Most aspiring freelance travel writers believe that developing good writing skills is all you need to succeed in this highly competitive arena. Writing skills are critical, but that’s only a minor part of what you need.
The fact is, magazine editors assume you have superior writing skills and that you can paint a great picture of your destination. It’s a requirement if you’re going to pitch stories to magazines.
But let's assume your writing skills are up to snuff. Now you need to sell your story ideas. After all, if you can’t sell your travel stories, you won’t get to write them.
This is the area where most writers struggle: pitching and querying your stories. Most novice travel writers are clueless about the process and sequence of selling their travel stories to magazines.
This is not surprising. There’s a whole querying and pitching maze to navigate in order to see your articles published. Until you’ve been through it a few dozen times, it’s easy to screw things up.
After ten years of studying the art and science of querying and marketing freelance articles, I’ve concluded that 80% of your success in the travel writing game is determined by your marketing abilities.
Knowing that superior marketing and sales skills are mandatory for success, I have closely examined the querying, sales, and marketing content of top nine travel writing books for people wanting to break into this exciting field. And, boy, was I surprised at the results! Disappointed is a better description.
Sadly, none of these travel writing books had anywhere near adequate coverage of querying, marketing, and sales. This critical information was missing, or at best minimal, sporadic and piecemeal. Or, it was so outdated as to be useless.
What surprised me about the popular “how to” freelance travel writing books? Most serve up a scant chapter or two on marketing freelance articles and are so poorly detailed that they leave you with more questions than answers.
How these authors expect aspiring travel writers to read their books and then go out into the rough-and-tumble travel writing world and sell their stories eludes me.
This is harsh criticism indeed. Please bear in mind I analyzed these books solely through my marketing and sales lens. So don’t think I’m trashing these books out of hand.
I’m not saying they’re worthless. I simply can’t recommend most of these books to learn about querying, marketing and sales.
Many of these books dispense outstanding advice about researching your story, developing your article, and other good travel writing advice.
Others offer sound, practical information about other aspects of freelance writing, ranging from writing style and tone to press trips and designing independent itineraries.
Overall, the general, broad strokes advice offered in most of these books is satisfactory. But, again I remind you: if you can’t sell your travel stories, you won’t get to write them.
While reading these books, I asked “Where's the marketing beef?”
I’ve analyzed and ranked these travel writing books in descending order of the quality and quantity of marketing and sales advice.
To inject comprehensive querying, sales and marketing coverage, I have inserted two additional books into this review. One is a generic freelance writing book. The other is my marketing guide, The Complete Guide to Marketing and Selling Your Travel Articles.
#1 The Complete Guide to Marketing and Selling Your Travel Articles
Second Edition, By Roy Stevenson, Nomadic Publishing 2015
Well of course I’m biased about my marketing manual—I wrote it. But, let’s move past that and examine my claim that this 158-page manual is the best book available about marketing, selling, pitching and querying freelance travel articles.
First, it’s the only manual or book in existence dedicated solely to pitching, querying, marketing, and selling freelance travel articles. It focuses on how to create your own personal writer’s brand.
Second, this manual is completely up-to-date. It covers social media, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogging, and who to network with. It even has 4.5 pages about how and why you should establish a writer’s website.
Third, I’m very well qualified to write this manual.
Few travel writers can rival my prolific writing career. I've sold more than 1,000 articles in nine years of writing, and my stories have been published in 200 different regional, national, and international magazines, trade journals, airline in-flights, cruise line on-boards, newspapers, and specialty magazines and travel websites.
If those facts don’t prove my credibility, then please consider this: I consistently sell 90% of the travel stories I pitch. Most travel writers consider themselves lucky to sell 25% of their stories.
Fourth, this manual is packed full of practical advice on how to market your magazine articles. You can implement my advice immediately. Beginners in the travel writing game tend to blunder blithely along making a multitude of mistakes that cost them assignments, until they finally stumble across something that works ... and this process takes them years of trial and error.
My book will guide you with solid, practical, and ethical advice on selling and marketing your travel stories.
My marketing system is a blend of many well-tested marketing methods that consistently work well, plus some maverick techniques that yield surprisingly good results. You’ll learn the marketing secrets used by professionals, and the many techniques I’ve developed along the way, to make your travel writing journey more productive.
I share dozens of special sales ideas, marketing techniques, and other tricks and tips that I’ve picked up. I’ve discarded some of the traditional techniques that fail miserably in the fast-paced digital world, and added my own techniques to create a marketing system that works like a charm.
My book also shares my hard-earned and seldom-revealed insider’s secrets on how I establish strong relationships with magazine editors to get repeat business. And I do get plenty of repeat business! I’ve been writing for some magazines since 2008!
#2 Starting Your Career As A Freelance Writer, By Moira Allen 2003
How ironic that the book with the best marketing coverage is generic, aimed at all freelance writers! If you’re going to buy one text about the general approach to freelance writing, this is it.
This is the text that I often referred to when I started freelance writing. Many of my marketing techniques originated from this book.
With 257 pages and 31 chapters this is one comprehensive book, and fluff free. Ms. Allen dedicates no less than ten chapters to the various pillars and foundations of querying and marketing.
While a few of these chapters have become outdated, (writing for newspapers and selling a column, for example), the information in these chapters is a gold mine.
#3 Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, By Don George, Lonely Planet Publishers 2009
Lonely Planet’s entry in the travel writing field is the best of a rather mediocre lot. Weighing in at 352 pages, this tome makes an excellent starter kit for the aspiring travel writer. It does covers most freelance travel writing bases.
