If you want to break into travel writing, you need to understand that there’s far more to travel writing success than simply doing one task well, like writing.
Getting your stories published, and getting paid for your work, is really due to getting a combination of factors right.
One of these elements has always seemed like common sense to me. But, when I talk shop with my travel writing peers, it appears that most of them overlook one obvious thing: researching their destinations before they travel and before they pitch their story ideas.
I received this question via email a few months ago.
“Roy, how can I draft a detailed query letter about a place and pitch stories about a destination without even having gone there first?”
Research your destinations extensively before you travel and before you pitch. I’ve pre-sold hundreds of articles about the attractions at my planned destination—before I even visit the place. This has added up to assignments worth thousands of dollars!
I’ll often spend a couple of hours—or more—researching attractions and potential story topics before I compose my query letters. I’ve sometimes spent a whole day researching my destination. Doing preliminary research greatly boosts the chances of an editor buying your story.
Then I send off my detailed query letters and wait for the assignments to roll in to my inbox. I usually round up several advance assignments like this. This has worked every time I’ve traveled to any U.S. or overseas destination.
I’ve always thought this was standard practice for freelance writers, but when I tell my veteran travel writer friends about how I do this, I usually just get blank looks. This may explain their low publication rates (25% – 40%) compared with my success rate of 90%.
Here’s what you should research about your destination, and why you should be doing this.
What You Should Research
You’re looking for little known, unique, and hard-to-find statistics about the country or city or area you’re planning on visiting.
Why You Should Research Your Destinations In Advance
Using these juicy facts in your query letter shows the editor that you’re prepared. Providing noteworthy facts and figures and statistics builds credibility with your editors. Note: This is especially handy when you’re just starting out on your travel writing career and don’t have many bylines to your name.
Even for experienced writers, providing interesting details shows the editor that you know what you’re talking about and that you can write something appealing for their readers.
Researching your topic will also pay off later, after you’ve traveled and when you write your story. Once you have the assignment, you’ll already have your rough notes and a few paragraphs of your story already written. Then it just becomes a matter of seamlessly integrating this information into your story. Many of my shorter travel articles have been written almost entirely from my query letters and preliminary research plus, of course, my observations from my visit.
Where Do You Do Your Research?
Use the Internet and guidebooks to research your topics. I also use guidebooks from my local bookstore and library to gather information. Just remember, what you find on the web may not always be correct. Be sure to check your data from a couple of reputable sources before you accept it as gospel truth.
Researching your destinations positions you as an expert on the topic and that you’re qualified to write the piece. It can make or break your pitch.