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


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 one 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



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.”

An Interview with Don George

don-george edited-1

Don George wrote the book (literally) on travel writing. His book, The Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing, is the top-selling book on the craft of writing compelling travel stories. Don is also the editor of seven literary travel anthologies and recently started editing Words and Wanderlust, a new long-form narrative column at BBC Travel. Today, he talks to us about his career and what separates good writing from great writing. Enjoy!

You’ve had an illustrious career writing for a lot of well-known publications and companies. Can you point to one that’s been the most gratifying for you as a writer?

Well, I can’t single out one that’s been most gratifying; they’ve all been gratifying in different ways. The Examiner & Chronicle launched me as a travel writer and editor and blessed me with a wonderful community and expansive platform for more than a decade. The paper gave me astonishing autonomy, and I was able to experiment and grow as an editor, writer and traveler. I found my voice there, and my sense of an audience, and I was able to realize some of my deepest dreams. Leaping to Salon in the mid 1990s gave me the opportunity to help write the rules for online publishing — which of course keep being rewritten — and to push the boundaries of travel writing; some of the stories I commissioned there are among the pieces I most cherish to this day.

When I moved to Lonely Planet, I was able to expand my responsibilities and my arena: As Global Travel Editor, I was able to write a column for the website, to initiate a series of annual literary travel anthologies that is still being published (and edited by me) today, and to represent Lonely Planet to the public and the media worldwide as its global spokesperson. That was an extraordinary, life-expanding opportunity. And I was able to write Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, which became my signature work and is my single proudest creation to date. Today, I’m lucky enough to be Lonely_Planet_s_Guide_to_Travel_Writing_-_3rd_Edition_Largeworking as a writer and editor with both National Geographic and the BBC — two of the most respected brands in the world — with mandates to try to create truly significant work that grapples with deeper issues and aspires to higher standards.

You gave a great talk at TBEX North America this year on how you put a story together when you’re traveling. For those who weren’t there, can you talk a little bit about the five senses part since that’s something a lot of beginning writers seem to miss?

Thank you for the kind words. Regarding the five senses, I’ve been a travel editor for three decades, and one of the things I’ve noticed throughout these years is that writers are often quite good at capturing the look of things, but they tend to totally neglect the other four senses that we’re endowed with — and that we bring to every situation we experience.

So, what I’ve been telling my students for some years now is that you really need to pay attention to those other four senses and work them into your descriptions. In some cases you don’t even need visuals to convey a scene: Consider the raucous shouts, sizzling woks and garlic smells of a Chinese restaurant. Using all your senses makes a description so much more vivid. Of course, to write accurately about all your senses, you first have to keenly cultivate all your senses when you travel — listen closely, smell deeply, taste more carefully, touch the world around you. Living a richer sensory life is a great reward in and of itself — and it enables you to craft a richer sensory evocation of an experience too.

What else separates the really great writers from the average ones when it comes to how they research or what they do in a particular destination?

I think the really great writers not only live a travel experience as deeply, courageously and vulnerably as possible, they are constantly analyzing that bbc_transport_logoexperience, trying to figure out what it means, what its lessons are and how those lessons are connected to the larger scheme of the world. And of course they’re taking copious notes on the spot, and engaging locals in conversation, and questing, inquiring, enthusing, probing, exploring a little deeper, and a little deeper again.

The joke when introducing you is that you “wrote the book on travel writing.” There’s a new edition of the Travel Writing book out now, so what has changed in this one compared to the first one you put out last decade?

Yes, I can’t take credit for coming up with that line — but I do like it! When the people at Lonely Planet told me a year ago that my book was the best-selling travel writing guide on the planet, I was stunned. When I first wrote it in 2005, I was just trying to pour in everything I’d learned in a quarter-century as a travel writer and editor, from both sides of the desk, as it were. In a way, I was trying to do exactly what I do in all my travel pieces: I was trying to figure out what I had learned on my journey as a travel writer and editor, and how I had learned it. Writing the book was extremely challenging and extremely fun. I thought if I did it right, I could help people become better travelers and better writers, and maybe help them avoid some of the painful mistakes I’d seen writers make through the years and adopt some of the practices that seemed to nurture success.

The first edition of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing was published in 2005. The second edition came out in 2009. For the third edition, which was published at the end of 2013, I completely rewrote and significantly expanded the section on digital publishing, online entrepreneurship and social media. That was the major change between the second and third editions. But if you compare the third edition to the first edition, the whole world has changed! The role and the robustness of print media have changed drastically, as has the ability of individuals to absolutely bypass the traditional gatekeepers and publish and promote themselves online. In that one decade, the publishing model has been turned on its head — and as I try to make clear in the new edition, that brings new opportunities and new responsibilities.

