An Interview with Susan Griffith

Susan Griffith is the time-honored guru of the gap year: having authored such travel writing essentials as Work Your Way Around the World and Gap Years for Grown-ups, Griffith knows the ins and outs of working and volunteering abroad. From finding work selling ice cream in Cape Town to working as a film extra in Bangkok, Griffith knows the tips and tricks to making travelers’ dreams a reality.  See her bio here at Transitionsabroad.com.

You are best known as the author of info-packed, no-nonsense books about teaching, working, or taking a gap year abroad. How has the evolution of digital media affected your work and your book sales?

Because most of my books are aimed primarily at young travellers, and since most young travellers turn instinctively to the internet rather than to the printed book, it is not surprising that sales of my books are lower than they were in the 1990s. I sometimes think that it is only libraries and parents who still buy travel and working guidebooks. Yet many independent young travellers researching job and volunteer opportunities abroad find that the internet can be a bewildering place. Inclusion on promising looking information sites is usually determined by commercial standing rather than impartial assessment. The young person who chooses the first agency that pops up on Google may be oblivious to the myriad of less high-profile options that can be clearly set out in books like mine. But I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Where do you see your career as a travel writer being three years from now? How will your income mix change and what are you doing to adapt to the changing media landscape?

My publisher of many years is having to cut back on “my” regularly updated books (e.g. Work Your Way Around the World) due to falling sales, so the amount of work and therefore income from that source is decreasing. I intend to place more travel articles in the national newspaper to which I already contribute.

How did you “break in to travel writing”? What have been the keys to your success?

Was hired as an editorial assistant by a niche travel publisher (specializing in working abroad) out of graduate school in Oxford.

What advice would you give to someone near and dear to you who wanted to become a travel writer—assuming they had zero credits to their name. (Besides “Don’t do it”?)

Keep your expectations realistic. Find a congenial job in which to earn a living while you try to discover a niche based on your specialist interests, one in which it will be easier to place articles than in the mainstream media.

While much of your work is non-fiction service writing, you also write excellent, detailed reviews of travel literature. What kinds of books should an aspiring travel writer be diving into?

Whatever speaks to their preferences. I personally prefer the kind that subverts expectations,  debunks stereotypes and even pokes fun at the self-regarding traveler. There is a wonderful range of styles of travel writing nowadays to suit every taste. Like any aspiring writer, the novice travel writer should immerse him or herself in the whole range of styles and then aim to write in the style that they most enjoy reading.

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A Canadian now based in Cambridge England, Susan Griffith specializes in books for travelers who want to work and volunteer abroad. She has written a number of acknowledged classics like Work Your Way Around the World (personally updated by her over its fourteen editions), Gap Years for Grown-ups, Teaching English Abroad and Your Gap Year, all published in many updated editions by Crimson Publishing in London. Recently she has been contributing travel more features to the Independent, a UK national daily newspaper, on destinations as various as the Swedish Archipelago, Rajasthan and Vienna. She contributed two regional chapters to a new food- and drink-lover’s travel guide to the UK called Taste Britain, published in 2010 by Punk Publishing in London.

Interview conducted in September, 2010 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.

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