Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Traveler's Pen Revamp

Great news!! After six great months, I've decided to revamp Traveler's Pen. I'm dedicated to making this blog into an excellent resource for beginning travel writers, so if you have any ideas to make Traveler's Pen better, please send them my way. In the meantime, stay tuned!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Travel Writing Classes

I've spent the last few days re-reading my old, dog-eared, and heavily highlighted travel writing books. While I don't consider myself a beginning travel writer anymore, I still need to be reminded of things I learned years ago. I've even considered taking another travel writing class. That said, here are a few travel writing classes to jump start your career or fresh it.

Introduction to Travel Writing
Instructor: Jay Cooke
Date: Monday, Aug. 28, 7-10 p.m.
Location: Upper Market, San Francisco
Cost: $65

Breaking into Travel Writing
Instructor: Ethan Gilsdorf
Date: Tuesday, September 5, 7-10 pm
Location: Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, Boston
Cost: $65

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Advice: Introduction Letters

Are you tired of trying to come up with ideas for articles? I know sometimes my ideas well runs dry. But don't let that stop you from pursuing your writing goals. Instead of writing queries, try writing introduction letters to editors. Now, this may not work so well with large, consumer publications like Travel + Leisure. But you might score points with editors at smaller online zines or regional/local magazines. I know that introduction letters work. I've sent some that have resulted in jobs and I never had to brainstorm for ideas (these were for trade publications). But I am going to start sending introduction letters to some consumer publications to see what happens.

I came across a great article on writing-world.com the other day that has a great sample introduction letter. Check it out and good luck!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Personal: My National Geographic Adventure

This is not a resource post but more of a personal one. I wanted to share with you my experience over the last month preparing a query for National Geographic Adventure. I hope you can learn from it.

Let me began by saying I know it's crazy --- sending a query to one of the top travel magazines and for a feature story no less. But, as my travel writing career progresses forward I'm ready to leave the small publications behind and look to my future with larger ones. I'm grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by those magazines, but I realize if I'm going to make it in this business, I need to look my future with a larger paychecks and respectable bylines.

That said, after returning from Laos, I discovered I had a great idea for an article. Not just any story but one if I closed my eyes I could see on the cover of the magazine. Even more, one that would catapult my writing to the next level. Instead of immediately writing and sending a query, I studied four months of the magazine, looking at style and tone, format, and which destinations they feature and the subject matter their articles.

Next, I inquired the help of other travel writers. I needed to know, what are the key components to a great query letter? Yes, I'm written query letters before, but if I wanted my career to be different, I would have to be different. And that meant practically learning how to construct a query letter all over again. National Geographic Adventure is not a typical magazine and my query letter couldn't be either.

Then I started writing. The first drafts of my letter were three pages long. And as you know, the rule of queries is: the shorter the better. Cutting it down was painstaking and difficult. What details do I omit? What do I keep? After two weeks of editing, the query was down to a page and a half. Normally, I would have stopped here. Four months of researching, a week of writing, and two weeks of editing should have been enough, but, again, NGA is not a typical magazine. I needed more.

I hired Amy Scott, a professional editor, to read and critique my query. Unnecessary expense? Yes. But, her comments and suggestions, improved the flow of the letter. Small price to pay if I receive the assignment.

I spent another week tweaking it based on her suggestions. And here I am --- looking at the envelope with my query and published clips in it, which essentially could alter my life. Even now after everything I've done, I can't help but wonder? Is it good enough? What more could I have done?

Only time (three months to be exact) will tell. After reading my story, ask yourself: Are you doing everything you can? Or are you settling for good enough?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Beginning: Ernest Robl

This month's interview features veteran travel writer, Ernest Robl. In addition to travel writing, Ernest also specializes in photography and transportation writing --- involving his favorite subject, trains. Learn more about Ernest on his website, www.robl.w1.com

Name: Ernest H. Robl

Favorite travel writer and why: Paul Theroux. Better than most people, he describes how train travel is a communal experience that you share with your fellow passengers. Trains in different parts of the world vary quite a bit, yet train travel still has common elements -- even in vastly different cultures.

