Roy Stevenson has forged a second career as an internationally acclaimed travel writer. Formerly a gym teacher, Roy began his career in travel writing in 2007 after attending a travel writing workshop – and he has never looked back. We caught up with Roy this week to find out the secret to his phenomenal success and what’s next on his horizon.
Tell us how you got into writing in the first place and what the first publications were that published your pieces.
I took a 3-day travel writing workshop in Portland, Oregon, in fall, 2007. I’d just been living overseas in Singapore and Belgium for 6 years, while my wife was on expat assignments for her corporation and I wanted a career that involved travel. The travel writing workshop was offered by Lori Allen and Jennifer Stevens through Great Escape Publishing.
Within two months of the workshop I had my first few stories accepted for publication. Some magazines that published my stories in that first year included Popular Communications, Monitoring Times, Britain Magazine, Classic Boat, Colors Northwest, Columbia Gorge, Emirates Open Skies in-flight, 48 Degrees North, Gorge Guide, Kitsap Sun, Mid-Columbian, Mysteries, Renaissance, Scotland Magazine, South Sound, Sunday Oregonian, New Zealand Sunday News, Videoscope, The Writer, Army Motors, Artilleryman, Classic Arms & Military, Classic Military Vehicle, Military Machines International, and Military Magazine.
This was a real mix of regional, national, and international magazines. Most travel writers will tell you that you’re supposed to start off by writing for regionals, and then work your way up the totem pole. I disregarded that advice and had stories published across the board in my first year. I just thought I had stories that would be a good fit for all of them, and pitched the biggies too. Sometimes it paid off! Maybe there’s a lesson there for beginning writers.
I know that you love military museums and military history sites. How do you think writing about something your passionate about enhances your articles?
Yes, I’m an avid military historian. I love visiting battlefields and fortresses and trying to imagine what it must have been like during the battle. I found the vibe at the Waterloo battlefield and the D-Day landing beaches particularly strong. Being passionate about military history and reading dozens of books stirs my imagination, so I get vivid pictures of what happened at these sites. I hope this comes through in my military travel stories. Military magazine editors seem to like my writing because I apply travel writing principles to my military stories.
By speaking at workshops and through your newsletter, PitchTravelWrite.com, you provide guidance and advice for new writers. What question do you get most from writers?
There are actually three questions that I consistently field from travel writers via my PitchTravelWrite.com website: Most novice travel writers have very little idea of . . .
(i) What constitutes a viable travel story
(ii) How to create an enticing query letter, and
(iii) Where to find magazines to pitch their stories to
These are ALL marketing issues. Let me explain that a little more, because this is the crux of freelancing success. I truly believe that today’s travel writers need to hone their sales and marketing skills above all else. If you can’t sell your stories, you don’t get to write them.
You can always develop your writing skills on the fly, but marketing is paramount. You’ll find that travel writers at the top of the pile today–like Tim Leffel and Rick Steves–are outstanding at marketing themselves and their products. They know how to establish a solid marketing platform and then work it, baby.
Many novice travel writers are mortified when I tell them that 90% of being a successful travel writer is due to marketing, while only 10% of our success is from being a good writer. Of course, you still need to be an excellent writer, but that’s a work in progress–my writing is still improving, nine years after I entered the freelance arena.
You have a track record for publishing numerous articles in a wide variety of magazines. How do you decide which magazines to pitch?
I’ve managed to get my work into specialty magazines, trade journals, in-flights, on-boards, newspapers, and online. My stories have been published in multiple genres including travel, military, communications, sculpture, food, wine, and beer, luxury, gardening, yachting, classic car, history, and aviation magazines, plus a plethora of fitness, running, triathlon training, and sports outlets.
How do I sell my stories to such a wide variety? I use the same technique to pitch them all. I prepare lengthy distribution lists for my proposed stories and then blast my queries out to the whole lot. I’ve just published a very detailed article about this process on my website. Here’s a link: http://www.pitchtravelwrite.com/where-to-pitch-travel-stories.html
Obviously you have traveled significantly since becoming a travel writer. Do you have a favorite trip or destination?
I’ve been on more than 90 private or group press trips, and have fond memories from practically all of them. My most glamorous trips involved staying 28 nights in 12 high-end luxury resorts in Bali with unlimited private day tours; a one-week cruise down France’s Burgundy Canal in a 146-foot-long luxury boutique hotel barge; staying in a luxury resort in Queenstown, New Zealand, with a private concierge; four-day luxury wine and beer cruises on a historic 126-foot long schooner in the Puget Sound; spa treatments in Baden-Baden and Bali; touring five of Arizona’s luxury resorts . . . you get the idea.
What does the future hold for you? What projects are next on the horizon?
Around 2012 I read Tim’s Travel Writing 2.0 book which I consider mandatory reading for every travel writer today–and Tim’s not paying me to say this! His book convinced me to move beyond writing articles for magazines. I needed multiple ways to earn a living from travel writing. So I started PitchTravelWrite.com and wrote several eBooks for aspiring travel writers.
This year I started doing one-on-one coaching for writers. It’s going gangbusters.
I have a huge waiting list and am very busy working with 25 travel writers who need expert guidance on breaking into travel writing. It’s been a lot of fun and my writers are having some spectacular successes. One guy I coach just landed a press trip across the central Greek mountains in a 4-wheel-drive convoy of adventure travel writers–and had a four-figure assignment plus another $300 assignment for this story. Sweet!
I’m halfway through writing a series of eBooks for beginning and intermediate level travel writers. They’re aimed primarily at the sales and marketing aspects of travel writing. Future eBooks include, How to Break Into The Food, Wine and Beer Travel Writing Market; How to Break Into The Cruising, Yachting, and Sailing Travel Writing Market; How to Break Into the Regional Travel & Lifestyle Writing Market; How to Break Into the Military and History Travel Writing Market; and a few others. Here’s the link to my current eBooks: http://www.pitchtravelwrite.com/digital-downloads.html
And, of course I will continue to travel wherever my assignments take me!
Roy Stevenson is a professional freelance travel writer and photographer based in Seattle, Washington. With more than 900 articles published in 190 regional, national, and international magazines, Roy is one of the most prolific travel writers in the U.S.A. His work has appeared in the U.S.A., Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Roy curates a website for travel writers, www.PitchTravelWrite.com, that specializes in sales and marketing advice. To view more of Roy Stevenson’s travel articles go to www.Roy-Stevenson.com