Monday, 29 December 2008

#67 – Snap up great deals when they’re available

Or the kick up the backside

Covering all costs?
There are some travel writers out there that are too hung up on the idea of making sure that someone else covers all of their costs. They’ll only go somewhere if they know that the tourist board/ hotel/ travel company is paying for everything, including flights.

Personally, I think this is stark raving lunacy. Many of my best articles have come from when I’ve paid for at least part of the trip out of my own pocket. This doesn’t mean I splash money about willy-nilly with no thought given to how I will recoup it, but I am prepared to spend a bit to make a lot.

Buy now, plan later
I work on a general rule that if I can get a flight to a country I’ve not been to before for less than £150 return, I’ll take it. It may be six or nine months down the line, but I can always sort out commissions and tourist board assistance nearer the time

Trip to Cyprus
A good example is my three day trip to Cyprus in June earlier this year. I booked it on Christmas Day 2007 when I saw an absurdly cheap return flight on offer for something like £80. I’d never been there before, fancied a look, and before I knew it, my credit card was out and I’d booked it.

Eight weeks before departure
I didn’t think about it again until about eight weeks before I was due to depart. I then did a bit of research for a few angles I thought would make interesting stories, sent out a few pitches and contacted the tourist board. I ended up with two good commissions, a guide for while I was there, free accommodation and entrance to places I wouldn’t normally be allowed into.

Caribbean in February
Similarly, in February I’m off to the Caribbean for two weeks. I haven’t a clue what I’m going to do there, but a £299 return flight from Manchester to Antigua was too good to turn down. I’ll sort out regional flights, accommodation and commissions nearer the time. I did something similar last year and probably spent about £800 all up – I secured assistance on four of the six islands I visited which kept my costs down. I also ended up getting more than treble that in payment for the resulting articles.

The kick up the backside
Snapping up such deals has more than one effect. Yes, you save money on the ordinary prices, but once you’ve booked, you’re pretty much locked in to doing it. At this point, you stop looking for excuses not to go. You get proactive about reducing your costs whilst on the ground and making money from articles. It acts as that kick up the backside – you’re committed, so you have to make that commitment pay off.

Friday, 26 December 2008

#66 – The alternative to group press trips

Or going solo with tourist board support.

Unsatisfactory compromise
As I have said previously, I don’t tend to go on many group press trips. I find that these trips try too hard to keep everyone happy, and thus end up with a compromise that satisfies nobody. My preference is to go for individual trips, supported by the tourist board or hotel.

Not advertised
So what do I mean by this? Well, these trips are not ones that you’ll see advertised on bulletin boards or travel writer forums. Essentially, they are a case of deciding where you want to go, teeing up a commission or two and then contacting the tourist board.

Contact the tourist board first
Or, if you know the destination would ordinarily be out of your price range, contacting the tourist board first to see if they would be amenable to hosting you while there. If the tourist board indicates that they would be happy to assist with accommodation, guided tours etc, then you can start pitching potential ideas to editors.

Support and commissions
It’s rare that a tourist board will spend money hosting a journalist without a commission, but most will be prepared to offer support to a journalist that will definitely be getting an article about the destination published.

Personalised itineraries
The advantage of doing it this way is that the itineraries will usually be drawn up with only you in mind. They will not be catering to the needs of six other writers and every signed-up member of the local tourism body. You want to research glass-blowing and the micro-brewing scene? Then your trip will be tailored around these aspects, rather than having them inadequately shoe-horned in for a flying visit.

Level of support
The level of support will differ from destination to destination. Some tourist boards will put you up in lavish accommodation, give you public transport cards, a guide, a driver and free entry to anywhere you care to visit. Others will be a lot more stingy. It’s very rare that they will cover flights, however – bear this in mind.

Organisation and pro-activity
This method does take a bit more organisation and pro-activity on the writer’s part, but the pay-off is worth it. There are fewer of the inconveniences and problems associated with group press trips, and the individual experience usually makes for a more genuine article. There’s very little authenticity about being herded round in a bus with a group of other travel writers, after all.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas from 1001 Travel Writer Tips

Go on - have that extra slice of turkey. You know it makes sense...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

#65 – When to pitch a story by phone

Or the contact that editors don’t want you to make.

As a general rule, most editors don’t like being phoned up with pitches. They get enough e-mails as it is, but at least e-mails can be dealt with when the time is right. If all of those pitches were coming in by phone, they would never get anything done.

Dealing with the situation there and then
But sometimes, pitching by phone is the right way to go about things. It can work for precisely the reason that editors hate it – they have to deal with the situation there and then rather than postponing it for a more convenient time.

Successful pitches
If I analysed it, I’d guess that a higher percentages of my successful pitches are done over the phone, rather than by e-mail. But I also don’t see the point in annoying an editor without good reason – constantly phoning up is liable to have you earmarked as being hugely annoying.

Reasons to pitch a story by phone
For this reason, I will usually only call an editor for one of the following reasons:

1. The pitch is time-sensitive/ topical, and I need a quick “yes” or “no” in order to be able to pitch it to someone else if the editor I originally pitched to is not interested.
2. To clarify confusion over a brief/ editorial requests. Sometimes a quick phone call can solve what days of e-mail tennis can’t quite manage.
3. I am following up a pitch, and they have not responded to the follow-up e-mail. And I’ll always make sure I’ve left a couple of weeks after the follow-up e-mail to do this. By this stage, it’s generally a no lose situation – you’re expecting a “no”, and it’s better to have the “no” confirmed than have it hanging in the air. If it’s a “yes”, then it’s a bonus.

Professionalism vs pestering
I think, in these scenarios, you’re on the right side of the professionalism/ pestering line. It’s probably best to not make a habit of calling up though – you may start to find that the editor is constantly “away from the desk” every time you call.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

#64 – Complete round-up articles before you leave

Or why essay-style pieces are easier to write on the road.

Internet access needed
I inevitably find that I need internet access to do a round up article properly. These pieces usually involve more online research than a straight essay-style piece centred on one destination. This is partly because there are more contact details to put in, and partly because you need to find out information on more subjects.

No notebooks?
In fact, to do one of these pieces without internet access can be nigh-on impossible. To do it without internet and access to your collection of notebooks and guidebooks is even worse.

Essay-style pieces on the road
And this is why, given the choice, if I have to write articles while I am on the road, I will always choose do to the essay-style pieces whilst travelling. They’re easier to do without internet access – which can often be limited while travelling – and any missing details can be filled in later with much more ease.

Finish round-up pieces before you go
Thus, if I’m about to go away, I’ll concentrate on completing any round-up articles that I am due to complete. They may have a deadline that’s further away than one of the essay-style pieces, but I know which one will be a bigger pain in the backside to complete whilst away.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The return of 1001 Travel Writer Tips

Hello again. It's OK, I'm still alive. I'm now back in the UK with a working computer, and the blog entries will start again from tomorrow.

Apologies for the absence - you can blame Windows Vista if you desire. I know I certainly shall.