Favorite travel book and why: Riding the Iron Rooster, by Theroux.

How did you get started in travel writing? I studied journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and spent much of my time there working on the campus daily newspaper. Then for about five years, wrapped around two years of military service, I worked for the news service United Press International (UPI) -- then a vastly different organization from what it is now. In many of the stories that I wrote, including features that UPI subscribers could use to fill space on slow news days, I tried to write about what it was like to be at a given place at a given time. That's still my goal today. I write about many topics other than travel, including some technical subjects for trade magazines. But, writing about places and travel is always a favorite choice.

Name and publication of first published piece: The first newspaper feature that could be considered a travel piece was done for the Raleigh News & Observer while I was still in college in the late 1960s. It appeared before the rededication of Bennett Place state historic site, location of a major Civil War surrender. I have a clipping somewhere, but would have to dig through lots of old files. Many of the pieces that I did for UPI in the late 1960s and early1970s included travel elements. My first magazine piece that could be considered a travel piece appeared in Rail Classics in 1974 entitled "Morning Train from Da Nang," describing a train trip I took in Vietnam in 1970 while there in the U.S. Army.

# of published pieces your first year: When I was working for UPI, I often produced a dozen or more news stories in one day, though there were days where I only worked on one or two major stories. That experience (and the bureau managers I worked for at that time) taught me to write fast and compactly -- and to provide vivid descriptions.

How long did it take to publish your first piece? When working for UPI and newspapers, getting published wasn't a problem. The Vietnam train feature mentioned above was accepted by the second magazine I tried.

What is your best/worse rejection? I'm not sure that there are any particularly memorable rejections. I recently sold a piece on Christmas in Austria to the seventh magazine I tried. I believed in the story, and it was just a matter of not giving up. Last year, I spent considerable time doing preliminary work on a possible guidebook to Austria, the country where I was born. The publisher offered much encouragement before we ever got to the contract stage -- but at that point decided to cancel the project. I've found some use for the research I did -- but will never again devote as much time to a project without having a firm contract and an advance.

When was the exact moment you wanted to become a travel writer? I'm not sure. I've been a life-long railroad enthusiast and have always enjoyed writing about that subject. But, more than that, I have always enjoyed sharing my experiences with others through writing and photography -- much more than just doing straight news reporting.

When did you feel you were a travel writer? Again, I'm not sure. There have been a few pieces that I've written where I feel that I succeeded as well as anyone could in describing an experience.

Why travel writing? Travel writing is mostly about sharing experiences -- and that's the type of writing I like to do most and that I feel that I am best at.

Your thoughts on non-paying markets: Yes, in a few cases, I've contributed to low-paying or non-paying markets. But these are few and far between and only when these were the best or only venue for a story I wanted to tell. For beginning writers, I'd say, concentrate on paying markets if you are trying to get into the the business. Having someone pay you a decent amount for your creative work is the ultimate acceptance. And, each paid project will ultimately help you get another. Giving away your work does little to get you paid work in the future.

What do you feel is the state of travel writing, dead or alive? There is certainly good travel writing available -- and I hope that at least at times I manage to contribute something to this category. I am saddened by the amount of xenophobia that exists in some sectors in the U.S. World travel helps greatly in dealing with other cultures. I wish there were a greater market for features on non-U.S. destinations. Too many of the so-called travel magazines are all about being pampered in hotels and spas -- and very little about destinations and meeting people in other countries.

Finish this sentence: Why didn't someone tell me....... how much time and effort marketing takes -- and that freelancing is about 90 per cent business and only 10 per cent actual writing and photography.

Advice for other beginning travel writers: Write as much as you can about anything that you can. A staff position on a newspaper or magazine will help you polish your writing -- and to be able to tell good writing from bad.