As a freelance travel writer, you have a lot to gain by expanding your writing genres. Limiting yourself to pure travel topics and travel magazines can be a barrier to your success. It’s better to grow and expand into a variety of areas.
Writing about a variety of topics prevents single-topic boredom and stretches your writing skills. It also provides a ‘hedge’ against tough times when your travel articles aren’t selling well.
You might feel uncomfortable about breaking into new writing genres. But, I can assure you that you don’t need extensive knowledge, degrees, or education to write about practically any topic short of all but the most scientific and technical.
For most of us, writing about plasma fusion rockets and neurosurgery would be a stretch, for example. I’m not suggesting you look for assignments on complex topics that are of no interest to you.
I’m suggesting you go after topics that interest you, and for which you already have some passion, knowledge or experience. You’ll be surprised what you can write about if you know how to go about it.
But what if you’re not an expert about certain topics that interest you?
Here are five ways to expand your writing genres and write with confidence and authority, even when you’re not an expert:
The first thing you need when writing about a topic beyond your expertise is a healthy curiosity about the subject.
Your curiosity needs to be enough to motivate you to want to do two things:
1) Spend time researching the topic, and
2) Hunt down magazines in the writing genre that will be interested in your stories.
What things are you curious about? What headlines catch your eye on magazine racks or in newspapers? What kinds of non-fiction books attract your interest?
For example, I’ve never served in the military but I love military history.
I enjoy reading military history books and touring military museums and battlefields all over the world. I’ve visited hundreds of historical military sites and museums around the globe. I’ve been doing this for fun for many years.
A few years ago I couldn’t have told you the difference between an M4 Sherman tank and any other armored vehicle. Likewise, I had absolutely no knowledge about antique pre-1900 cannon, artillery, or gunpowder.
Yet, despite a lack of formal education or experience in this field, I’ve contributed to fifteen military magazines around the world with more than 150 published articles about military history, military vehicles, aircraft, fortresses, weapons, artillery and missiles.
Similarly—with no history background or credentials—I’ve written about historic fortresses and castles. I’ve had articles published about torture museums, smugglers caves, life in medieval monasteries, executions in Olde London Towne, medieval folklore in London, and the Green Man (look it up).
I have a healthy curiosity about almost any military subject and enjoy doing the research needed to develop story ideas and find publications interested in publishing my articles.
Other writing genres I've expanded into include travel, culture, classic cars, gardening, beer, wine, food, sculptures, erotic art museums, golf, tennis, health, personalities, beekeeping, film festivals, kayaking, and a few other fields.
Writing in these diverse genres didn’t happen by accident. They happened because I was curious to learn more about them.
All I needed to do was figure out some interesting story angles and then locate specialty magazines interested in publishing these stories. You can apply this same process to almost any topic that interests you.
A few years ago I had an article about the funerary sculptures at Paris’s famous Pere Lachaise cemetery published in a prestigious in-flight magazine (Emirate’s Open Skies). It was an artsy kind of article, yet I have no artistic talent, and not much interest in art.
I’ve also had a feature article in Sculpture magazine about an extraordinary sculptor who creates synagogues, mosques and cathedrals out of deconstructed weapons and ammunition.
How did I manage to get two artsy articles published in such top-line magazines?
For the Pere Lachaise sculptures I visited the cemetery. While I was there I took hundreds of high quality photos. Once I got home, I did plenty of research about its’ history to help round out my article.
For the Sculpture magazine article I spent a whole day with the sculptor. Spending the day with the artist gave me a chance to ask dozens of questions, and we had a blast.
Do your research, interview your subject - or both. You won’t become an expert but you’ll learn enough to write a good article.
After visiting the Royal Signals Museum in Dorset, England, I pitched a story about it to a popular ham radio communications magazine that picked it up immediately.
This led to my pitching another story to the same magazine about the communications platform of a search and rescue organization in Portland that I had heard about. That article ended up being the cover story.
The same magazine has run three more of my articles about radio, radar, and military communications museums.
Do I know anything about this writing genre? No! I know absolutely nothing about ham radios and communication systems. I can’t tell you the difference between UHF and VHF (whatever they are).
How did I make these stories work? I consulted an expert to get me up to speed on communications systems and jargon. After I wrote the articles, I asked him to proof read and fact check the first drafts of these stories.
Some other interests that have turned into articles: yachting destinations, ancient artillery, military vehicles and UFO’s.
I’m not an expert in any of these writing genres. I just had to track down people who are experts and were willing to help out.
Never be afraid to ask for help with your stories. There are lots of experts out there who are more than willing to give advice and talk about a topic they are passionate and knowledgeable about.
Consult with experts and you’ll get solid advice, fact checking, and great quotes to use your articles.
Experts love to get their knowledge and perspectives out into the world. But some experts may not know how to go about getting an article published. You can help them by offering to co-author an article.
For example, I don’t drink beer, but when I was living in Belgium I wanted to write an article about the beers there and what’s so special about them.
I knew a guy who was an authority on the subject with lots of experience and with a published book about Belgian beers. So, I approached him about co-authoring some articles. He was interested.
I pitched the stories to magazines and we co-authored two articles. One was about beer festivals in Belgium, the other about Belgian Trappist beers.
If there’s a subject that interests you, talk to a few experts and find out who might be interested in working with you on an article. Even if you do most of the work, it gets their name out as an expert and gives you an opportunity to try out another writing genre.
If you decide to co-author an article, be clear about your roles and payment.
For example, I did the marketing for the beer articles, we both contributed to the article itself. We split the payment from the magazine down the middle.
Some experts aren’t concerned about payment and are happy just to be acknowledged at the end of the article. Make sure you work these things out in advance so everyone is happy in the end.
If you have ever purchased a book while traveling or just for general interest, it may contain a wealth of story ideas and the background information you need for an article.
So often we forget about the things that are sitting on our own bookshelves. Yet these are exactly the references that might point your writing in a new direction.
Here’s an example:
I’m fascinated by ghost towns. A while back I bought a book about ghost towns in the Northwest, thinking I’d like to visit some of these places.
One day while I was browsing the books on my shelf, it occurred to me that someone might want an article about the ghost towns I visited.
Since that ‘aha’ moment, I’ve used several books about ghost towns to find story leads. I look for places I’d like to visit. Then I pitch some story ideas to magazines and get assignments, visit the places, and write about the history and the people who lived in these towns.
I’ve written six ghost town stories so far, and I’ve become known by some of the regional editors as their “go to” guy for ghost town stories.
Another example came out of a trip to Bali, Indonesia.
After attending a Balinese cremation ceremony, I was sufficiently moved by the experience to write an article about it. But I wasn't particularly familiar with Balinese culture after only one trip there.
When I started to write my article, I went looking for resources. Much to my delight, I found two books sitting on my bookshelf. If you're anything like me, you buy books everywhere you go.
It turned out both my wife and I had bought books in Bali. I used these books for background details about these rather elaborate and unforgettable ceremonies.
In this post I’ve presented you with examples of how I’ve expanded my writing genres into a vast assortment of areas that interest me. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be an expert to write a good article and get it published.
You can do what I’ve done.
Mix your curiosity and interests with expert advice and good research. Before long you’ll find yourself selling articles in new writing genres. I can promise you it will expand your knowledge and make your writing life more interesting.
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.