T.W. Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of Marginal Boundaries, a travel blog focused on independent immersion travel. Having traveled full-time since 2008, he has learned quite a lot about taking the idea of being a writer and making it a reality. In our interview today, T.W. talks about the hard work it takes to get a travel blog off the ground, gives some tough advice to new bloggers, and offers some tips for making a blog into a brand. Enjoy!
T.W., you’re the Editor-in-Chief for the travel blog Marginal Boundaries, a site that generates more than 1 million page views per month between all of your social media channels and the site itself. Tell us how you started and how you got your blog to where it is now.
I subscribe to the “results, not luck” side of things.
There’s a brilliant quote by Peter Dinklage I came across recently where he said, “I hate that word – ‘lucky’. It cheapens a lot of hard work. Living in an apartment without any heat and paying for dinner with dimes. I didn’t think I felt myself lucky back then. Doing plays for 50 bucks and trying to be true to myself as an artist and turning down commercials where they wanted a leprechaun. Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in and spits on the guy who’s freezing his ass off back in Brooklyn. So I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people. For some reason I found them, and they found me.”
One of the main components that most people lack when it comes to getting their brand off the ground is actually buckling down and working at it. A brand – and the blog that goes along with it – is a business. That means work. And while it’s a passion that I love with all of my heart and it rarely feels like I’m working, I put in far more hours with my own company than I ever did when I was working anywhere else.
Four hour work weeks? Please. That’s a myth perpetuated by marketing geniuses in North America to tap into the instant gratification generation of hipsters who want first place medals for simply existing. The reality is that if you want to earn first place you have to be prepared to put everything on the line. Sacrifice, dedicate, work, work, work and work some more. Olympian effort, not minimalism.
I got started with this particular project after I had moved to Mexico from Bulgaria. I’d been freelancing full time for about four years by that point and traveling throughout Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, but I hadn’t ever considered travel blogging until I was contracted to write a Cancun guide. From there, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine and realized that there was this actual world of bloggers who traveled and wrote about their travels for a living.
I’ve been self-employed since 2001, so I already knew the “research and planning and prep” aspect of brand management. I spent almost a full year (2011) writing the first three guidebooks for Sofia, Bogota and Cancun, as well as generating a slew of blog content at the website and living on-location in Colombia doing research for that guide, before I even considered taking it public.
During that time I was spending an easy four hours a day researching other bloggers, seeing what they were doing, buying their products, reading their books, subscribing to their newsletters, their RSS feeds, subscribing to forums, paying for private subscriptions…basically reading, reading and reading some more. Market research and analysis. All while continuing to write freelance for a living and produce content for the Marginal Boundaries platform.
When I first officially “launched” the brand just before Christmas of 2011, it was a soft-launch for friends and family. I then spent a few months writing The Expat Guidebook, which went on to become our flagship eBook when it launched in early 2012 and I then started the social media campaign. Since then it’s just been a steady grind from the bottom working my way up. I still read, subscribe and pay for other people’s products, on a regular basis. I follow the “someone else can always do it better than you” belief structure, which basically means I don’t believe that even though I’ve “figured it out” there aren’t still things I can learn. I’m always learning. Every day. There are hundreds of brilliant bloggers out there, and they all have things they can teach me.
How was your income changed over the past few years and how do you expect it to change in the next 5 years?
It’s been a steady rise. Something I think most people fail to realize, however, is that everyone starts at the bottom. There is this myth (going back to the four hour work week) that travel bloggers can make tens of thousands of dollars right out of the gate while sipping mojitos with their toes in the sand, perpetuated by marketing gurus in North America to sell people on the idea of “minimal effort, maximum results”.
