Claudette Covey is the Executive Editor for travAlliancemedia covering Mexico, Canada and the U.S. East Coast for travel agents and consumers. Today she talks to us about how she got her start as a travel writer, how business writing differs from consumer writing and the hottest places to explore in Mexico.
Before we get into what you’re doing now, how did you get started as a travel writer and what led to your early successes?
I wish I could say there was a strategy behind my career as a travel writer, but that simply isn’t the case. After graduating from college with a degree in creative writing, I moved to New York City with the aim of obtaining any job I could find in the publishing industry.My first job was as an editorial assistant with the now-defunct True Detective magazine. I loved the job but the pay was abysmal.
After a year or so with the magazine, I contacted an employment agency that specialized in publishing to find a higher paying position. I ended up taking a job at trade travel magazine, where I worked as a secretary for the ad sales department and later joined the editorial team in the same type of position. Eventually, one of the editors left for another travel magazine and hired me as an editorial assistant, which was really the launch of my career.
I believe my early successes were based more on tenacity than talent. My ability to work extremely well and efficiently with virtually any type of person under a wide range of circumstances also contributed to my success.
Did you do a lot of writing for trade publications before, when you were a freelancer?
My travel background is primarily on the trade side in positions that have included stints as a reporter, managing editor and executive editor. When I embarked on a freelance career after those full-time positions, most of my work came from trade publications. I supplemented that with the occasional consumer magazine article, along with promotional writing about cruise lines and tour operators.
How does writing for business differ from writing for consumers and what do you like about that?
Generally speaking, what makes trade/business writing interesting is that it provides a behind-the-scenes view of how the travel industry operates from a business sense. Stories tend to focus on travel companies from a business perspective and are thereby of more interest to those in the trade, including travel agents, tour operators, and cruise lines. Consumer focused destination writing is a little broader and includes information that would be of interest to both travel agents and consumers. Nonetheless, those articles invariably include information that will help an agent sell the destination to their clients.
That said, the Internet is blurring the lines between consumer writing and business writing. TravelPulse, the travAlliancemedia website, for instance, was once targeted only to the trade. Now it targets both trade and consumer audiences. So as a business writer I am increasingly creating copy designed to appeal to both audiences.
I cover Mexico, the U.S. East Coast and Canada, and travel agents. I write – at minimum – two stories a day on those subjects for the website. I write approximately four 1,500-word magazine articles a month (sometimes more, sometimes less) for our monthly print publications, Agent @ Home and Vacation Agent, on issues pertaining to travel agents and destinations. And I also travel about 10 or so times a year, primarily to Mexico and array of travel agency conferences.
What advice would you give to freelancers who want to pitch ideas to trade publications or even get a full-time position at one of them someday?
First, read the publications and website(s) of the company you’re pitching and suggest ideas that are in line with what those publications and websites are publishing. Just because you have an article that you believe is interesting doesn’t mean it will be an appropriate fit for those publications. So I recommend taking a good hard look at the types of articles being published and suggest story ideas that fit well with that content.
Establishing yourself as a valued freelancer for any given website or publication is a great way to eventually land a full-time position. There’s certainly nothing wrong with letting editors know you are interested in full-time work – when and if you are.
Since you specialize in Mexico and have spent a lot of time there, where would you tell people to go that’s beyond the usual beach resort spots?
I guess it categorizes as a beach resort, but nonetheless, Tulum is hot hot hot right now with hip and trendy travelers. I would recommend it for anyone interested in a “scene.” While large all-inclusive resorts are ubiquitous in the Cancun/Riviera Maya region, Tulum offers a very different low-rise travel experience.
On a similar note, Huatulco in the state of Oaxaca is a sustainable resort community, generating 90 percent of its energy from windmills and 10 percent from water. And it is gorgeous, with 36 beaches laid out over 22 miles and nine bays.
