Being a travel writer seems a dream job to many people. Like being on a permanent holiday and you even got paid for it! Right? “You deserve to hear the real story” (p8), Tim Leffel writes in his book Travel Writing 2.0. The job comes with a lot of perks, that’s true, but becoming a travel writer is all about hard work, no steady income or no income at all, and having to deal with lots of competition. You need to be self-motivated, flexible, confident and passionate. If you’re not, you won’t make it as a travel writer. So hard work without any income the first years: you still in for it? Great! Tim Leffel’s book is packed with practical travel writing tips for beginners and will summarize the best for you.
Definitive guide to creating success
Before I set off and bombard you with lots of tips and tricks on how to become a travel writer, I want to make a critical note about Leffel’s book. Travel Writing 2.0 is marketed as the “definitive guide to creating success” as a travel writer and writers with 20+ years of experience say in the reviews that they learned a lot from the book. Well, to be honest, I cannot imagine that someone with lots of experience can really learn a lot from this book.
Travel Writing 2.0 is great for newbies with zero experience, definitely, but if you have been blogging for a while, or have some freelance writing experience (i.e. experience with pitching, social media and writing in general), then you will find lots of the info in this book obvious and maybe even superfluous.
Travel writing tips for beginners
Well, that being said, I did found some useful tips in the book, even though I have some experience as a freelance writer and niche blogger. While reading, I repeatedly thought ‘how obvious’, but some familiar information was really good to be remembered on! So let me share with you the best travel writing for beginners!
Different media ask for different types of travel writing
Leffel gives an overview of different media you can write for, such as newspapers, trade magazines, guidebooks and (e)books. These all involve different types of travel writing. Writing a guidebook is very matter of fact (e.g. bus schedules), while travel book writing is more narrative. Writing for online magazines and blogs also requires a different type of travel writing. One thing, though, applies to all different media and types of travel writing: to become successful, you need to pick a niche.
Pick a niche: how to find your sweet spot
It will come as no surprise that travel writing is covered extensively already. There is no room for another generalist, so Leffel has formulated some key questions to find your so-called sweet spot:
- What can I cover better or more thoroughly than anyone else?
- What niche am I passionate enough about that I can write hundreds of different short articles about?
- What can I write about for 6-12 months that won’t require going into the hole financially?
- Do I want to be known as the expert on this subject or destination? Can I credibly become a media resource?
- Could this subject area lead to other revenue sources in terms of articles, books, speaking engagements or tours?
- Is it something that would eventually generate advertising interest and text ad click-through from readers?
Elevator pitch of your chosen niche
To test your niche, try to explain what your niche is about in a few sentences (aka the elevator pitch). Does it feel good and is it clear and concise? Also, ask yourself if you are truly helping people with this idea or if you’re just looking for a way to talk about yourself.
By the way, choosing a niche doesn’t mean you can never write about another topic. But sticking with your niche (especially in the beginning) helps to improve your status as an expert.
Start a travel blog in your niche
Leffel lists ‘blogging for yourself’ as one of the digital opportunities for a travel writer. Although having a blog is not a requirement for having a successful travel writing career, I think that in these digital days, not having a blog in your niche is almost inconceivable.
But remember, having your own blog is more than just putting some hastily written pieces online. It is about self-promoting, creating a portfolio and gain lots of writing experience. And with guest posting on other travel blogs, you increase your traffic and followers, strengthen your blog’s link building and gain feedback and experience.
Online income streams for travel bloggers and writers
“Be a master of your niche and find lots of ways to make money from that expertise” (p.28) Leffel writes. And thankfully, there are a lot of ways to diversify your online income stream. Think of Google Adsense, affiliate ads, sponsored blog posts, product sales and tours and trip planning. Some are very easy to implement (like putting a Google ad on the side bar of your blog), others require an extensive email marketing strategy (like product sales).