That’s crap. I was making 80k a year working in construction before I made the transition to live abroad, and that was after 15 years of working in the industry. I started off sweeping floors and throwing out trash for 5 bucks an hour when I was 15, and before that I worked for free as a grunt for my old man, grandfather and uncles, from the time I was seven years old. When I first started working as a writer, I came in with zero experience, no college education, and I don’t even have a high school diploma. It was hell trying to land writing gigs those first six months. Lots of low-paying gigs to earn my way up…the equivalent of sweeping floors for 5 bucks an hour.
When the work finally started coming in, I was only doing about $500 to $1,000 per month in late 2008. Enough to “live” while I was based out of Sofia, Bulgaria, and a little bit for extra fun and exploration. From there, it was a lot of hard work and dedication and continual climbing, and as a general rule I saw an increase of about a hundred dollars extra per month until I hit 2010 where I was generating 4k – 6k per month freelancing. Now, I generate 3k to 5k per month on normal months through Marginal Boundaries, which has basically been running full-time for two years as of this writing. It’s less than what I made freelancing or working in construction, but I’m only in the third year of the blog (2014). That’s a combination of book sales, social media clients, advertising, consulting, speaking gigs, teaching classes and the occasional contract. During our brand boot camp months we pull in over 8k per month on the gross end. Right now I’m on a mission to break 10k per month by the end of 2015 purely with the travel brand, so we’ll see how that goes.
You started traveling in 1999 and have been traveling full-time since 2008. How did you make that happen and how can others follow in your footsteps?
Discipline. Seriously. The whole “throw my stuff in a backpack and just take off to see the world” is complete malarkey…unless you like sleeping in hostels with bad WiFi, semen-stained sheets, drunk hippies humping at three in the morning in the bed next to you (or above you), cold-water showers and living on ramen-noodles and street food for a dollar a day. And eventually running out of money because you haven’t planned, budgeted or set yourself up with an ongoing income source.
When I first started traveling it was during breaks between construction gigs. I’d take off for weeks at a time, and then weeks turned into months. Around 2004 I was working four to six months and then taking off for two to three months to explore Bulgaria and the surrounding region. And I never went without a plan. I would work hard for a few months, wait for a break in the schedule, research in my spare time, then take off when I had the chance.
If you really want to travel like a pro, that means planning in advance. Researching destinations, reading other blogs and their guidebooks, finding the best accommodations through personal recommendations from friends, sending out proposals for house-sitting gigs and press trip accommodations, negotiating long-term apartment rentals that you can use as a base of operations while you explore the surrounding region, making sure there is the connectivity you need, the weather you want, the medical care you might need if you have health problems…there is so much that goes into planning that many people take for granted.
At least from my point of view. I’m not a backpacker or budget traveler who just goes hops on a plane. I like good food, good wine, connectivity and modern infrastructure. I run a functioning business, which means I need a certain level of amenities. I’ll get in the mud and muck with the best of them when I’m on a week-long trek into the jungle with pack mules and machete-wielding guides, but when it comes to the business of travel blogging…it’s a business. That means being professional about it, not just winging it on a whim and a prayer with your backpack and your camera and a head full of fanciful tales of world adventure.
What’s your typical day look like?
I easily put in 80 hours a week with Marginal Boundaries. And it’s a non-stop roller-coaster blast. But was it easy getting to where we are today? Absolutely not. I keep a fairly strict routine: up at 6 a.m. most mornings, and I’m in front of the computer until about 11 a.m. answering emails, drafting and sending out proposals, blogging, producing new content, editing videos, sorting through photos, doing the morning social media routine, working out, having breakfast and coffee. Then it’s out the door for photo shoots, film work, interviews and street-pounding/tours/exploration. Cristina and I are usually out and about from around 10 or 11 in the morning until around 4 or 5 as a general rule on excursion days. Once we are back in the house, I do some more social media work and then spend the evening hours uploading photos and YouTube videos. I do most of my research and reading at night while things are uploading, so from around 4 or 5 until around 8 is when I’m going through other blogs, reading books, watching YouTube videos, as well as gathering emails and contact information for proposals. Consultations, Skype calls, interviews and the like are scheduled on an as-needed basis and are slotted in accordingly.