Anyone who wants to truly get away from it all should give Holbox a whirl. It’s a two-hour drive from Cancun and only accessible by ferry. It’s got all of 300 hotel rooms and one ATM. There are no cars on the island. Transportation is by foot or dune buggy. It’s pretty great.
Claudette Covey is an Executive Editor for travAlliancemedia which includes TravelPulse.com, Vacation Agent Magazine and Agent@Home Magazine. The publications are a vital resource for travel agents keeping them up to date on the latest travel news, trends and deals. Claudette specializes in travel throughout Mexico but also covers Canada and the U.S. East Coast.
The professional endures adversity. He lets the bullshit splash down his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.
– The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
If you ever write for someone else, go into every gig assuming your editor is going to be demanding, relentless, and uncompromising. He or she might be an outright jerk.
But you can take it, right?
As an editor, most of the feedback I get from people who write for me is positive. More than once I’ve been called “The nicest travel writer I know.” At least by people who haven’t met Don George yet, that is.
Two or three times a year though, I’ll get an e-mail from some writer starting with, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” The writer then calls me a meanie and says I should be more kind in my e-mails. I’ve hurt their feelings, made them feel unappreciated, and they’re miffed enough to tell me it’s been bothering them.
I play along and say I’ll keep that in mind, but really if I went back in time my e-mail would be exactly the same.
Positive Feedback is Not Their Job
You should probably get used to that. If you get a “nice job” message, frame it. Some publications I’ve contributed to for years and there hasn’t been a single piece of positive feedback. But why should there be? They paid to purchase a service and I delivered that service. The positive feedback is that they keep hiring me. Should you tell the lawn care guy every week what an awesome frickin’ job he did edging the grass along your sidewalk? Let him go win “Lawn Care Professional of the Year” if he needs that kind of ego-boosting.
Editors are busy and the last thing they’re thinking about is whether they’re making you feel good about yourself. Granted, there are exceptions. If there’s a writer I feel like I can take from good to mind-blowingly great with just a little targeted encouragement, I’ll take the time to put my criticism between two tasty buns in order to make a nice sandwich. If I’m leading a workshop I’ve been paid to lead or someone has covered my expenses for a conference, it’s my job to be Mr. Positive for three days instead of Mr. Tough Love. If you’re a real staff member instead of a freelancer, “staff development and coaching” is indeed in that manager’s job description.
But if you’re a freelancer or independent blogger selling me your content? Sorry, no. That’s a transaction. Service rendered, fee paid. Next!
I’m telling you all this not to rationalize my gruff e-mail exterior, but to point out an important reality: I’m the norm, not the exception.
I’m a freelancer too and for 20+ years, I’ve been on the receiving end of that correspondence. First in letter form then in faster but even less civil electronic form. Even when editors didn’t have social media, the internet, e-mail, or constantly buzzing smart phones, they were crazy busy. I once visited one in an office in New York and watched in awe as she talked on the phone, wrote notes on documents in her in-box, interviewed me, and chewed out her assistant for double-booking her at 5:00. All while stuffing things in her briefcase to take home that night. I can only imagine how frazzled she would be now, aided by technology.
I can easily point to my favorite editor of all time, one of the first ones who hired me for multiple assignments. He was warm, charming, witty, and encouraging, no matter what. The thing is, eventually he got laid off after a buyout and it took him more than five years to find another full-time job. Meanwhile, every jerk editor I’ve ever worked with has gone on a path of getting bigger and better jobs each transition. Sorry to say, the correlation between writer coddling and career trajectory is probably an inverse one.
How an Editor Processes 250 E-mails a Day
You see, almost anyone you can point to as successful in any field has become that way by prioritizing their time and getting the maximum amount of work done with the minimum amount of time required. Nearly all top-level entrepreneurs and executives view their e-mail box as something to process, deal with, and whittle down. Short and effective moves the business forward. Chit-chatty and meandering is for amateurs and starving artists.
