It’s almost a rite of passage for aspiring freelance travel writers to start their career selling their travel writing to regional magazines. Regional magazines aren’t intimidating, and most states have dozens of them. And, fortunately, most regionals seem to be surviving the recession, although they too have taken hits in advertising sales and subscriptions.
Regional travel magazine editors tend to rely heavily on local freelancers for the majority of their stories, but they remain open to stories from people from out-of-towners who know the area well or pitch a “must have” story idea.
Travel Writing for Regionals: Persistence and Proving Yourself
Despite their preference for local travel writers, regional magazines can be difficult to break into the first time. However, I’ve found that persistence pays off. It’s taken quite an effort and many pitches to break into some Pacific Northwest regional magazines, but once I’ve got my first story in on time, and showed that I’m reliable, it became easier to sell more stories.
Using this approach I’ve built a portfolio of well over 40 articles in 12 Pacific Northwest regional travel magazines and newspapers, which has further opened up travel writing opportunities in international magazines, and a regional in-flight. I’ve resold many of my regional articles, including a series of article about an antique automobile and aeroplane museum in Hood River, Oregon, to international specialty magazines in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A.
The beauty of writing travel pieces for regionals is that you don’t have to go far for your travel stories. But if your story is in a far-flung corner of your state or a neighboring state, you should research the area and sell other stories in advance, to make the trip economically viable. I’ve done this several times, and it makes for a great outing.
Other perks associated with researching and writing for regional travel magazines include free entry into museums and personal tours; free accommodation at resorts, hotels, and B & B’s; free meals; and press passes to film festivals, to name a few. These are generally easy to organize in advance, as long as you have a letter of assignment from a magazine editor. Contact the local convention and visitor’s bureau, and let the people there know you are on an assignment. Then ask politely if they can arrange complimentary accommodation and press passes for you. I’ve done this extensively in the past two years and have only been turned down once.
Travel Writing Story Ideas
What types of stories do regional magazine editors look for? Obviously they must be focused on people and places, but travel stories about exotic, far away places are a hard sell, and although the occasional regional magazine publishes them, this is a rarity. Instead of pitching a round-up piece about tourist attractions in your State or County, pitch a particular place or attraction. “I look for something original—or at least with an original twist—and something authentic”, says Matt Werbach, editor of Columbia Gorge Magazine. “We want our stories to be relevant, and we want readers to walk away having been enticed. If a travel writer has the technical skills I’m looking for and they marry that with a fresh, honest way of looking at a person or a place, they’re in.”
What have I written about in Pacific Northwest regional magazines? The Seattle Museum of the Mysteries; the top climbing spots and wildlife reserves in Central Washington; military museums in the Puget Sound; history museums and State parks in the Columbia Gorge; the Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo; a schooner rendezvous in Tacoma; a summer wine cruise in a 126-foot schooner; a scenic route for motorcyclists; a beekeeper; a resort; the cowboy and western wall murals at Toppenish, Wash; the radio and electricity museum in Bellingham, Wash; the building of the Deception Pass Bridge; the Seattle International Film Festival; and round-up pieces about weekend stays in Portland, Ore, and Leavenworth, Wash. I also do a regular monthly column for a Northwest yachting magazine about marina destinations around the Puget Sound. I give you this long list to prove that only your interests and imagination limit you.
Where do I dream up my story ideas? While I’m traveling, I’m always scanning for interesting places and people. You can also get your ideas from books about your region. I had read a book about Northwest “ghost towns,” and stopped off Interstate 90 to explore Roslyn, Wash. After walking around this fascinating little town, I pitched the story and it was accepted for a regional travel magazine.
Sometimes stories fall into your lap. While covering a schooner rendezvous for a local yachting magazine I was invited to go on a wine cruise around the Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands. I sold this story to three yachting magazines in two different countries. Occasionally an editor will call you and ask you to write a travel story. Never, ever turn him down! This can be the start of a productive relationship.
Travel Writing for Regionals: General advice
Some advice for beginning and experienced writers alike: avoid locking yourself into what I call “one-note travel writing”, where all you write about is restaurant revues, for example. This limits your story generating potential, and writing about a diverse range of travel topics prevents you from getting bored with writing about the same old things.
“I love travel articles that make our readers feel connected,” says Lisa Patterson, editor of South Sound magazine. “And stories that inspire folks to take a trip and explore their own backyard or beyond. Heck, even if they never actually take the trip, a great travel article will take them away from the daily grind. We might not all be able to hike a mountain, take a cruise or swim in a blue lagoon, but good writing and photography can help us imagine ourselves doing it”.
Writer’s guidelines will help you focus on what a magazine is looking for. Likewise, scanning the magazines that you are targeting will tell you the average travel article length, the number of articles in each issue, and which places have been covered recently (so don’t pitch them). A variety of bylines suggest the magazine uses a lot of freelancers. Reading some of the stories will also give you a feel for the tone of the magazine. For example, are the travel articles “highbrow” or upscale, or down to earth?
Many editors like to start new writers off with front of the book short stories of a few hundred words. Personally, I prefer to pitch my travel stories as features. When you pitch a story, be sure to mention that you have a number of high-resolution photos to accompany the article. You probably won’t get any extra cash for the photos, but just having them can tip the editor’s decision in your favor.
Travel Writing for Regionals: Advantages and Disadvantages
What are the downsides of freelance travel writing for regional publications? First, they don’t pay enough for freelance writers to live off—an average paycheck for a feature story in a regional magazine is around $250, give or take $100. Certainly many regionals pay more, but the higher paying ones are also highly sought after—and the competition much fiercer. But do the math; you’d need to be selling and writing 3 or 4 articles each week, or 12 to 16 a month, to regional magazines to earn a livable income, and frankly there aren’t enough local travel magazines where you live to support that sort of proliferation. And it’d be difficult to come up with a large number of fresh story ideas to hook several editors every month.
Why do I continue to do travel writing for regionals if their payout is so modest? I love exploring and writing about the Pacific Northwest, and writing for regionals is a great way to get your foot in the door, establish your credibility as a travel writer, before moving up the travel magazine food chain.
One other piece of advice on maximizing your regional travel writing: my philosophy is that once I establish a relationship with a regional editor, I try to keep stories in that magazine “topped up” well into the future. I just keep pitching story ideas mercilessly. If you’re in for the long haul, it’s good to have articles being published for months to come, to keep the checks rolling in.
Where can you find regional travel magazines? Visit your local bookstore and you’ll find a whole section. And the larger bookstores stock regional magazines from other states for you to browse. Also check out the websites of the International Regional Magazine Association (http://www.regionalmagazines.org) and the City and Regional Magazine Association (http://www.citymag.org).
Follow my travel writing advice and you’ll eventually break into regional magazines. They can be rewarding, and will establish your credibility as a travel and lifestyle writer, so that you can use these bylines to access the bigger international magazines.
Travel Writing: A Sampling of Regional Magazines
International Magazine Association:
City and Regional Magazine Association:
www.citymag.org This website is a gold mine with a large regional listing
Online writers guidelines for regional magazines:
Cape Cod Life
New Mexico Magazine
Northwest Travel Magazine
Oregon Coast Magazine
Sunset (Living in the West)
Yankee (New England’s Magazine)
Published in The Writer magazine, February, 2011.
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