An Interview with Dominique King

DominiqueOn Assignment1Dominique King is a metro Detroit writer who writes and publishes Midwest Guest, a regional travel blog focusing on the Midwestern United States.   Dominique is also a member of the regular blogging team at the Ohio Tourism Division’s Discovering Ohio blog and authored a series of encyclopedia entries for the Michigan Companion. She joins us today to talk about how she got started in travel writing and why focusing on a specific region has helped her grow her brand. 

How did you get started as a travel writer and what do you think are the keys to your success at making a living as a writer/editor?

Did you ever dream of writing for your local newspaper when you were quite young?  I did!  I started to live that dream after seeing an ad seeking freelancers in a local start-up newspaper and applying for the job.

The newspaper editor needed a business writer, and at the time I worked with our family business.   I spent the next ten years writing business columns and features for what eventually became a group of five local weekly newspapers, while still working full-time at our Detroit-area automotive-related business.

I loved writing for the newspapers and learned much about writing for publication, writing on a deadline and coming up with story pitches. I also wrote for other local business clients and publications and occasionally wrote travel stories for the newspapers.  Writing the travel articles, I began to develop a new dream.  I started concentrating on writing the regional travel stories that I really loved.

Eventually, I shifted to developing my own blog, Midwest Guest, as a way to develop my brand as a regional travel writer and transition into what I envisioned as an encore career in travel writing.

Flexibility and willingness to learn new things served me well as I eventually sold the family business in 2012 and continued the transition from writing business-related articles for local print markets to writing and publishing regional travel content for markets on the web.

For www.midwestguest.com you specialize in the Midwest region.  What are the benefits of specializing in a specific region? 

Specializing in the Midwest allowed me to move into the field of travel writing over the decade that I still worked inDominiquePoint Betsie another industry. It also allowed me to build a better network of travel industry contacts and work more closely with fellow travel writers in the Midwest.

There weren’t many people writing about the Midwest when I began Midwest Guest, but our region now has a vibrant, active and diverse group of bloggers who work together to help promote each other’s work and assist each other by answering questions, finding resources and nurturing our regional network to help make potential travelers aware of the unique beauty, history and culture of the region.

How has establishing Midwest Guest helped you boost your profile and get more business?

Establishing Midwest Guest allows me to showcase my work through the blog and social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram.

Being active on social media directly resulted in my becoming part of the regular team for the Ohio Tourism Division’s Discovering Ohio blog.  My work for Ohio Tourism included a series of blog articles about local attractions for a metro Detroit group of apartment complexes and authoring nearly three dozen articles for a Michigan encyclopedia published by Omnigraphics that appears on the shelves of reference sections in many Michigan public libraries.

You do a fair amount of work for tourism organizations, too.  What do you think are the benefits of that type of work and how would someone approach a tourism organization about work?

DominiqueJackalopeI work with the Ohio Tourism Division and that happened because of my active use of social media. I began chatting with the then E-Information Coordinator for the Ohio Tourism Division on Twitter when he noticed me posting links to a lot of articles I’d written about Ohio (and it didn’t hurt that we were both huge ice hockey fans!). He told me that the Tourism Division was looking for writers at that time and recommended me for the job.

Twitter always seemed like a particularly great way to find and connect with travel industry professionals online. Twitter chats specific to travel, my region and areas of specific areas of interest increasingly became great ways establish meaningful connections with individuals in the industry.

I also use Facebook and (especially) LinkedIn a lot to find connections with travel professionals and sources for articles I’m working on.

When you do travel outside the Midwest region, where do you go and where would you most like to travel and why?

I love the four seasons, and I especially enjoy out-of-season travel when I can find those hidden attractions and treasures that most high-season travelers miss. I love a place with a real sense of history and love digging in to find out more about the places I travel to and the real culture of destinations I visit.

My trips out of the Midwest have included traveling to: France, Spain, Newfoundland and most of the eastern Canadian provinces, plus most of the fifty states. Still on the bucket list? Iceland, Scandinavia, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and places in the United States like New Orleans, the Pacific Northwest, Austin (Texas), Columbus (Indiana), Milwaukee, Spring Green (Illinois) and too many others to name!

Dominique King is a metro Detroit writer who writes and publishes Midwest Guest, a regional travel blog focusing on the Midwestern United States. She began her writing career as a freelance writer for local papers, magazines and business clients before establishing Midwest Guest in 2008. She also is a member of the regular blogging team at the Ohio Tourism Division’s Discovering Ohio blog and authored a series of encyclopedia entries for the Michigan Companion, a reference book that appears on the shelves of many public libraries in the state. Midwest Guest is the result of her enthusiasm for the art, culture, history and natural beauty of the region, and she especially enjoys writing about topics like regional history, art, music, architecture, lighthouses and quirky, under-the-radar finds. You can read Dominique’s blog at www.midwestguest.com

An Interview with Claudette Covey

claudettecovey head shotClaudette 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.

Tell us about your current position as an Executive Editor at travAlliancemedia and what you do on a weekly or monthly basis.TravelPulse

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.

Assume Your Editor is a Demanding Jerk

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

mean-editor

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.

long e-mails

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.

editor praise

Sorry, but I don’t have any of these in my desk drawer…

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.

Tim Leffel is the author of five books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and is editor of the frequently awarded Perceptive Travel online magazine.