It’s not the same every day, but that’s the general schedule. I also have an assistant who handles part of my social media load as well as general website development and updates plus graphic design for our press kits and the like, plus he handles infographics and general research for me, as well as little things that I might be too busy to handle with the work load.
If we have time in the evenings we’ll go out and walk or explore, but most nights we settle in to watch shows. We follow a lot of series and watch them in the evening hours after “work” is done, and usually are in bed by 11 or midnight. As a general rule, every day is a 12 to 15 hour day, 365 days a year.
What tips do you have for new bloggers or freelancers who are trying to make a decent living in the travel industry?
Passive income is a myth. At least in your first couple years getting going. Think of it like an actor getting ready for a moving role: they’ll spend four to six hours a day, seven days a week, for six to eight months, getting in shape at the gym, taking fencing classes, learning how to ride a horse, dieting and the like.
Then, when it’s time to shoot, they go into maintenance mode; an hour a day of exercise and then the shoot itself. For bloggers, that’s the “passive income” that they all fantasize about. And while passive income is a reality, it’s not as easy as the sham of working a mere four hours per week while sipping mojitos on the beach. You will spend the vast majority of your time actively working. Writing blog posts. Film shoots. Interviews. Hiking trips. Trekking. Chicken busses through the jungle. Editing blog posts, photos, videos, uploading, doing your social media, writing the next eBook, working on a contract for a client. And, most importantly, proposals, proposals, proposals and more proposals.
Sponsored travel? Largely a myth until you’ve spent a couple of years building up your traffic and your following until you have enough to generate interest from companies. It’s like any other business: it takes time to build up. And while you can earn free trips, free food, free tours and the like…once again, it’s a full-time job lining up those sponsors and sending out the proposals and the press kits to earn the attention of the companies you are trying to woo. Until you’ve been in the game for a few years putting in your time and learning the ropes, you aren’t going to have clients and sponsors knocking on your door begging to work with you. Why would they? You are just another in a long line of travel bloggers who are all doing the same thing: writing about destinations and shooting them on film and camera. What sets you apart?
Which is where a niche comes in handy. It’s not necessary, but it can help you stand apart from the rest of the competition. Because we are all of us competing. Competing for traffic, for book sales, for sponsorships and compensation. And while I fully believe in coworking and mutually beneficial working relationships, it still comes down to you or me when I’m looking for a sponsorship…and you can bet your boots I’m looking to earn it for me, not for you, at the end of the day.
That being said, I’m a huge believer in coworking and networking, not capitalism (i.e. everyone else is my competition, stab anyone in the back to get a gig, screw working with others, climb over the corpses to reach the top, that type of attitude). Affiliations, working together with your so-called competition for book sales, speaking engagements, and the like…a cord is strongest when it is made up of many strands. And 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing, so always look for opportunities to work together with your fellow bloggers and writers on projects as opposed to thinking of them purely as competition.
Except when it comes to sponsorships: wink, wink.
Also, understand that professional blogging – that is, blogging for a living, for profit – is not a part-time job or something you can do in your spare time. It is a full-time job. If you want to run a part-time hobby blog where you post about your travels while you earn income from freelancing, that’s fine…but understand there is a huge difference between hobby bloggers and professional bloggers. One is making a living with their blog, and the other isn’t.
It takes at least a year – if not two or three – of full-time, ball-busting hours to get a blog to the point where it is generating a livable income. Unless you have money at your disposal and can pay for a publicity campaign with a high-end organization and buy your way in. Which is totally possible and absolutely viable. But if you are bootstrapping it on your own…be prepared to spend at least two years working your way up before you see an ROI.
And finally, understand that content marketing and advertising are part of building a business and a profitable blog. Just as much as a restaurant owner should be prepared to put 25-30k on the line to build a 100k a year business, you need to be ready and willing to put an appropriate amount of money into investing in your business to build it into reality.
