Jill Starley-Grainger is a freelance journalist specialising in ethical and luxury travel.
Use your blog to showcase to editors what you can do: They would want to see that you can write well-crafted, engaging copy, that you can sniff out good angles and that you are dedicated enough to have stuck with the blog for more than a few posts. Once you start getting commissions chances are your blog will slide. If you are getting paid travel writing gigs, then your time for unpaid work will rapidly diminish. But until you get those paid commissions, a blog is a good, easy starting point. As for getting followers, don't worry about that. Focus on well-crafted, insightful travel journalism, perhaps with a niche angle, such as 'travelling with a baby' or 'all about Germany', and if your writing is up to scratch, people will follow you. Trying to SEO the heck out of your copy will only make it seem stilted.
You need to be able to dig out the angles the travel guides don't cover: So many people think that because they are passionate about travel and can string a sentence together, that qualifies them to be a travel journalist. It doesn't. You need to understand how to dig out facts - and to determine that they are facts - and how to find hidden gems and insider info. If it's already in a guidebook, what are you adding to it? And you need to know how to write. I really can't stress that enough. It's a skill and not everyone has it, but so many people think they do. But you can learn it.
Travel journalism is hard work and the pay isn't always great either: Forget fantasies of being sent round the world on an assignment with a huge commission, all expenses paid, and having endless days lolling on the beach or people-watching in cafes. Very few publications pay freelancers' travel expenses (and getting a full-time writing or editing job on a major travel publication is just not going to happen until you have years of experience, and even then, chances are slim). Take a sample 1,000 word feature. If you are lucky and have years of experience, you might be commissioned to write a 1,000-word travel feature for a major publication. You will need to spend around a day crafting the pitch that wins the commission in the first place, three to five days working out your itinerary and arranging accommodation and so on. Another three to five days on the trip. Then at least two to four days writing the article to a standard high enough for this type of publication. If you are lucky, for this, you will be paid £400.
If you are pitching unusual destinations, make sure you've got a good angle: Breaking in by going to less popular locations - this is a tricky one. On the one hand, going somewhere unusual definitely gives you an edge. On the other hand, it's hard to commission those features. The fact is, most people want to read about destinations they actually want to go to or are interested in. Hence the huge number of articles on France, Italy and so on. This is because it is these types of articles that sell papers and magazines.
On the other hand, people do like reading about unusual destinations, so while editors might not have as much scope to commission those places, if you pitch a good angle for one of them, then when they do come to commission a quirky one, your pitch might just be in the back of their mind. But do not pitch just a general 'guide' to an unusual destination. You still need an angle, whether it's Baku's beach scene or skiing in Iraq.
Emily Mathieson is Word of Mouth editor at Condé Nast Traveller.
Demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the magazine will endear you to an editor: The simple best way to get your writing published (and get paid for it) is to actually read the publication you're pitching to. I am constantly surprised by how many people send me ideas that are clearly not relevant to the section I edit, or to Condé Nast Traveller in general (no, we don't review youth hostels). If someone begins a pitch by clearly demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of the magazine, I am always more likely to read on.
Pitches which paraphrase press releases won't be welcome. Keep it short, sweet and to the point. But PLEASE don't just paraphrase a press release. It's likely I'll already have seen it, and why would I pay someone to do something I could do myself?
Include a signature at the bottom of your e-mail with your specialisms. I find it really helpful if writers have a signature at the bottom of their e-mail telling me about them, the specialisms and where they live (and it's also often helpful if you can remind me at the beginning of an email who you are too). This will often jog my memory, or help me decide why a particular person is suitable for a certain piece.
Amanda Statham is travel editor of Cosmopolitan and You & Your Wedding magazines.
A potted guide to pitching:
- Keep it short - no travel editor has half an hour to wade through 10 pages of pitch.
- Know the publication - I'm always being offered pieces for my Cosmopolitan travel news page. There isn't a Cosmo travel news page...
- Check to see what the publication has covered recently; if it has covered your story or specific place, don't pitch.
- If you refer the travel editor to your personal website, make sure it works and is up-to-date.
- Have an original hook; amazingly, backpacking around Thailand has been covered before.
Pat Riddell is the editor of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Twitter can help your industry knowledge and give you ideas for pitches: Follow journalists, editors, newspapers and magazines but also follow travel blogs, tourist boards, airlines, tour operators, attractions, museums, hotel groups and so on. The more you know about travel and how it 'works', the better. Which destinations will be talked about in 2013, where are the new air routes, what are the new attractions... these are the pitches for the future. And by establishing a Twitter presence you can make a name for yourself as well as boosting traffic to your blog - or indeed titles you've written for.
Glen Mutel is the editor of ABTA Magazine and a regular columnist and contributor for National Geographic Traveller.
Different approaches suit different titles: For trade titles such as ABTA Magazine, we've already got a fair idea of the destinations we want to cover over the next six to 12 months. So, unlike other titles, we don't necessarily want budding writers to pitch us specific angles. Instead, I'd much sooner be sent a short email, detailing where a writer has been and where they know, with links to previous examples of their work. This last bit is absolutely crucial. Many travel editors will already have a list of writers that they rely on and it can be hard to get them to try new people. I've learned to turn a deaf ear when writers tell me they've written for the nationals, because it's so seldom a guarantee they can write. I'd much sooner they show me specific examples of their work - proof they can put words in a readable order. If they can do that, there's a good chance I'll try them out with a general destination feature. Then, a few pieces down the line, I'll start accepting ideas from them.
Postgraduate courses can equip you with everything you need: I don't think the type of degree is necessarily that important. Earlier this year we were looking to fill the deputy editor position, and I don't think we looked to hard at the type of degree. What mattered more was whether there was some type of postgraduate qualification - it needn't be an MA. There are several shorter postgraduate schemes that can equip you with everything you need (I did a three-month course with PMA).
Peter Grunert is the editor of Lonely Planet Magazine.
A particular specialism might give you an advantage: I definitely believe it's a good idea to build a rapport with a commissioning editor before sending them a pitch. They will need to know that you share a wavelength and will also want to see evidence of the quality of your writing - ideally, writing that would suit their publication. I also feel that anyone with a specialism has an advantage. Are you based in a particularly interesting location? Can you bring fascinating travel insights from the point of view of someone who has great knowledge of art, motoring, history, sports and so on?
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