Gary Lee Kraut is the author of five travel guides to France and Paris as well as numerous articles, essays, short stories, and op-ed pieces concerning travel, culture, cross-culture, and expatriate life. He is the recipient of FrancePress’s 1995 Prix d’Excellence for his guide to France published in the Fielding Guidebook Collection. He has been running France Revisited since 2009.
What led you to your current position as editor for France Revisited? Tell us a little bit about your story.
I had been doing both creative writing and local journalism when I had the occasion in 1988 to spend a few months in Paris—a few months that have turned into 25 years and counting.
I was in the right place at the right time when in 1991 I sent a proposal to the publisher of the then-thriving Fielding Travel Books collection to write a guidebook to France. That book was published in 1993. I updated two further editions of that book, the last of which earned me FrancePress’s “Prix d’Excellence.” I then wrote a guidebook to Paris (Ferrari International Publishing). Feeling confident enough about my own work and aware that guidebook publishers were more interested in branding than in content, I self-publish my fifth guidebook, “Paris Revisited: The Guide for the Return Traveler,” in 2003.
That book brought lots of opportunities, including speaking engagements in the U.S. and France and requests from individuals and travel agents to help create unique or highly personalized travel experiences in France.
I began to develop a website about Paris called Paris Revisited, www.parisrevisited.com, but within a couple of years I was feeling too confined writing only about Paris, which doesn’t truly require much traveling for me since I live there. Furthermore, I wanted an outlet whereby, as a writer and journalist, I could explore a wide variety of approaches to travel, culture, people and place in France and reach an audience of savvy readers and experienced travelers willing to go beyond the clichés. Since no such publication existed I created it myself and in 2009 I launched the web magazine France Revisited, www.francerevisited.com, where, even though I’m the principal writer, I’m also the editor seeking original work from others.
How has the site evolved over the past few years? What have you been doing (and what would you like to continue to do) with the site over the next few years?
One major evolution has simply been in terms of recognition as the site went from newly launched publication with few visitors to a premier web magazine about travel and culture in France. Having a regular readership is far more important to me than having occasionally spiking hits so it’s been rewarding to see the expanding readership, including a significant percentage of readers from within France, which is the toughest audience to please. The main audience remains Americans, but I’m pleased to receive comments from around the world.
Another major evolution is that I was initially writing 90% of the articles and posts, leading people to refer to France Revisited as my blog rather than an actual online magazine. But I’d always seen France Revisited as a magazine where people can get a vision of travel and culture in France that isn’t available elsewhere, not simply a place where people can check in to see how I get my kicks, which is what most travel blogs do (and some quite well).
It’s been tough finding writers, photographers and videographers that grasp the spirit of France Revisited; many beginning and even experienced travel writer confuse travel journalism with PR work and think that they need to “sell” a destination rather than seek out an original point of view while others present personal experience in a way that is far too self-indulgence, and many are unwilling to do actual journalistic research beyond the PR brochures. Furthermore France Revisited pays little to nothing so professional writers understandably seek other outlets for their work.
So my method of looking for contributors has evolved. Whereas I initially looked for writers and journalists I’m now more likely to look for or respond to people with a passion for their subject or their experience, whether they’ve done much writing in the past or not since, as editor, I can help shape their text if necessary. The result has been wonderful material that would be unlikely to be published elsewhere.
For the future I’m not interested in locking France Revisited into being anyone single approach to France, such as a purely information or historical or literary/creative or bloggish site. So there’s a constant back and forth between all of these which can be confusing for the occasional reader but that the regular reader (and I) finds most exciting about France Revisited.
Ideally, how should a freelancer approach you for an assignment and what gets your attention?
I don’t give out assignments to people I’ve never met. If I were to say that I do then I’d get a ton of amateurish queries saying, “I’ll be in Bordeaux next week. Would you like me to write something?” I already get plenty of those. Readers of France Revisited have traveled extensively, so freelancers have to know their stuff and/or have something unique to say. Going someplace or eating in a fabulous restaurant or staying in an extraordinary hotel or going biking is not in and of itself interesting to readers if you don’t have anything to say about it that isn’t in the PR brochures.
What gets my attention is a fully developed query that lets me know that the writer knows his/her stuff, is willing to do the necessary research to know more and/or has a unique experience to tell and/or can approach a subject creatively.
A freelancer should read a number of articles on the site and look at the Writers Guidelines http://francerevisited.com/contact-2/write-for-us/.
What kinds of stories get you excited? What have you published that you were really proud of?
The stories that get me excited are those that someone feels passionate about writing or investigating and that cover a subject I hadn’t thought of covering on my own or that I know little about. I’m also interested in work that show the human or humanistic side of travel, not simple the business (restaurant or hotel or or shop) side. By looking for and encouraging that passion, I’ve been able to publish some wonderful material, such as Janet Hulstrand’s piece about the great if little-known African-American poet James Emanuel who lives in Paris; Va-nu-pied’s series of photographs exploring place; Gael Cadiou’s series of videos providing a personalized vision of places that are meaningful to her; Judy Kashoff’s article about Quakers in southwest France; Sue Birch’s piece about the trials and joys of creating a B&B; Kate Robinson’s article about the craft beer movement in France, and others.
If a near and dear friend with no credits to his/her name wanted to become a travel writer this year, what would you advise (other than, “don’t do it”)?
I’d say: Don’t think that travel writing is reduced to the type of basic destination piece that you see in a Sunday paper or in most glossy magazines. Most of that is just modified PR work that could be written from home. Don’t even think in terms of travel writing. Instead, travel, find what interests you as you go along, follow your own curiosity, investigate, talk to people, observe, partake, experience and write about all of that. If you can express it in such a way that makes the reader as curious about and involved in the subject as you were then you’re on your way. You can then follow some easy formulas to turn that into a Sunday paper piece, find the right attitude or contact to turn that into a glossy magazine piece, expand your narrative to turn it into an essay or a book, fictionalize it for a short story or novel, or send it to me. Et violà, you’re a travel writer!
Gary Lee Kraut is the author of five travel guides to France and Paris as well as numerous articles, essays, short stories, and op-ed pieces concerning travel, culture, cross-culture, and expatriate life. He is the recipient of FrancePress’s 1995 Prix d’Excellence for his guide to France published in the Fielding Guidebook Collection. Following the publication of his critically acclaimed guide Paris Revisited: The Guide for the Return Traveler, he founded the companion site ParisRevisited.com. That site evolved into the current online magazine France Revisited, created under the patronage of Words Travel International, Inc. and launched in January 2009.
Interview conducted in January 2013 by Kristin Mock.