Monday, 8 September 2008

#8 – Writing about where you live

Or how to milk your own back yard

Stories from your own area
One of the most common pieces of advice that established travel writers give to those just starting out is to concentrate on stories they can do in their own area. I don’t agree with this entirely, and I’ll explain why another time, but I do think that milking your local area can have definite benefits.

Instant expertise
For a start, your local area or city is one in which you either have instant expertise, or you can build it up very quickly. You can nip out to local attractions as a inexpensive day trip, and can often tee up interviews through friends of friends.

Juicy bit of gossip
If you’re planning to pitch to a local publication, then the angle has to be fairly novel – they will have run the basic stories on just about everything in the region. You need a new twist or slant on it. Either that or a juicy bit of gossip that provides a news angle. Has the attraction misspent money? Has it lost Government funding?

Try further afield
But what is old hat to local publications can be intriguing to an outlet further afield. For example, I have been able to sell stories in Australia that have been done to death in the UK press.
So if something is quirky or interesting but has already been covered by the outlets where the angle is local, try further afield.

‘Best of’ articles
But if trying further afield, there’s a great chance to milk other possibilities. I lived in London for a year, and could in no way claim to be an expert on the city. But a few things I did gave me ideas for articles. And what I didn’t know, I could research. This is particularly the case for ‘Best of’ articles.

Articles about London
I ended up doing pieces on London’s best curry houses, London’s quirkiest museums, London’s best sporting events, London’s best free attractions and many more. I didn’t sell any of them in London, as my knowledge really wasn’t that great. But to the outsider, the half-decent knowledge I had did the trick nicely.

Think about the subclause
The key is in the subclause. London’s best restaurants, London’s best museums, London’s best events and London’s best attractions have probably been done many times in just about every travel publication. But by taking it that step more specific, it’s new – especially to a publication that’s in a different part of the world.

Best use of local knowledge
And this is how you can best use your local knowledge. What are the best Italian restaurants in New York? Where are the best bars in Tokyo if you want to chat to local businessmen? Where are the live music venues in Sydney?
For these, substitute your area, pick a topic – be it beaches, walks, shops or nightclubs – then throw in a criterion to narrow it down. The nude beaches, the beginners’ standard walks, the jewellery shops or the gay nightclubs, for example.

Sell more than once
Once you have done that and researched the topic, you probably have a strong article. And one that you can probably sell more than once if you play your cards right. This is the sort of piece that makes mining your local area worth it – not 1,200 words of rambling description about a relatively pleasant Roman fort.


AngelaCorrias said...

Hi David, your blog is great! I didn't know it, I'm glad I found it!

David said...

Thanks Angela - the feedback's much appreciated and I'm glad you're enjoying it.

There's plenty more to come, so keep checking back in.

AngelaCorrias said...

I surely will, I've just subscribed!

Neil said...

Regarding selling an article more than once - shouldn't you be worried about copyright issues?