilet at a bus station – seemed so uninteresting on the page. Finally, I gave up the idea of a cute introduction and completely cut out the first couple of pages talking about everything else that had happened the morning of the bus trip. It made an interesting e-mail, but a boring travel essay. Once I found the heart of the story, it was fairly easy to polish it up. I submitted it about a year after I’d made the decision to pursue travel writing, and it was accepted just a couple of months later.

Your thoughts on non-paying markets: I believe non-paying markets have their place, especially for the beginning writer trying to build up some clips. I submitted a piece to because they have an extensive readership and provide the chance to get feedback from a community of other writers. I was not paid, but I feel I was compensated.

But I avoid the startup publications that offer some version of the popular “We can’t pay our writers now, but you’ll get your name in print and then maybe some time in the future…” If they can’t afford to pay their writers, the people who provide the content that will draw in their audience, maybe they aren’t ready to start a magazine.

What's your dream publication? Anything that someone sitting next to me on the subway might be reading, so I can act nonchalant about it all. Of the glossy magazines, I like National Geographic Traveler. Of course I’d love to publish a book of my own.

What do you feel is the state of travel writing, dead or alive?
That depends on what kind of travel writing you’re talking about. Glossy, advertising-driven destination pieces seem to be thriving, and probably always will. But there aren’t as many markets for more thoughtful travel narrative. Sometimes the most interesting and illuminating pieces don’t make you want to throw your swimsuit in a bag and run to the airport, and those are harder to place.

What is your best/worse rejection? The worst rejection was the one that I thought was an acceptance until the book came out and I found I wasn't in it. It was before I'd been published for real, so when I got the e-mail telling me they loved my submission, asking me how I wanted it credited, and explaining the contract details, I just assumed it was going to be published. It was a big name publisher and my first acceptance (so I thought) so I told a lot of people and reaped a lot of free celebratory drinks.

Needless to say, I was pretty crushed when I went flipping through the book at Barnes & Noble and didn't see my name. Nowadays I know that if a piece is accepted, I'll get a message saying "your piece has been accepted" and not "we really liked your piece" and I’ll hear from the editor again before the book appears in the store, and most importantly, I’ll get an actual contract to sign and not a description of a contract.

Besides that little misunderstanding, I’ve never gotten a rejection letter. What I get instead is just silence, like my submission has just fallen into a void. Some publishers even warn in advance that they’ll only respond to writers they want to publish. At this point in my career, if an editor took the time to personally reject my work, I’d take it as encouragement!

Finish this sentence: Why didn't someone tell me.... that critiques of my work are as likely to focus on my personality and travel choices as my writing skills. Not pleasant.

Advice for other beginning travel writers: Read good travel writing and pay attention to the content and pacing of the story. Know that something isn't automatically interesting just because it happened overseas, so don’t feel you have to describe every single thing you did in your day. If it doesn’t enhance the sense of place you’re creating, or add to the plot, leave it out.

Learn more about Megan at