Social media for travel writers
Leffel is not a huge fan of social media. I can totally relate to that; it is flashy, fast and highly addictive. More importantly, Leffel shows that there is no correlation between your social media followers and the number of real readers. Do we need to skip social media then? No, but you need to choose your platforms wisely and only put a few minutes per day of your time and energy in it. Leffel advises to focus on:
- Pinterest | according to Leffel, Pinterest has the most potential because your pins don’t vanish in a few seconds (like your tweets on Twitter)
- Google + | you score higher in the Google ranking if you put your blog posts on G+
- YouTube | PR people love it and it has SEO value for Google
- StumbleUpon | this is like gambling, but if you only spend 5 minutes per week on StumbleUpon, it will be worth it
- Quora | this is not a social media platform, but being active on Quora can enhance your status as an expert. It also provides you with good ideas about what people want to know.
Only spend a limited amount of your time on these platforms! Writing for your blog and pitching potential new clients is way more effective in terms of making money than sending another Tweet in the world wide web. This was a wise lesson for me. I spend too much time on Twitter, while I basically just need to write my ass off 😉
Email marketing for travel writers
According to Leffel, social media is not the way to attract readers. There is, however, a correlation between email signups and real readers. He isn’t really comprehensive about this topic though and only has three general tips about how to gain more email sign ups:
- offer a lead magnet
- send autoresponders with helpful content
- send regular newsletters
You can use plugins like FooBar and WP Notification Bar for your signup box. Leffel uses a paid program called LeadPages.
Next step to become a successful travel writer
In the last section of his book, Tim Leffel gives a list of the next steps to success. Although there are a few obvious ones in this list, it cannot hurt to summarize them all. Some of them are nice to be remembered of.
- Develop a good portfolio site. You can use Contently or your own blog (or both).
- Write good query letters and pitch with fitting ideas. Keep in mind that (online) magazines or blogs use an editorial calendar that they fill in months in advance. The best time to pitch an idea about a winter destination is therefore during summer time, and vice versa.
- Creativity is key.
- Build relationships (with other travel writers, bloggers, and editors for example).
- Persevere, but be patient. Leffel notices that the most successful writers are usually successful salespeople. Do what it takes to promote yourself (in a sensible manner).
- Find your core area of expertise.
- Be authentic and find your voice. Keep in mind: it is better to write about a certain aspect of your trip and not about your complete travel schedule.
- Be professional, make your deadlines and always follow the guidelines of the editor.
Develop a good work ethic.
- Develop a thick skin. Rejection is part of the job. Also, save all your rejected ideas for later pitches or your own blog.
- Expose yourself. Write for free if it makes sense to you, but if a huge publication with lots of editors on the payroll asks for a free article, say no.
- Become a great writer. Take courses, read a lot, write, write, write and get feedback.
- Travel in a frugal manner, but invest freely when needed. Spend your money constructively on knowledge and growth.
- Act like a business owner. Take your blog and writing career seriously and not as a hobby.
- Learn new skills, such as photography, HTML-code, and video editing.
- Keep focusing on what earns an income (which is writing!).
How about press trips for travel writers?
Leffel covers a whole lot of info and advice about how to get invited on press trips. For many wannabe travel writers, going on press trips is their ultimate dream. Who doesn’t want a free holiday, right? First of all, press trips are hard work. You’re on a tight schedule the whole day and after lots of sightseeing you need to write several articles about the destination, even though you might feel like you didn’t find the right angle yet.
For some, this is worth it. For me personally, I don’t think I’m the press trip kind of girl. I like to slow travel with my family, and although I never say never, it is not my intention to actively seek out invitations for press trips. Are you interested in going on press trips, though? I advise you to read more about this in Leffel’s book.
Tim Leffel’s most useful travel writing tip
After reading Tim Leffel’s book, I’ve come to one big conclusion. There is not one way to success, there are multiple. But with following his advice, you can definitely increase your chances of success. However, becoming a successful travel writer comes down to one important thing: write, write and write some more. So let’s get to it!
What do you think of these travel writing tips for beginners? Which one is most useful?
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