Friday, 13 March 2009

#96 – If there is no travel section, try and create one

Or the entrepreneurial freelance travel writer.

Entrepreneurial attitude
One difference between a mildly successful freelance travel writer and a very successful one is an entrepreneurial attitude. The former category looks to sell work to existing outlets – the latter does this too, but also looks to create outlets.

The difference
It’s that difference between submitting pitches to a travel section of a newspaper and pitching the idea of having a travel section to a newspaper.

Creating a regular outlet
This isn’t quite as outrageous as it sounds. Granted, it takes a lot of chutzpah, and it’s more than likely not going to succeed. But if it does succeed, then you’ve created yourself a regular outlet on the spot.

Why is there no travel section?
If a publication doesn’t have a travel section, there must be a reason for it. Perhaps a travel section wouldn’t be relevant to the readership. Perhaps they’ve tried it before and it didn’t work out. Or perhaps they’ve never thought of it? Maybe they would like to do it, but haven’t got the right person to organise it?

A good proposal
This is where putting a good proposal together, showing a sound understanding of the audience and explaining the potential benefits in increased advertising, could just work. If you can convince someone that they need a regular travel column, and that you’re the best person to do it, you have potentially made yourself a little goldmine.

Blogs and more
The same philosophy applies to blogs, magazine columns, ask the expert regular features or radio slots. Chances are that no-one will bite, but if someone does, you’ve created yourself an opportunity rather than just taking one offered to you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

#95 – Listen to the local radio

Or getting a sense of the people.

Local radio stations
In a similar vein to Tip #94 (Pick up local newspapers), listening to local radio stations whilst abroad can give an excellent insight into a destination. Many of the reasons are similar – you get to find out about news angles and get a sense of attitudes and priorities.

Sense of the people
But radio is even better for getting a sense of the people – you can gauge what sort of music gets played (ie. Is it reggae, calypso or generic 80s dirge?). You can also get a sense of what sort of people are allowed on the radio – ie. Personality DJs or formal, starched collar, Government-approved announcers?

Phone-in programmes
And sometimes you can strike absolute gold by stumbling across a phone-in programme, where members of the public call in to rant and rave about the issues of the day. They may not be coherent, and they may be speaking utter nonsense, but there are few better ways of getting a sense of local character and opinion. Especially when the DJ starts arguing...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

#94 – Pick up local newspapers

Or looking at things from a local perspective.

Global view
As a travel writer, you tend to develop a global view of things. International news becomes important to you, and you tend to like knowing what is happening worldwide.

Switching perspective
Nothing wrong with this, but sometimes it can be useful to switch perspective. Getting a view of the world from the place you’re visiting’s angle can give a really useful insight into that destination.

That’s why I like picking up a local newspaper while I’m away. There are few better things for giving a snapshot of what a place is like. First of all, there will be stories in there that simply aren’t covered by the global media, such as controversies over tourism developments, national financial problems and disease outbreaks amongst local wildlife.
These often make a good angle for a travel story – you’re essentially covering a news story that hasn’t really broken outside the country you’re in and explaining it to the rest of the world.

Attitudes and priorities
But picking up the newspaper is also good for getting a sense of that country’s attitudes and priorities. How many pages in are the big international stories? Do all the stories start with “a government spokesman has announced”? How professional or amateurish does the paper look? These are all excellent little clues about the destination.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

#93 – Stay at hotels with free WiFi

Or getting more work done for no extra cost.

Meals for one?
When a travel writer is on the road, the evening can often be the most depressing time. It’s when you have to resort to meals for one, and sitting in a bar trying to strike up conversation with someone.
This is somewhat soul-destroying and – depending on how many drinks you have – can be rather costly.

Writing in the evenings
In recent times, I’ve gone for a change of tack. In destinations where I know I’m not really going to be writing about the nightlife and bars, I’ve taken to using that evening dead space for writing things up.

Fresh in the mind
Inevitably, I’ll be able to write stories up twice as quickly during these evenings as I normally would at home. This is often because the story is fresh in the mind.

In-room internet access
But in doing this, I’ll usually need in-room internet access, just for checking the odd detail. And thus I always try and stay somewhere that provides this.

Looking up maps
It is also useful for planning purposes – with in-room net access, you can check out little details, look up places you’re wanting to get to on Google Maps etc.

Free WiFi
The price of the in-room internet access counts too. Some hotels charge outrageously for this, and it can often make financial sense to pay a couple of dollars/ pounds/ euro/ groats more for a place that offers free WiFi. The cost of the internet otherwise can put 10 - 20% extra on the bill. Besides, offering free WiFi should be encouraged, and I like to give my custom to places that do this.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

#92 – Make your editor’s life as easy as possible

Or providing no hassle copy

Words of encouragement
I got some good words of encouragement from one of my editors last week. She said: “I love using your work – I very rarely have to change anything.”

Make the editor’s life easy
But aside for that being a nice ego massage for me, it also hints at a good philosophy to work by. Make the editor’s life as easy as possible, and they’re more likely to use you again.

Word count etc
This means getting the word count pretty much spot on, putting the factbox information in the standardised format, doing the requisite currency conversions and perhaps suggesting a headline.

No hassle
All of this is pretty simple to do, and while none of it will be a dealbreaker, the fact that it can go into the paper/ magazine pretty much as is will help your cause in future. It may not be an immediate thing, but after two or three articles, the editor will start thinking: “This contributor is no hassle – great.”