Monday, 15 September 2008

#15 – The destination is not a story in itself

Or learning how to play the angles

If there’s one phrase that crops up time and time again in editorial guidelines for a travel section/ travel magazine it is: “The destination is not a story in itself.” Too right it isn’t.

Would you like a story on Venice?
Say you’ve been to Venice, had a wonderful time, and written what you think is a brilliant piece about your experiences. It may be a superb piece of writing, but the likelihood is that this isn’t enough to sell it.
Let’s face it, the editors you try and pitch it to have probably heard “Would you like a story on Venice?” a hundred times before. And you’ve not given them a good reason to pick yours over anyone else’s.

Venice story angles
What you need is an angle – a focus on an aspect of Venice that is interesting, and preferably hasn’t been covered very much. ‘Venice’ isn’t a story, but the campaign to save Venice from sinking is. So is Venice’s newest hotels. So is a day in the life of a gondolier.
Then there’s Venice on a budget, the military history of Venice, the population exodus, the rejuvenation of the Lido, Venice’s best coffee, places to avoid in Venice etc. For the record, when I went for four days in February 2007, I got four full stories out it, and numerous snippets that I used at a later date.

One visit: four stories
One was a general Best Of Venice guide piece (which I had been commissioned for in advance – one of the rare occasions where the destination WAS the story ; they just needed a guide to Venice). The others I sold later – one was on exploring Venice in the dead of night, one on the arty islands of the Venice lagoon and the third on how nearby Treviso is trying to fight its way out of Venice’s shadow.
Looking back, I could have easily got a couple of other stories, but the visit was at the end of a long trip and I was exhausted. My brain and body just said “no more” for at least half a day.

New approaches to old favourites
Exactly the same principle applies for other destinations – look for the angles. The more novel and intriguing the angle, the better chance it has of selling. Editors are crying out for different approaches to old favourite destinations. Give them what they want, and you’ll start making some money very quickly.


AngelaCorrias said...

Hi David,
I totally agree with wath you say and I also understand editors who don't want the fruitless writers' ruminations. Just, I think that first of all it's not that easy to come up with 4 different stories in one visit, but possible once you are an experienced travel writer. But also, and with this there's not much we can do, I find sometimes difficult and, admittedly, frustrating that most editors are not interested in unknown spots that, instead, can be very fascinating for their history and traditions. So far I've only found one publication keen on "niche travel." Am I right or am I only starting and I need more time to spot other publications?

David said...

Oh it's not always easy to come up with three or four angles - especially if it's not a particularly touristy destination. But it's always possible. A lot's in the prior research, a lot in spotting things on the ground and a lot in thinking laterally.
Also, the better you know a place, the more you'll find.

As for niche travel, what most editors tend to want is new perspectives on favourite destinations, but there are plenty of spots for stories on places a little more obscure. This is especially the case in newspapers, which have a high volume of content and they need to keep things varied.

But as I say - it's not the destination that sells usually - it's the angle.

AngelaCorrias said...

thanks... that's a bit of hope..