Tired of struggling to get your byline in a publication or two? CAROLINE HURRY, editor-in-chief of Travelwrite (www.travelwrite.co.za) and Safrea member, offers 12 tips when pitching travel stories to editors.
1. Know your market. One size does not fit all when it comes to writing so before anything, get familiar with the publication or website you want to pitch. Read back issues. What types of stories feature? How long are the articles? Are they written in first person? What destinations have been covered? Who are their readers? Action, adventure, backpacking or luxury travel? If you have a particular story in mind, pitch it to the correct publication. Once when I was editing a décor and design magazine, someone sent me a piece (with photographs) about an artist called Stephen Cohen who specialised in sticking lit sparklers and other strange items up his bottom. This was wrong on so many levels I hardly knew how to start my rejection letter. Eventually I suggested the writer try The Pink Pages or Gay Times.
2. Write your own blurb, headline and captions. This shows professionalism. Your headline and blurb may get changed but at least you’ve given the sub-editor something to work with. Nothing made me fly into a bigger rage when I was editing the Saturday Star and Pretoria News travel section than receiving photographs without captions. Who do you expect to write captions for you? I would have to do it but to add insult to injury I would receive follow-up notifications from journalists saying the caption was wrong. Don’t get me started…
3. Never pester editors. They’re seriously busy so bombarding them with emails asking whether they’ve read your piece and when they’re thinking of using it will only get on their nerves. Give it at least a month. Then try a gentle reminder. If there’s still no response, take your story elsewhere. Pieces often get rejected. It’s nothing personal. Grow a thick skin and keep pitching.
3. Most editors don’t have time to read proposals. They want to see the crafted and polished piece. Rather write a succinct paragraph outlining what your story is about, why it’s relevant for their publication, why it’s important to cover now, and why you’re the best person to write it.
4. When you send queries to editors, mention in brief where you have been and what you plan in future. If the editor doesn’t know you, then list some other places you’ve been published.
5. Get published anywhere and everywhere. After you have proof of published articles you can link to, you can start sending pitches to the bigger publications.
6. Improve your photography. Most publications want a feature package that includes images. Also, write stories around your pictures. If you shoot a great portrait of a local, quote them in the story and refer to the image. I’ve said this before, I know, but write your own damn captions, okay.
7. On the subject of pictures, slug or label yours correctly. If you’ve written a piece on fishing, then your pictures should be labeled fishing1, 2 and 3 etc. Editors receive hundreds of emails a week and obscurely-slugged pictures or ones with just an image number are the first to “get lost in the system”.
8. Find a new and interesting angle. “My trip to Zambia” doesn’t cut it but “Seeking NyamiNyami, the Zambezi River God” is a fresher take on an area that has been extensively covered already.
9. Some online travel magazines looking for travel writing include:
10. Promote Yourself. Travel writing is 20 percent writing, 80 percent marketing. Embrace social media, using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Linked In and Digg to promote your work.
11. Be determined. Decide nothing is going to stop you getting what you want. The most successful people are not necessarily the most talented but the most determined. If nobody wants to publish your work, start your own blog or website. That will also give your instant credibility.
12. Network. If you don’t know anyone and want to break into the field, join a writers group such as SAFREA. Attend conferences and workshops or teach yourself online. Get out there and meet people that do this for a living.
Follow Caroline on Twitter @travelwrite1
The views in this column do not necessarily express the views of the Safrea organisation nor its members.