When I started Vagabundo Magazine I thought I had a pretty good idea of what makes or breaks a travel writer. However, as weeks go by and I find myself digging through piles of potential stories the various issues it has become much more clear. The fact that I am now reading at travel articles as someone looking to buy article and sell magazines it has put things into perfect focus for me. I can now see the mistakes certain budding travel writers make in their quest to be published, I have also found what is lacking a little bit, and it might surprise you.
I know when don’t do “Top 5” type articles at this magazine, but for the purpose of this article it’s only fitting. These are my top 5 tips to budding travel writers on how to get published.
There may have been a day that one could simply write a beautiful story and people would jump to buy it. However, today we live in a very visual world. People look for photos, and even videos, to compliment the articles now more than ever. Moreover, whereas in the past magazines might pay someone to write a story and another person to photograph it, these days budgets are tight and stories are quite often given to those who can also provide stunning images along with well-crafted words.
I can’t tell you how many times I get pitches to the magazine for stories that don’t even come close to fitting the voice of our brand. In my opinion, if you don’t know what the magazine is looking for don’t pitch it until you do or you’ll just look poorly prepared. The truth of the matter is that if you’re a writer you could even email an editor and ask for a digital copy of the last magazine, or even just a couple pdfs of articles from the last issue to read over to get a sense of the voice. Asking for that digital copy doesn’t make you unknowledgeable it makes you well prepared. Magazines want articles that fit their voice and if you’re going to pitch a story you should know how their typical story reads before you deliver a pitch.
Perhaps one of the issues with travel journalism is that the majority of the people new to the industry don’t come from a journalism background. However, so many stories we are pitched at the magazine are just really superficial and have no teeth. To create a really appealing story for a magazine you need to dig below the surface of a destination and pull out something new and fresh. For example, there are 10,000 stories about Carnival in Brazil. So instead, write about something like racial issues at carnival, get specific about a certain dance group, or maybe even try to find a unique carnival in a smaller town than Rio or Salvador. Magazines are always looking for great stories that have a familiar vibe but a fresh new angle, and you have to do a little bit of digging and research to get there.
The art of the pitch is something that is sourly lacking. I’d say about 1 in 100 pitches I get are what I would consider “properly done”. If you come up with a pitch to an editor that is poorly thought out and unorganized, the editor is going to assume that the article will be poorly thought out and unorganized as well. Your pitch is, in many ways, your first impression, and if you blow that first impression you’ll likely not get the same respect from that point on. On the other hand, a beautifully laid out pitch will definitely put you in the good books of an editor. Some magazines have guidelines for pitching, others just assume you understand how one should work. I put together a bit of a guide to how to pitch a magazine story a while ago, it might be worth a read.
I know the market can be overwhelming, but with a little persistence you can get there. After getting the first two articles I pitched to magazines published, I probably went through 50 pitches before I got something published again. For the first couple months that I made unsuccessful pitches to travel magazines and journals, I was a bit shocked at the time not to get gigs as I thought they were great pieces. However, looking back now I can see that I was making so many of the mistakes I hope to help correct in this article. In time, however, the craft is eventually honed. The truth is that most people give up after they are turned down a couple dozen times, but developing that story, that pitch and that delivery is something that requires a lot of practice and certainly isn’t something that comes overnight.
I know the industry can wear you down as there is simply so much competition out there. But the truth is that at the end of the day it’s often not the greatest writers that get the gigs but the ones that do the little things stated in this article.
I hope this helps!
Brendan van Son