An Interview with Kimberley Lovato

Kimberley4Kimberley Lovato left corporate America to become an award-winning travel writer and author. Today she talks to us about how she got her start as a freelancer, her recent Gold Solas Award and her goals for the future.

What was the first story you ever got published and how did you go from there to being a working freelancer?

Journalism was my first love, but I abandoned her after college.  When I was about 28 I quit a decent corporate America job and applied for a position as an entry level reporter at a local newspaper. So my first published piece was probably some cops and courts beat story that I can’t recall. Eventually I did write a lot of food stories for the publication and some lifestyle features. My first story published in a national magazine as a freelancer was for FitPregnancy magazine. It was a small piece about my first year of motherhood and overcoming postpartum depression. I have since lost the magazine in my many moves, but it was called “Out of the Dark.” If anyone has a copy of FitPregnancy stashed somewhere from the year 2000 or 2001, let me know!

You recently racked up a bunch of virtual medals in the Solas Awards sponsored by Travelers’ Tales. Tell us which win you were the most excited about and what the story was on.

It’s my story “Pretty Red” which won a Gold Solas Award that I am most proud of this year. On the surface the story is about traveling to Ireland and about being a redhead, but at a deeper lKimberleyevel it is about my grandfather whom I was very close to, and who called me “Pretty Red” his whole life, hence the title. I absolutely adore that this piece won in the “Love Story” category because that’s what this story is about for me—my love for my grandfather and his love for his Pretty Red. A version of the story first appeared in American Way Magazine last March, then the full version was chosen by editor Lavinia Spalding to appear in this year’s The Best Women’s Travel Writing. And now it is a Gold Medal recipient from Travelers’ Tales. Wow. I couldn’t be more proud for people to read it, and I know my grandfather would be proud of it, too.

Do you make enough money from travel writing to get by or do you supplement that, such as with writing on other subjects or doing corporate work?

Travel writing is that job that everyone thinks they want until they get the paycheck. The perks are great, Kimberley3for sure, and I love every second of it. I get to travel, write, and meet people from around the world, which is probably my favorite part of the job. But to make a full time living is very difficult, at least for me. I am a true freelancer, meaning I don’t have a regular outlet that I can count on every month. I have to pitch EVERY story anew.  And I rarely, if ever, have an assignment before I take off. Thankfully I have a husband at home who supports my travel addiction and who pays the rent, which lets me focus on doing what I love, even if the money is only enough to pay for the next trip and maybe buy a round of drinks for my other travel writing pals.

What are your goals for the coming year or two and how do you see your writing career changing in the future?

I would love to become a more regular presence in the pages of magazines and respected blogs, with longer narrative features below my byline. If National Geographic Traveler would accept one of my feature pitchesKimberley2 I’d be thrilled! Really though, and I know it sounds cliché but it’s true, my goal as a writer is always to be a better writer and story teller. To that end, I write something every day. Even if it’s 500 words or interview responses like this one. I joined a writing group this year, which gives me deadlines and challenges me not only to submit on a regular basis but also to be a careful and thoughtful reader of other peoples’ work. I find this an important part of developing as a writer, too, and oddly, I relish constructive critiques of my own work because it’s one step closer to having a great story. Lastly, I want to try new things as a writer. Recently a great editor, Kirsten Koza, asked me to take back a story I’d submitted to her and turn it into a farcical travel story. I had never done anything like that and had to look up samples of what farcical writing was. It was fun to channel my inner Lucille Ball as I wrote and push into new writer territory. It’s rewarding to realize you can do something new and not be half bad at it. Writers are hard on themselves, so these types of exercises are important. I also plan to cook more, but that’s another story.

You were one of my reviewers at Hotel Scoop for a while and have spent plenty of nights in hotels. If you could go back to any hotel or resort you’ve ever stayed in for three nights, all expenses paid, where would you go and why?

Whoa. This might be the hardest question yet. I have Eloise in the Plaza syndrome, meaning I absolutely love hotels and envied that fictional girl who lived on the top floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel. There are so many new hotels I’d like to rest my head in. As for favorites places I’ve stayed, it depends on my mood, I guess. The Astra Suites, for their location on Santorini, were pretty spectacular. I loved the view over the Caldera, and the island’s famous sunsets were unobstructed from the pool deck. I also liked the hotel’s position just outside of Santorini’s main town of Fira. To get to town, or anywhere, we had to meander through the pressed-together, white-washed houses, past tavernas and shops trimmed with flower boxes, up and down numerous stone stairways—I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt every day. Last summer I stayed in a tented camp in the Serengeti with &Beyond. That was otherworldly—to hear lions roar outside your tent on the vast plains of Africa! I’d go back there too. Like I said, I love hotels, but those stand out today.

Kimberley Lovato is a traveler and writer whose travel, food and lifestyle articles have appeared in numerous publications around the world. She is also the author of a guidebook about Brussels, Belgium where she lived for six years, and the author of a culinary travel book, “Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves,” about the Dordogne region of France, which was the 2012 Gold Medal winner of SATW’s Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book. There are 500 of them in her garage, if you’d like a signed copy. Read more about her work at www.kimberleylovato.com

 

 

Go From Broke Writer to Upper Middle Class by Living Abroad

writer living well in Mexico

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.

living abroad for lessI 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.”