Pick up any article about freelance travel writing, and the chances are it will advocate the tremendous value of social media.
Social media, according to some, is the universal cure-all for everything from landing us writing assignments and setting the Internet ablaze with viral posts, making us overnight success stories.
But my freelance travel writing experiences and experiments with social media have been mixed. And in some cases, contrary to what many writers believe.
At my annual Seattle Travel Writing & Marketing Master Class, I am inevitably asked THE question, “Do new travel writers need to use social media to sell their articles to magazines?”
A few years ago I had an article published in Writer’s Forum, an excellent U.K. writer’s magazine. This piece was about whether social media had helped me sell my travel stories to print media.
The rather wicked looking kitchen knife on the cover of that particular issue proved most ironic because a few fanatical social media supporters drew their metaphorical knives and attacked me via email. Their outraged letters to the magazine editor claimed that I was a heretic and just plain wrong!
Despite what those social media fanatics believed, it appears that magazine editors still prefer the good old-fashioned pitch, where they can evaluate your writing skills and story ideas. And I can state this conclusively, because I have proof.
Curious about whether social media can contribute directly to our assignment workload, I sent out a short survey to a wide variety of regional, national, and international travel magazine editors. My survey asked if they actively recruit writers through social media to write articles for them.
Although one or two editors replied that they had occasionally used online searches to track down writers for specific assignments, the remainder of the editors agreed that social media is not a tool they normally use to hire writers.
The truth is, print magazine editors have better things to do with their time than trawl through our banal Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter posts. They would much rather that writers send them well-crafted query letters, outlining stories that will excite their readers.
And, novice travel writers have far better things to do than spend their money setting up a social media presence when they don’t have any published stories to crow about.
Instead of frittering away their time scrolling through uninspiring social media posts, aspiring travel writers should be dreaming up story ideas, creating magazine distribution lists, and pitching stories to magazines they think their story would be a good fit for. In short, they should be building their bylines and earning their real stripes as travel writers.
Likewise, the “experts” who preach that novice writers should start up their own travel blog are dispensing atrociously bad advice. My belief is that if you’ve got a travel story worth blogging about, it’s worth pitching to paying print media!
And consider this; if your travel blog is poorly written and full of lame, half-baked travel “stories”, no editor is ever going to commission your stories after looking at these amateurish efforts.
I’ve occasionally been tracked down, via my writer’s website (www.Roy-Stevenson.com ), by editors offering me assignments, but these random windfalls do not happen consistently enough to bring in a sustainable income.
However, before you dismiss me as a luddite who doesn’t believe in the power of social media, I have to say that social media (in which I include our travel writer’s websites and blogs) is of immense use to us in numerous other ways. I would even say that social media is a powerful tool in the freelance writer’s toolbox—if selectively and appropriately used.
Published writers can—and should—use social media to establish their writer’s platform, to boost their credibility. A nicely designed and meaty travel writer’s website provides an easily accessible portfolio of our published work—enough to convince an editor considering one of our pitches, that we’re worth betting on.
There are countless other benefits to a strategic and well thought out social media campaign, although its use as a regular source of incoming assignments is not one of them.
For me, social media draws people to my www.pitchtravelwrite.com  website and encourages aspiring travel writers to sign up for my free weekly travel writing newsletter. Social media enables me to display my travel writing guides, handbooks, and reference manuals. It provides me with a medium to advertise my elite coaching and mentoring program. It helps me broadcast my Travel Writing & Marketing Master Class, and my Travel Writing & Photography Retreat.
Judicious use of social media provides me with credibility in the travel writing arena and helps me spread my message to aspiring travel writers. And I don’t hesitate to post my latest stories, if they’re available online.
Travel writers can use social media and their writer’s websites to show off their published articles; prove that they are indeed traveling; to show they’re attending travel writing conferences and workshops; and that they’re keeping up with new developments in this rapidly changing field.
But, those that believe social media is the ultimate cure for everything to do with travel writing, need to understand that poorly chosen social media is merely a time suck and that it distracts you from what you should be focusing on—getting published.
It’s really a matter of utilizing your social media in the right ways to meet your specific needs. Otherwise, it will be a tremendous waste of your time.