Everything you do in that first year or three will be coming out of your pocket. Plane tickets, accommodations out of your own pocket, food costs, adventure tour costs, camera gear, website hosting, graphic design, content creation and, most important of all, content marketing and advertising costs.
You’re currently producing the Life on the Road – The Business of Travel Blogging series for International Travel Writers. What’s that process been like for you? How else do you diversity your time and talents?
Honestly, it’s been a blast. I was already producing content at my own blog on the business side of blogging, so when the opportunity came along I said sure. Plus I’ve known Carolynne for a while and was already blogging for her throughout 2013 with cultural immersion pieces for Sofia, Bulgaria and Cancun, Mexico, so it was just a natural progression of our working relationship.
The process started off as a 12-part series, but then evolved from my own end into the next book we are producing through Marginal Boundaries. It’s coming out in March of 2014. The 12 episodes and articles are the foundation layer, but the book itself has expanded content plus YouTube episodes and additional chapters that are unique to the book itself. I’m having fun doing it because I’m shooting most of the episodes on location while we are out and about producing Viajes Con Cristina episodes here in the Riviera Maya, which is a Spanish-language YouTube series we have featuring my wife and partner, Cristina Barrios.
We just shot an accommodation-hunting episode yesterday, actually, while on location in Playa del Carmen, covering the behind-the-scenes aspects of living a life on the road; that’s a chapter which isn’t being produced for International Travel Writers, but will be included in the book version.
It’s also being translated into Spanish for the Latin market as well, and it’s tied into our Innovator program, which is a private, subscription-based newsletter for our premium content where we produce twice-weekly newsletters, a once-a-week YouTube video, and a once-a-month webinar where we have other bloggers and professionals come in and guest speak with our subscribers. There’s also a Kickstarter campaign coming out later in 2014 related to the Innovator and Life on the Road projects, but that’s under wraps for now J
Above and beyond that, I’ve been presenting on social media and blogging throughout the Riviera Maya throughout 2013, in Spanish and in English. We had half a dozen presentations in October. I taught a content marketing and blogging course in Playa del Carmen in November and December of 2013 as well, and then on January 28th I’m the keynote speaker for the Last Tuesday event here in Playa del Carmen talking about the myths and facts of social media for businesses. I also manage social media campaigns for clients around the world, consult with a number of other brands and help them build their businesses up, work with clients to advertise their travel-related services and products through the Marginal Boundaries brand and social media channels, and I’m really keen on stepping up my game as far as YouTube content goes. I’m still fairly amateur in that department even though we shoot a lot, and I’m looking to increase production throughout 2014.
At the end of the day, I consider myself blessed to be able to pursue my passions in life: travel and writing. It’s all about creating your own destiny rather than be a slave to a corporation or The Matrix or society or “The System”, whatever you want to call a life living within someone else’s version of reality. I feel complete and I’m the one in the driver’s seat. For me, that’s all that really matters.
T.W. Anderson is the editor-in-chief and founder of Marginal Boundaries, a travel and lifestyle brand. He is the author of Beyond Borders – The Social Revolution, The Expat Guidebook, and Life on the Road – The Business of Travel Blogging. He is a full-time traveler who has been on the road since January of 2008.
Interview conducted in January, 2014 by Kristin Mock.
One big slap in the face that many entrepreneurs get too late is they find out that this great idea they’ve invested so much time and money in is one that makes people yawn. Nobody cares enough to spend their hard-earned money on it.
Many bloggers find out the same thing, both in terms of earnings and in terms of attention. After all, attention is a different kind of currency, one that’s in finite supply. If there are 10,000 travel sites and blogs out there competing for the attention of people who love to travel, it’s a resource that may be even more scarce than money to spend.
