Freelance travel writing has evolved rapidly since I first put pen to paper in 2007.
In this time, I’ve seen many excellent travel writers fall by the literary wayside. They’ve been unable to adapt their writing and sales techniques to the ever-changing travel writing landscape.
This article is intended as a guide to answer the questions about query letters that I hear most often, and will clarify the rather murky waters surrounding this critical topic.
Fallacy #1: Study the Writer’s Guidelines
One of the immutable freelance travel writing rules that is a barrier to success in today’s freelance writing arena is the Writer’s Guidelines. Writer’s Guidelines are magazine recommendations for how you should pitch them and what types of articles they prefer. Some experts tell us, “You must study and follow each magazine’s Writer’s Guidelines to a T, my little grasshopper.”
If these were named “Absolute Writers Rules” then sure, we’d have to follow them exactly. But, they’re called “guidelines” for a reason.
Beyond my first few months of writing, I’ve seldom read the Writers Guidelines. Yes, I know this is considered heresy. But despite this appalling deviation I’ve never had any problems selling 1,000+ stories to more than 200 magazines.
In my experience, if you pitch a good story idea the editor will get back to you and tell you precisely what he or she wants. Story details take a back seat to good story ideas. If editors shows interest in your ideas, you can always sort out the length, tone, voice, and style details later.
If you’re a beginner, you’re probably wondering if you should study the Writer’s Guidelines before pitching your stories. My advice: scan through them after editors express interest in your story ideas.
Why my aversion to Writer’s Guidelines? Once you start poring through them, you’ll soon find they’re all different. You can, literally, waste days studying Writer’s Guidelines.
You’ll tie yourself up in knots obsessing over all the conflicting information—and never get to put pen to paper. From my experiences coaching more than 100 newbie travel writers I know this is a common problem. Don’t get caught up and overwhelmed by this trivia!
Fallacy #2: Tailor Your Queries to Each Individual Magazine
Old School “experts” also insist that your queries must be tailored to each individual magazine. This is poor advice. I’ve never bothered tailoring my queries to individual magazines – except to change the editors’ and publications’ names.
Despite this unorthodox approach, I’ve never had any problems selling my stories.
Tailoring each query takes far too much time. The fact is, editors will never throw away a good story idea if the timing is right.
I have proof that this nonconformist approach sells stories. I can recall dozens of cases where several different magazines around the globe have purchased my articles when I’ve used the exact same query letter.
And, likewise, when the writers I coach send out the same exact query letters to multiple magazine editors, they’ve had no problems selling their stories.
Some Final Advice
Don’t internalize outdated advice about writer’s guidelines and customized queries. We can’t be all things to every magazine editor. Generate new, exciting, and unique story ideas – and produce well-written queries – and you’ll still sell your stories.