Friday, August 16, 2013

Ready, Set, Go...

No, you’re not in a race. But it may seem like one if you’re a travel writer. What you’re actually doing is racing to find the most information in the least amount of time to use in as many articles as you can. Sounds like a tall order.  It doesn’t have to be if you’re organized.

Before you can get a go-ahead from one or more editors, you first have to research your subject, not your destination. Travel writing may seem like it’s about writing about places, but it’s really about writing about what’s at those places, and what the reader can do there. It’s really not about writing about your travel experience, but what the reader needs to know to enjoy a similar experience.

So before you begin, you have to know who your reader will be—young, old, married with a family, adventurer, or budget-conscious. Knowing who your reader will be will go a long way to helping you figure out what sort of information to collect. If you have multiple readers from different demographics, that means that the information you collect must be multifaceted. And to make the most profit from your work, you need to produce as much as you can from your research on a subject.

Before you approach editors, you’ll need to know what’s been done before on your subject. So instead of researching the subject, itself, you’ll need to research periodicals to find out how much has been done and when. If little or nothing has been done, then you might as well forget it. That often means readers aren’t interested. If a lot has been done, then, again, you might as well forget it, unless you have a very unique angle. Once you know what sort of market you have to work with, you’ll be able to query editors with your ideas.

In preparation for querying editors, brainstorm your subject. Try to think of as many different articles for the readers you’ve targeted as you can. Ask yourself questions. And based on what you discovered in your market research, come up with a dozen or more article ideas based on a general subject or destination.

It’s now time to do some preliminary subject research. For this, you’ll need to check a variety of sources–books, previous articles, the Internet. Get to know a bit about your subject so you can compose some intelligent queries. Then send them off to the publications you’ve chosen.

Once you hear back from editors, the fun begins. Now that you know what you’re going to be writing about, it’s time to start researching in earnest. Researching for the articles themselves requires that you go beyond books and the Internet. For travel writing, research requires that you travel to a place and talk to people and do things that your traveling readers would want to do—traveling there, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, seeing the sights, enjoying entertainment. While you may not include all the information you obtain from your trip in your articles, you, nevertheless, have to make a note of it. You never know when you might want to use it in the future.

Before you go, you need to know as much about your destination as possible. And while you can read travel books on your destination, you may find other books, including novels set in the place, will give you a feel for it. The more you know before you go, the better you’ll be able to find unique information while there. You can even access your destination on Google Maps Street View and actually see the place where you’re going. Though you can only view it from the street or road, you’ll get an idea of what to expect when you get there.

You’ll also need to set up appointments with tourism people, curators of museums, and interesting persons related to your subject. Contact the local tourism department and ask for recommendations and possible help setting up appointments and interviews. They may be able to set up special tours or get you in to places that may be closed to the public temporarily. Remember, while it may be interesting to readers to write about special places or things to do, if they can’t do it when they travel there, it’s really no use to them.  Part of the downfall of many PBS travel shows—Globetrekker is a good example—is that they show too many things that readers just cannot do or places they can’t get into. Rick Steves’ series, on the other hand, is an excellent example of keeping viewers (or readers) in mind.

Now that you’ve done all your preliminary research, made your reservations, and purchased your tickets, it’s time to go. Once you arrive, you’ve got to be “on” every waking minute. You never know when the information you need will pop up unexpectedly.

Still think you want to dabble in travel writing?

P.S. And after you get home, you’ll want to collapse, but you can’t because you have to compile all your notes and such and get writing those articles. Soon it will be time to do it all over again. Not quite like a vacation, is it?

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