So call me a jerk, call me insensitive, and deride me for not being more of a people person online. Hopefully someday we’ll hang out together in person and I’ll change your mind. But if you miss your deadline, the e-mail from me will be very short and to the point. If you do that twice it might even sound downright mean.
If you do everything you’re supposed to do, on time, that’s called “fulfilling your commitment” and usually doesn’t deserve an emotional pat on the back. Call me up and ask how you’re doing if you want honest feedback. Or go enter your stories in writing contests and win some awards. Don’t just wait for praise from the people paying you and get miffed if it doesn’t appear. If you believe in your art and you know you’re good at it, you don’t need their opinion anyway.
When you think of your editor, picture Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, or the old model in my music biz days: Clive Davis. If you go in with the assumption you’ll get grudging respect for a job well done and unfiltered (but valid) criticism when you screw up, it’ll be all upside and no downside. You’ll forge onward and grow your back account. Meanwhile the fragile amateurs will spend more and more time on Facebook and Instagram, getting their required injection of daily affirmations and encouragement.
If you receive an e-mail that’s all criticism and no praise, take what’s valid and ignore what’s not. Reply with one word back—maybe “Thanks” or “OK”—and get back to creating great work.
It’s not easy making a comfortable living as a full-time travel writer or blogger, so the Travel Writing 2.0 book and blog are all about helping you increase your income. If you subscribe to the Travel Writing Success newslettter, you’re getting more good nuggets direct from me each month.
Income is only half the equation when it comes to your finances though. The other side of the accounting ledger is what goes out each month—your expenses. Naturally if you can keep your income roughly the same but cut your expenses in half, you’ve substantially increased your monthly disposable income. Instead of it all going into rent, utilities, car expenses, and health care, you can actually save some money and get ahead.
My newest book, A Better Life for Half the Price, is for anyone who wants to cut loose instead of cutting back, who wants to live life to the fullest each week instead of stressing about money. It’s the creative types who work online that can really benefit the most though from a change of address. Our life of working for ourselves and having personal freedom can mean great benefits but also great uncertainty in terms of the monthly income flow. By cutting your expenses in half or more (without having to cut back on the things you enjoy), you can eliminate much of the danger, the risk, the fragility of being self-employed.
I only moved across one national border, to Mexico, and immediately my family’s expenses dropped by more than half. Businesses talk a lot about “run rate” and though my business expenses didn’t change much, my personal ones—which are larger anyway—plummeted. On top of that, we can enjoy life more here. We go out to eat more, we don’t have to think twice about going to the symphony ($6), grabbing lunch at a typical restaurant ($3-$4), going to a concert ($4), or buying a fresh-squeezed juice ($1).
If you make $52,000 in the USA, you’re at the median income level. If you make that amount and you’re living in Mexico, you’re upper middle class. If you earn that and you’re living in India, Nepal, Cambodia, or Nicaragua, you are stinking filthy rich. You’d be a 2-percenter, one of the elites.
I did a blog post on what it costs me living in Guanajuato where you can see more, like utility bills. The thing is, there are plenty of other cheap countries around the world where you can do the same job you’re doing now. By living abroad though, you can keep a lot more of what you’re earning instead of watching it go right back out of your checking account. Some of them are a good bit cheaper than Mexico. You could probably live for 1/4 of what you do now in some spots I highlight in the book. If you’re currently in New York City, London, or Sydney, make it 1/5.
How would your life change if your monthly bills dropped in half? Would you feel less stress? Enjoy the job more? Be able to be more picky about which projects you take on? Finally finish that unfinished book or big project? Could you afford a virtual assistant and free up some of your time?
Invest an hour’s wages in the e-book or paperback and start exploring here: A Better Life for Half the Price.
Or, if you’re just a little intrigued and want to learn more, get on the Cheap Living Abroad monthly e-mail list and download the free report “14 countries where you can stay 4 months or more on a tourist visa.”