Summary: If you’re going to purchase a book about the art and craft of travel writing, sprinkled with some nuggets of good marketing advice, this would be a great book to start with.
#4 The Travel Writer’s Handbook: How to Write and Sell Your Own Travel Experiences, By Louise Purwin Zobel, Surrey Books 2002
At 18 chapters and 308 pages, Zobel’s book is closer to the marketing mark than almost all its peers, despite its turn-of-the-century publishing date (2002).
It has four chapters dedicated to sales and marketing:
However, this book has not been updated and still talks about sending query letters by snail mail, instead of via email. A few pages mention using the Internet and emails, but the book is in dire need of upgrading and does not come close to describing how to use electronic and digital media to market and sell travel stories.
Summary: This book is actually worth investing in. If you discard the outdated information about the Internet, emails, etc., the general advice dispensed in this book is excellent.
Break Into Travel Writing: Travel The World And Get Paid For It, By Beth Blair, Teach Yourself Publishing 2012
Weighing in at 14 chapters and 225 pages, Beth Blair’s book is more up to date than most of the others reviewed here. Although it has beefier marketing advice than most competitors, it's still nowhere near comprehensive. You’ll find four chapters devoted to marketing:
At least this book includes social media (7 pages) and discusses the importance of creating a writer’s website, which makes it more useful than most of its competitors.
Summary: This is one of the better books I reviewed in terms of marketing and sales content. However, it’s still woefully inadequate and doesn’t come close to showing the reader how to market their stories.
Travel Writing, By Cynthia Dial, Teach Yourself Publishing 2003
This 14-chapter, 175-page “how to” book does a decent enough job of introducing the general aspects of travel writing to the beginner. However, this book is badly dated, especially in light of the dramatic and sweeping changes that have buffeted the old school of travel journalism since (around) 2005, when email submissions, travel writing, and blogging hit the Internet with a vengeance.
The chapter on the newspaper market dates the book; few travel writers pitch their stories to newspapers these days because there is only a handful of surviving full time professional newspaper travel editors left. Over the past decade, most of the USA’s 100+ newspaper travel editors have fallen victim to contracting newspaper size (due to Internet competition), or their newspaper folding (due to Internet competition), or the elimination of travel sections altogether (those darn travel bloggers!).
Most travel editors lift their stories off the AP wire these days and can’t afford to pay freelancers. This plight is not helped by the fact that newspapers have stringent ‘ethical’ regulations whereby they do not accept stories by travel writers whose trips were comped by destination marketing organizations.
This book has a 24-page chapter on selling to magazines, with some halfway decent advice, and an 11-page chapter on the all-important query. The query chapter still talks about sending your queries by snail mail, a practice that has been long since been superseded by emails.
Summary: This book is clearly out-of-date. Don't bother with it.
How To Make A Living As A Travel Writer, By Susan Farewell, Marlowe & Company Publishers 1997
Published in 1997, this is one of the more ancient travel writing books I reviewed. And, back in the day this was a very useful book. Today, however, this 205-page, 24-chapter book is just plain outdated. There’s only one paltry page about setting up a writer’s website! Considering this is an absolutely essential tool in the contemporary travel writer’s toolbox, this is not exactly up with the times.
To be fair, Farewell devotes several chapters to marketing and pitching stories:
However, these chapters are old school thumbnail sketches at best, and simply don’t provide enough information to be of practical use to the travel writer in today’s highly competitive and volatile environment.
Summary: I fail to see how you could read this book and venture out into the world to make a living as a travel writer. The marketing advice applies mainly to the good old halcyon days of the pre-Internet print media.
Travel Writing: The Insider’s Guide, By James Fair, Robert Hale Publishers, London. 2014
Written by a UK travel writer, this 238-page, 10-chapter book is a solid reference. However, there is practically no marketing advice contained therein apart from the occasional small digression. This book is more of a description of the current state of travel writing and blogging than a ‘how-to’ guide.
Summary: A great expose on contemporary travel writing, including blogging, but this focus detracts from any marketing advice.
Travel Writing: See The World. Sell the Story, By L. Peat O’Neil, Writer’s Digest Books 2000
At 242 pages and nine chapters, you’d expect this to be absolutely packed with marketing advice and tips. Especially with “Sell the Story” as part of the title. Not so!
The measly 26-page chapter, titled Marketing Travel Articles, offers rudimentary advice on marketing and deals primarily with peripheral issues (such as telephone etiquette, preparing the manuscript for submission, working through rejection). There’s only a half page on how to write query letters! Considering the importance of query letters, this section falls seriously short of the marketing mark.
Summary: This book is very outdated. And there’s no data here on using the Internet or websites to sell your story. The paucity of marketing information here is tantamount to gross negligence.
Be A Travel Writer, Live Your Dreams, Sell Your Features, By Solange Hando, Compass Books 2015
At 99 pages, this wafer thin coverage of the fine art of travel writing does little to prepare the novice for the travel writing field.
I had hoped that a book with “Sell Your Features” as part of its title would indeed have some meaty stuff about sales. However, apart from a chapter on Winning Ideas (dreaming up a salable story idea is very much a part of the sales process), a scant 7 pages on pitching your story is all I could find elsewhere.
Summary: Grossly inadequate marketing coverage.
Travel Writing 2.0, By Tim Leffel, Splinter Press 2010/2015
Apart from a 9-page chapter on Self-Promotion, this book has little coverage of selling and marketing travel stories. Nor is it designed to do this.
This book is primarily aimed at showing novices the many travel writing options that are available today, many revolving around writing for the Internet in some way, shape, or form.
Summary: Not aimed at marketing in more than a general sense.
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.