Old habits die hard with writers. We get into routines without thinking. We keep doing what worked before even when it doesn’t now. We get sloppy when we’re rushed to hit a deadline. We do things the way we did when we started out, even though times have changed. We do what one particular instructor told us to do, even though that early instructor (or editor) may have been dead wrong.
I’m just one editor among thousands of editors, so there will surely be some who disagree, but if you’re doing any of the following, please stop.
1) Putting two spaces between sentences.
Back when people took typing classes on an IBM Selectric, teachers told students to hit the space bar twice between sentences. Then word processing software came along 30 years ago and eliminated the need for this. When’s the last time you saw two spaces between sentences in anything you read on the web besides a bad blog? Please stop. (You also don’t need to double-space an article you send to most editors either, but some still do print them out to edit, so I won’t tell you to stop doing that, even though it’s antiquated.)
2) Putting trademark signs into an article, story, or blog post.
This is a big no-no and any editor who says otherwise is publishing ad copy, not content. Both the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style say to capitalize brand names, but trademark signs are for “promotional materials or packaging.”
3) Sending an American editor articles in British English and vice-versa.
Microsoft Word has several advantages over free word processing programs, one of the key ones for writers being the ability to spell check in different languages. Learn how to use this function if you’re submitting articles to a foreign publication. Canada, the U.S., and England all have different spellings for many words. They also handle quotation marks and comma placements differently, which you might have to look up. Don’t just leave it all to an editor to clean up. Get it right before hitting the “send” button.
4) E-mailing huge photos
In case you haven’t noticed, the file sizes of photos are now downright massive—frequently 4mb or more each from a point-and-shoot automatic. If you put five of them into an e-mail and fire them off to me, that’s going to cripple my e-mail loading on a phone or spotty Wi-fi signal and have me cursing your name from across an ocean. Get off your lazy butt and open a free account at Flickr, Picasa/Google+, Dropbox, or YouSendIt and upload your article photos to the cloud. Then send your editor a link. He or she might be so happy you’ll actually get hired again instead of getting onto their sh%t list.
5) Treating photos as an afterthought.
Speaking of photos, there still seem to be a lot of travel writers out there who haven’t gotten the message you need to be a photographer now too, not just an assembler of sentences. I don’t know how many writers still survive just on feature stories where a photographer tags along doing the photos, but it’s got to be less than 2%. If you’re not one of those, take a class, read a photography book, and buy a decent camera. (No, an iPhone doesn’t count and taking photos with your iPad is just silly.)
Part 2: Editing is a required part of the process. Don’t send photos with horizons at a 30-degree slope or uncropped ones where the subject so small it will disappear when the size is reduced. Again, don’t be lazy—perfectly adequate photo editing programs are free even. Learn to use one. It’s a required skill now.
Part 3: If you’re a blogger, the only thing worse than doing lame top-10 travel list posts is doing lame top-10 lists illustrated by stock photos you didn’t take yourself. We’ve already got the hack-fest Huffington Post and other content farm sites for that. Be original.
Craig makes up half of the couple who writes and does podcasts for Indie Travel Podcast (his wife Linda is the other half!). Today, Craig talks candidly about how to adjust to the changing media landscape, why they decided to start an e-guidebook series, and what they expect to see in terms of the industry over the new few years. Check out Craig and Linda’s site here!
First, tell us a little bit about Indie Travel Podcast. You’ve been running the site since 2007, which in blog years is pretty impressive. Was the site your first internet project? What have you learned about blogging since then?
My first real website was a personal travel blog running on a small homepage that I started in 2003. That site doesn’t exist anymore, but Indie Travel Podcast has been going for a while!
Back in February 2006 we started travelling full-time and decided we wanted to start sharing what we were learning. So much of what we read was designed to sell a place or an experience: this made travel seem expensive and exclusive. But we wanted to equip people with the resources and ideas to help them go and do it themselves. Since then, we’ve published about 2,000 pages on the site, 270-odd audio podcasts, and several e-books on travel and places.
Blogging is an interesting beast, but I think the primary thing is to keep talking to people: not shouting into the void, but communicating — asking questions, getting answers, refining your editorial to meet those people and get to know them better.
On your blog, you say that your audience is primarily backpackers, expats, digital nomads, and career breakers. Could you elaborate a little bit more on who is attracted to your site and why?
It’s an odd mix that’s attracted to us! We’ve met listeners in their teens who are dreaming of a gap-year; 20- and 30-somethings who are ready to throw it all in and go see the world; retirees who wonder why they didn’t start travelling years ago; and everything in between.
While we get quite a few people that take shorter holidays, most of the interaction comes from people who are looking to travel far and travel long: people that might be doing a one-year job placement or going on a sabbatical or gap year. We’ve started moving our editorial so it’s more friendly for those short-term holiday travellers, and we’re seeing a nice early response to that.
Most of our readers are interested in making blogging more than just a hobby. How do you support yourself with your blog, how has that income stream changed over the years, and what do you foresee in the future in terms of changes?
Oh my goodness: the income streams and business plan change year to year. Sometimes we have to throw out everything we’ve been working with for six months and start again!
Some major themes have been the books we publish (we wrote the early ones, now we publish and sell other people’s books); the sponsorship of podcasts — companies associating themselves with our brand that way; commission-based advertising — we’ve actually set up premier partnerships for all travel bloggers with a few key companies in addition to building out our own business; 3rd-party ad networks like Adsense fill in the gaps, although we’re looking at experimenting with a voluntary membership subscription to replace those if we can. We’re talking with our audience about it on Facebook right now.
