Freelance travel writing is not for the timid or the indecisive.
I started coaching travel writers in February 2015, and now maintain a stable of about twenty coaching clients. During this short period of time, I noticed some interesting and similar recurring habits among the new writers.
Almost without exception, they have a tendency to worry about things that are highly unlikely to happen. Their emails to me are crammed with, “What if…?” questions.
Helping them with these concerns is why they hired me in the first place, so it's good to hear their concerns. The point is, my coaching clients aren’t unique in their concerns - it’s a universal problem.
I hear the same questions and concerns when I’m at conferences, in workshops, and even on press trips.
It’s human nature to hesitate when learning something new, and novice travel writers are no exception. What I’ve noticed is new travel writers second-guess themselves about things that will probably never happen, or things that are easily remedied.
Instead of sending out queries to magazines, the writers tie themselves up in knots and let these imaginary problems stop them.
Constantly asking “What if…?” may cost a travel writer many magazine assignments. It makes them reluctant to take action. Instead of functioning effectively, they get hung up on the “What ifs…?” and come to a halt.
I decided it was time to write an article about it.
In this post I’ve listed the worries, fears and concerns that I hear most often from travel writers.
Read them and see which of these things slow you down - or stop you. Then read my advice on what you can do about it to get yourself moving again.
1. Too Many Editors Will Want to Buy Your Story Idea.
One of the more common fears, for example, is that when you submit simultaneous queries to a number of magazines, more than one editor will accept your article for publication.
This kind of worry leads you to querying the slow way (one query at a time) or limiting your distribution list to just a handful of publications. The worry behind this is that if you send out your query letter to too many magazines, then too many editors will buy your story.
So what if more than one editor wants to buy your story? That's a good thing!
It seems to me
you should be jumping up and down with joy, and writing posts to your
Facebook friends about your writing success. It must be a really good story idea. This is a good problem to
There are solutions to this fear that more than one editor will buy your story. I addressed them in in a separate article, but there are at least four strategies to handle this situation. (I wrote about the four simultaneous submissions strategies for simultaneous acceptances here.)
Get familiar with the strategies and
conquer your fear!
2. Withholding publications from your distribution list due to reasons that only exist in your mind.
I’ve heard writers say that their story is only a good fit for one publication, or that a certain magazine wouldn’t be interested based on the advice of an editor from a completely different magazine.
Other travel writers don't think they're ready to pitch top shelf magazines.
My advice? Don’t create your own roadblocks. Keep an open mind when you create your distribution lists. If the publication is a good fit for your story, put it on your list. There is no harm in pitching every magazine that is a good fit.
You can't second-guess what the editor thinks. The only way to know is to send a query letter and find out.
And don’t take advice from anyone except the editor of the publication you're targeting. If you think the story is a good fit for a magazine, send your query. This is between you and the editor you're pitching. Other opinions don't matter.
Always find out for yourself whether the editor is interested by querying the magazine.
3. Worrying that one publication will want to “buy all rights” before you even send out your query letters.
One diligent travel writer I met was afraid to pitch a New York newspaper because it buys all rights, meaning she wouldn’t be able to sell it to other magazines.
Worse things can happen!
If you would be proud to have a publication as a byline, then sell it to them. Let them take all rights if they pay well (as this New York publication did.)
You can always rewrite the story and sell it to other magazines.
The strategies for simultaneous acceptances apply here, too. Stretch your creativity and dream up new examples and a different story angle for a second article on the same topic. It will be a good experience.
4. Fear of following-up with an editor who doesn’t get back to you.
Some writers are afraid of following up with an editor who expresses interest in your story but then doesn’t get back to you.
Editors are busy people. Much of the time they are in the midst of meeting some kind of deadline and your story idea isn’t the first thing on their minds. Sometimes they simply forget to get back to you, or misplaced your email.
Follow-up after a couple weeks in a polite way. Chances are, you’ll be doing them a favor by sending a quick email to jog their memory.
5. Writers Guidelines Analysis Paralysis.
Some writers get so absorbed in the details of the writers guidelines, that they stop moving.