This article about proving the validity of a start-up has terrific advice for anyone wanting to start a business, not just a tech business. It’s also advice you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about starting or going all-in on a blog. Without validation that people need it, a huge investment in time may be wasted.
What problem are you solving? What are you doing for your readers that nobody else can do like you?
Are you helping a specific tribe, people with specific needs, or people interested in a specific destination? If your site went down, would there be an information void in a specific subject?
Helping people figure out what travel gear is worth buying day after day solves a problem. Guiding horse lovers on their equestrian vacation does too. So does a site on how to study or work abroad, or one answering all the questions of horny single men thinking of living in Thailand. Tribe found, questions answered, traffic secured.
If all you blog about every few days is where you went this week and what you ate there, you are not really providing useful information. You’re not a problem solver, but an entertainer.
If you accept that you really want to be an entertainer and can make it work, okay. There are some very successful bloggers who operate as a cult of personality, letting people who can’t leave their cubicle live vicariously through them in words, photos, and video. We’ve featured several of them here on this travel writing blog. In the offline world we tune in to see Anthony Bourdain, Rick Steves, or Richard Bangs. Understand, however, that most of those successful people have a long head start on you and that for every one of them that has found the magic formula (through a lot of hard work and educational errors), there are hundreds laid to waste by the blogging or TV roadside, with not enough people devoting that valuable currency—their attention. Without that attention, there’s no hope of revenue.
It is much much harder to build a readership or sell a book by saying, “Look at me!” than it is to do so by saying, “Here’s how I can help you with your problem.” (Side note: if you’re a freelancer, how can you solve the editor’s problems? She’s your customer.)
By now you’ve probably thought about other exceptions. “What about Travel + Leisure magazine, or Afar, or Islands?” you may say. First of all, those do solve the problems of a specific tribe of travelers who want to know where people like them are going and what they will do once they get there. Also though, and this relates back to those cult of personality blogs, these are escape vehicles, dream mechanisms. I’ve seen Travel + Leisure on the coffee tables or in the bathroom baskets of people I know have not left the country in two or three years. When they want to check out and imagine themselves in a beautiful place somewhere warm, they pick up that magazine.
T+L surely knows this, which is why the photos take up more space than the text. It’s hard to dream on a gym treadmill if you have to read the whole time. It’s also why T+L and magazines like it spend so much time and money on Hot List and It List kinds of cover stories. If you’re part of the tribe that cares about what’s new and hot, you can’t not buy and read that issue. For the people who must know these things, problem solved.
Plus here’s a fun experiment. Go to the news rack at Barnes & Noble or in an airport and count the niche magazines that help people do something better: look better, parent better, spend more wisely, gain knowledge, lose weight, or improve their lives. Then count the ones that are pure entertainment. The ratio is huge—at least 50 to one, probably higher. You can extrapolate that ratio to the Android app store, to the non-fiction book sales on Amazon, and yes, to the World Wide Web. We spend our time with things that help us get wealthier, make us more popular, connect us with people we care about. Utility wins.
“Hey Tim, what about your Perceptive Travel webzine? A narrative travel site does not solve any problems.”
No, it’s not a service publication. You could argue that it’s just providing entertainment and enlightenment. But it’s not purely that. It was launched in 2006 as an antidote to all the shallow fluff out there, all the surface-level glorified press releases posing as travel stories and the silly top-10 lists that were jumping from the magazine world to the Internet. If anything, the situation is far worse now. So Perceptive Travel does solve a problem for those who want to read unique, in-depth travel stories not chosen according to what big advertisers care about. It gives readers faith, it makes them feel smarter, more refined, and yes, maybe a little superior. That’s a small segment of travelers, I’ll be the first to admit, but for those it applies to, we’re the clear #1 option. If eight years ago nobody reacted or cared, I wouldn’t still be running it. People did read it and care, so here we are, celebrating our birthday. Validation from customers means “please continue.”