If someone close to you wanted advice on starting a travel blog, what’s the most important piece of advice you could give them?
If you’re doing it for fun, just put in as much time as is fun. There’s a great community and lots of cool people around.
If you’re doing it for money, find out where the money is first. Don’t start anything until you’ve figured out where your income is coming from. Once you’ve done that, test it before sinking lots of time into it.
Some (paid) communities like Travel Blog Success can be a good place to start: even getting an account before you get a blog to see what people are doing and if it’s working for them. Remember, a blog is not a business: it’s a communication platform.
What gave you the inspiration for your e-guidebook series? In terms of the changing digital landscape, how do e-guidebooks differ from self-publishing and other online publishers?
The Indie Travel Guides idea came from our frustration with what was available. There were the big monoliths: Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc and a whole bunch of UGC sites. But the former were slow to adapt: they didn’t make their digital stuff beautiful, fun, or even easy to use. The latter… Well, we all look at reviews when booking a trip, but there’s no editorial structure.
What we were excited about doing was bringing the best of an inspiring travel magazine together with the best from a traditional guidebook. We also realised that the data size isn’t the most important thing, so in our PDF guidebook of Las Vegas, for example, you find the accommodation listed twice: once by neighbourhood and once by type. This means you can find places to eat, play, sleep within walking distance of each other… or decide you really want to eat Indian today and find that just as easily. Being able to experience the place around you is central to what we’re trying to do.
In terms of self-publishing travel guides, that’s doable — but probably only for a city or three. What we’re trying to do is give bloggers and independent authors the best of both worlds: a commission-based structure while we handle design, editing, sales and help with marketing. Of course, the more authors self-market the bigger their sales; and the more authors and affiliates we have bringing visitors to the store, the more sales everyone makes. Because we have an editorial vision for the whole series, customers will also be able to buy books for different cities, knowing they’ll have a consistent and excellent experience with their guidebooks.
Podcaster and writer Craig Martin has been living on the road since leaving Auckland, New Zealand in February 2006. With a degree in Media Studies and English plus a penchant for Coleridge, he’s still travelling. Craig podcasts at the Indie Travel Podcast, has penned several travel books for Indie Travel Media Ltd and is President Elect of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
Interview conducted in May, 2013 by Kristin Mock.
Gabriel O’Rorke is a freelance writer working in both print and digital media. As she says, she hopes both continue to complement each other (because there’s nothing like holding a glossy spread in your hands!). In our interview, we talk about how she got her feet wet in the business, what it takes to sell a pitch, and where she sees the future of journalism. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in the journalism industry and where does your love for writing and travel come from?
My background is in TV journalism. I started out on the newsdesk at ABC News in London before moving to the BBC where I was a producer for World News for three years. I also spent a stint trying my hand at financial news working for Bloomberg.
As for my love of travel, travelling and writing have been two things I’ve always loved. From inter-railing around Italy to doing a solo backpacking trip around the world at 18, I’ve always taken every opportunity to travel. During university I travelled from Peru down to Argentina, and after graduating I backpacked (again alone) around Cuba for a month catching carnival in Santiago de Cuba.
After a bunch of years working in news, I began the mission of getting my first commission. Editors would reply (some of them anyway) to my pitches, but they’d always ask to see cuttings. I could send news and features articles, but no travel. My break came after I produced a BBC programme on Mexico and pitched an idea for a travel piece on Puebla to CNN Traveller. It was commissioned and the rest snowballed from there.
On your website, you say you write about adventure, luxury, and sustainable travel. How do these three niches intersect, or are they all distinct for you?
There are many things I love about travel, but I find adventure (or action – things like horse riding or sky diving) gives me a buzz like nothing else. Also, these days more and more hotels are growing an eco-conscience and it’s exciting to find out what sort of things they are doing. As for luxury, I fell into luxury without meaning to. This sounds silly, but I suppose it’s because there’s more money in it. And who can say no…
In your personal opinion, where do you see the future of print journalism? Do you think it’s doomed (as many do) or do you think it will prevail? Also, what influence has digital media had on your opinion?
There’s no doubt print journalism is shrinking, both in terms of jobs and content. But there’s nothing like seeing a lovely spread – glossy or in print – of your work. And the same goes for holding an article in your hand rather than always staring at a screen. I hope print and digital continue to complement one another…
If someone was just starting out and wanted to be a travel journalist, what advice would you give this person?
Perservere, be patient, file copy on time and come up with original ideas.
If this same person asked you how to “break in” to some of the larger publications, such as Conde Nast Traveler or National Geographic, what would tell her/him?
Start smaller and build up. Don’t go for the biggies first of all, but you will get commissions there eventually if you produce enough good content elsewhere.
As a freelance writer, how do you see your income stream changing in the next 5 years?
I hope that unpaid work becomes less prevalent, and editors realize you need to pay for good content. But, realistically, I think wages for travel content will continue to go down and writers will have to move with the times, thinking of apps and web content that readers will pay for.
Gabriel O’Rorke is a multimedia journalist based in Santiago, Chile. Working in broadcast, print and online, she started her career in TV and has worked for ABC, BBC and Bloomberg. She travels all over the globe but specializes in Latin American travel. You can find her articles in a range of UK and international publications, including the Financial Times, Daily Mail, Tatler, Conde Nast Traveller (UK), Wallpaper*, Luxury Latin America, CNN Travel, and Lonely Planet Traveller.
Interview conducted in April, 2013 by Kristin Mock.