Don’t get hung up on every detail in the writers guidelines. If you let yourself get bogged down in the details, you won’t take the next step - writing the query letter. This is a form of procrastination and it gets you nowhere.
Instead, briefly skim through the writer’s guidelines to get the basics, and then fire out your query letters. Don’t analyze the details. You don’t have time.
After an editor buys your story idea, you can go back and read more about that specific publication before submitting your story.
6. Writing uninformative query letters.
Some writers make their query letters short because they read a book that said its supposed to be short.
But many writers make them so short they are virtually useless. They don't reveal anything tangible or enticing about the stories they were pitching with such brevity.
Your query letter needs to be as long as it takes for you to paint an enticing picture of your destination, and to sell your story. If you can do it in one page, that’s fine. If it takes three pages, that’s fine, too.
Make your query letter as long as it needs to be without rambling.
7. Not sending out queries because you don’t know how to get your photos to an editor.
Sell the story first. Send out your query letters. Then worry about the photos.
There are plenty of ways to get your photos to an editor.
Here are 4 ways to send photos to editors that I’ve used at one time or another:
1) set up a photo gallery online with a product like Smugmug (here's an affiliate link to a very easy and inexpensive app - I’ve been using it for several years and love it!)
2) Do it the old fashioned way and mail a CD with your photos to the editor.
3) Use a free app like Dropbox and send a link to the editor.
4) If your image files aren’t too large, and you don’t have too many, send them as email attachments.
You might be thinking, it’s easy for me to sit back and toss out pearls of wisdom because I have nine years of full time professional travel writing experience and more than 900 published articles under my belt.
But since I’ve with the editors of 190 different publications, I can understand why novice writers are reluctant to do certain things. You don’t want to torque an editor off. I’ve been there. I get that.
But, the fact is, while some of the things that worry writers may happen occasionally, they occur so infrequently that they are virtually non-existent.
Most of them are minor bumps on your travel writing journey.
Over the years I’ve lost a handful of assignments due to various circumstances, including poor timing, sloth (on my part), magazines going under, or new editors taking over a magazine. And, I’ve run into my share of less-than-professional editors out there (yes, Virginia, there are a few unscrupulous editors who don’t deserve their position).
Other problems I’ve encountered include uncooperative museum curators, unhelpful or lazy tourist agency or CVB personnel, and a few other reasons why some of my stories never got to see the light of day.
But, despite these glitches, I’ve still had close to 1,000 articles published! Even with all these bumps in the road, I’ve proven that it’s possible to get published anyway. There's no reason why you can't get published, too.
If you’re actually confronted by a potentially sticky situation, ask yourself “What’s the very worst that could happen?”
Your answer will usually be, “Well, I won’t get to write this article for that magazine”.
Without wishing to sound cavalier about this whole deal, I have to say, worse things could happen to you. It’s not a catastrophe like being diagnosed with cancer. Or going bankrupt. Or surviving a natural disaster like an earthquake or tornado. Or global thermonuclear war.
Whatever issue you experience, get it in perspective and get over it - as quickly as possible.
If one of your worries actually happens and you lose an assignment, don’t look at it as a personal failure. It’s not. Instead, see it for what it is - a lesson that can teach you something. Then, try not to let it happen again.
If one of your stories falls through, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward.
Real travel writers simply move on and pitch their story to another bunch of magazines. And then they pitch another story idea to a whole bunch more magazines. They keep going.
After you experience a few unfortunate situations, you will become savvy enough to recognize potential problems before they arise. Warning bells will go off, and you’ll learn how to take action to head off potential problems.
Over time, ‘bad’ things will happen less and less, as you get more and more stories published. Your writing path becomes smoother and the hurdles along the way don’t seem so daunting.
One day you’ll wake up and realize, “Hey, this travel writing stuff is a snap.” You will be able to pick a place that you’d like to visit, and round up some assignments to get a free trip there.
Just keep pitching your story ideas, and one day you will arrive at this wonderful worry-free destination, and experience more travel than you can imagine. Just say ‘no’ to second-guessing yourself and get your queries out there.
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