Speaking of a decade ago, you spent a lot of time at Lonely Planet, which was bought by the BBC and then sold to a private equity firm (for far less money) after that. What’s in your crystal ball for the future of guidebooks, travel books, and centralized traditional publishing companies?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWow! That’s a big question…. I left Lonely Planet shortly before it was sold to the BBC, but I still edit a book a year for them and I still have many friends there, so I have some sense of how LP is evolving. LP is certainly expanding its digital platform and offerings and its video potentialities. But it has broadened its non-guidebook printed publications too. So it’s expanding in multiple directions, I think, testing and evaluating a spectrum of possibilities, while at the same time trying to figure out how to meaningfully template its guidebook products so that print and digital creations are seamlessly synched.

More broadly speaking, in terms of guidebooks, there’s no question that the instantaneity of information sharing today has profoundly changed the guidebook landscape. But there’s information and then there’s expertise and reliability. Guidebook companies can still claim and cultivate the latter two. LP, for example, still has a pretty fervent tribe of fans and followers who appreciate and trust its perspective, values and voice. Will these last over time? This is pretty murky to me, but I lean towards thinking that their power will diminish over time and that the longtailization or nicheification of guidebook-type travel information will increase. But the interplay of technology, travel and trust is constantly changing and it’s extremely possible that some unanticipated technovation will change the landscape drastically again. In other words, my crystal ball might better be a crystal flute — in which case, could you fill it with some of that champagne?

As for travel literature, I think storytelling is one of mankind’s most ancient and most powerfully enduring impulses, and I think great travel tales will continue to be told and shared on the page and on the virtual cave wall long into the future.

There’s been a lot of moaning about there being fewer and fewer print outlets out there for narrative long-form travel writing and much of it has moved onto the web. Tell us about the new project you’re heading up with the BBC.

moveablefeastI was exhilarated about a year ago when an editor at BBC Travel contacted me and said that they wanted to start a section devoted to great, longform travel narrative. My whole editorial life has been devoted to nourishing and publishing great longform travel narrative, and so when the editor told me that they  wanted me to own that section and to make it as outstanding as it could be, it was a dream come true. As of early February, we’ve published six pieces, ranging in length from about 2500 words to 7000 words.  We’ve had a mix of established masters, including Pico Iyer and Stanley Stewart, and emerging talents Amy Gig Alexander, Candace Rose Rardon and Jenny Walicek.

We’re looking to publish stories that are essentially about falling in love with the world, accounts of trips that rekindled a sense of wonder, and raised and answered life-changing questions. It’s absolutely thrilling for me to be assigning and editing these pieces that get at the very heart of why we travel — and why we write travel stories.

You’ve just won the lottery and have a pile of cash you can use to travel wherever you want in the world, with whoever you want to take along. Where would you go and why?

This is a mind-boggling question. Let’s say that pile of cash is so big that not simply can I go wherever I want in the world, with whomever I want to take along, but that I can take a year off from all the monthly writing and editing responsibilities that support me. In that case, I would travel slowly around the world, visiting a mixture of the places that have changed my life — France, Greece, Japan, Bali, Australia — and places that entice me and that I haven’t yet visited: Bhutan, Tibet, Vietnam, Laos, South Africa, Brazil, the Amazon. I would have a constantly changing caravansary of family and friends with me: It would be a magical moveable feast!

National Geographic has called Don George “a legendary travel writer and editor.” His book, Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, is the best-selling travel writing guide in the world. Don is Editor at Large and Columnist for National Geographic Traveler and editor of BBC Travel’s Words & Wanderlust section. He’s been Travel Editor at the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, founder and editor of’s Wanderlust travel site, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. Don is the co-founder and chairman of the renowned Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. He speaks and teaches regularly at conferences, corporations, and campuses around the world, and is frequently interviewed on TV, radio, and the web as a travel expert.

How NOT to Pitch an Editor

Following the old fiction writing adage of “show, don’t tell,” here’s an actual query I received recently as editor of Perceptive Travel.

” Dear editor, attached is a story of my visit to New Orleans Mardi Gras with my wife Barbara that you might be interested in using in your magazine.”

Firstname Lastname (withheld)

I’m starting with this one because there are an amazing number of problems in this one-sentence e-mail that’s short enough to put on Twitter. First, it breaks several general rules:

bad query example1) Didn’t bother to look up the editor’s name, which is all over the site.

2) Didn’t bother to read the guidelines, which are linked from the contact page.

3) Attached an unsolicited finished story, which is generally only common practice for newspapers.

For specifics, I don’t know any editor that appreciates queries sent in bulk at the same time, which this certainly was. I also don’t know any editor who thinks a generic travel story with no new angle to it is a good match for them. There’s no reference to past stories in our online publication, why this would work for us, or any sense that the person has actually ever read Perceptive Travel at all. He didn’t include any information about his track record in publishing articles and there’s no link to a portfolio site.

And why in the world would I care what his wife’s name is unless she’s a celebrity?

So I did what I’m sure 100% of the other people who received this did: hit delete.

Spray and Pray Sucks in Both Directions

If you’re a blogger or freelance writer, you’re likely deluged with press releases and poorly targeted news pitches on a daily basis. How does that make you feel? Do you have less respect for that PR person or company next time you see an e-mail from them? Do you maybe even cringe a little?

Well if you send out a query or finished story in bulk to editors—who already get 4X more e-mails than you do—you can expect them to feel the same way about you. Angry, annoyed, grumpy, incredulous even. If you want them to get back to you, or at least think you’re a professional, you’ve just killed your chances. Maybe permanently: a lot of editors have a “block” or “filter” command on their e-mail program that they use with abandon. Your three follow-ups may not  even get to their inbox and  you’ll have to guess why.


All  Queries Should be Custom Queries

I have met a few writers over the years who swear by the multiple submissions strategy, of sending out the same idea to a bunch of editors and see who bites. In general I think this is a terrible idea. It’s the same principle behind pop-up subscription boxes, junk mail, and telemarketing: bug a lot of people in order to find a small percentage who will say yes. But if you’re going to do it, at least take the extra five minutes per e-mail to put in their name and say a little something about why this story would be right for them.

Much better is to take 10-15 minutes and write a really good query, which is really a custom sales pitch. You need to pitch the idea in a way that answers an editor’s essential questions. These are:

Why us?

Why now?

Why you?

The unspoken question for magazines also is, “Where would this go?” In other words, tell her which section and why. (If you’ve never written for them, you are not going to be assigned a big major feature, so don’t even go there.)

They’re Telling You What They Want

In order to send a customized query, you need to know who you’re pitching to. You don’t want to pitch a British publication on a listicle for “best vacations 2015″ and put in resort areas on the west coast of Mexico and Costa Rica. It should be about “best holidays 2015″ and focus on places you can reach easily from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester. With your spell check configured to accept centre, colour, and traveller.

I just got guidelines for a website I’m going to start writing for that is aimed at men 20-40 and wants articles to be full of pop culture references, jokes, and slang. I write for others that adhere strictly to AP style and want a serious, authoritative tone. The pitches I would send to these two publications should be different in almost every way.

You are only going to know how to pitch an editor by knowing what that publication is all about. If it’s a magazine, study at least two recent issues. If it’s online, poke through every section in their navigation bar. Pay close attention to the language in the “About Us” section. If they have writers’ guidelines, study them closely and follow them to the letter. If they don’t show them online, e-mail or call someone and request them. Usually the “Advertise with us” part is useful too as that shows who their ideal readers are and what they think sets them apart.

If you’re willing to part with a little money to save time, there are services out there that can tell you who gets queries and what they want to see. See our travel writing resources section for some of them.

mystery person

Who Are You?

If I’ve met you at a conference or on a press trip, great. You’ve already got an in. Amazingly though, most writers are too lazy to follow up on this. I’ve handed an opportunity to some on a silver platter and haven’t heard from them since. The ones that did follow up, if I liked their work, have frequently become part of my team at one of the Al Centro Media sites. If you’re fortunate enough to meet an editor who is a good match for what you can write, put that follow-up at the top of your priority list.

But if I don’t know you, we’re back to that sales job again. You need to convince me you’re a great writer with a real track record. That means having a good portfolio site at the very least. (If you keep putting that off, go right now and set up one at Contently.) The “Why you?” question is a huge one with most editors. Some get hundreds of queries a day and it’s easy to ignore the ones from people they’ve never met because they’ve met a lot of writers, especially if they’re in NYC or London. I think this is so important that it’s what I lead with in a query: I put my credentials in the first sentence so they’ll know I’m an experienced professional.

If you’re not very experienced, then stop trying to pitch stories about places you’ve never visited just because you want to go there. Pitch stories where you’re the obvious expert. That means places and subjects you know inside-out, like where you live or what you’ve already researched and written about extensively. Own and embrace your niche instead of trying to be a grand generalist.

Be Unique

Be Different

Last, most editors don’t want retreads. They want what’s new, fresh, unique, unusual. Ask 10 editors what kind of query is their ideal one and one of those words will almost certainly be in their answer. Besides those hundreds of queries they receive regularly, at big publications they’re also having regular editorial staff meetings where they’re tossing around ideas. So if you’re pitching something obvious, they’ve seen it and heard it over and over already. Unless you’re trying to fill a spot for a regularly scheduled column (“A Weekend in ____”, “The 5 Best Restaurants in ____”), give them something they haven’t heard already and you will get a much warmer reception.