Can you frame a description of your book, website, or blog in a way that shows how it solves a problem? A few examples of mine:
If you can easily do a description like this, you’re probably on to something. You’re writing to serve the readers’ needs, not just to hear yourself talk. If you get validation that it’s working, forge on.
If not, you either need to pivot or you need to admit that you’re really trying to be an entertainer.
Don’t get me wrong, we need entertainers too. They help us forget about our problems and our boring lives. We enjoy being entertained and seek out people who are good at making us feel good. But we don’t need travel blog entertainers as much as we need our Netflix, our Spotify, our Comedy Central, and the games on our phones. Hey, there’s only so much spare time in a day. And we’ve got lots of problems that need to be solved…
As we ring in a new year of writing, blogging, and traveling, we couldn’t help but go back through the nearly 50 interviews we conducted in 2013 to see where we’ve been and where we’re going. The travel industry is changing (there is no doubt about that!), and these writers, editors, and publishers have given us insight into how to make it in the travel industry in the new year. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this round-up of best travel writing advice we got in 2013–and get ready for another awesome year of inspiring interviews here at Travel Writing 2.0.
And happy writing in 2014!
–Tim & Kristin
Advice to New Bloggers
The best thing you can do is to network, network, network. Meet people. Talk to other bloggers. Attend conferences. Branch out beyond travel. Make partnerships. Blogs don’t exist in a bubble and if you don’t network, you won’t succeed. –Matt Kepnes, Nomadicmatt
Blog prolifically — a minimum of four times per week for the first nine months or so, and don’t ever drop below three times per week. Get active on social media. Connect with senior travel bloggers and travel bloggers within your own generation. Don’t blog about travel blogging. Work hard, and work nonstop. This is your future. –Kate McCulley, Adventurouskate
My advice to new travel bloggers? Find your voice. Speak in that voice through your blog. Blog like there’s nobody watching. ;) –Heather Greenwood Davis, Globetrottingmama
Although it’s important to write for the ‘bots’ as search is key for traffic, don’t sell out the personality of your content. --Amie O’Shaughnessy, Ciaobambino
My advice to new travel bloggers would be to not forget that even those who can’t travel often need and want to be inspired to travel some. Not everyone can go around the world or vacation in Tibet, so also find a way to get regular folks, like me and my friends, to just travel somewhere by inspiring through the attainable and real. –Carol Cain, Girlgonetravel
The Role of Digital Media
Our work is more technical. You need to understand some basic code, SEO, website structure, keywords, search, the use of images etc. Good writing is still the number one most important thing, though….It’s therefore dangerous to see social media as “throw away”, here today, gone tomorrow – ephemeral. Write a blog post as if it were to be published in the New York Times. –Michael Collins, owner of Travelmedia.ie
And when decoding the experience, it doesn’t really matter what tools are available, from a journal to a camera to a tablet, or whatever distribution channels bubble up, from print to radio to television to Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, or a million others….at the end of the day, it’s about living a good story, and then telling it. –Richard Bangs, PBS Show Adventures with Purpose
There’s no doubt print journalism is shrinking, both in terms of jobs and content. But there’s nothing like seeing a lovely spread – glossy or in print – of your work. And the same goes for holding an article in your hand rather than always staring at a screen. I hope print and digital continue to complement one another… –Gabriel O’Rourke, freelance writer
Becoming a Multimedia Expert–Tips for Photography, Audio, & Video
One – always shoot in RAW. Even if right now you don’t know what that is, or why you should be doing it – you need to be shooting in RAW….The other tip is to learn how to do some basic post processing. It’s not as hard as you think, and the barrier to entry is low. There are heaps of free programs out there, with Picasa being a good example to start with. Even Adobe’s Lightroom – the industry standard, isn’t particularly expensive. –Laurence Norah, owner of Findingtheuniverse
My work is strongly personal, visual and social — there are lots of high-quality photos, often with me and friends in them, complemented by social network interaction. Both my video narration and writings are short and to the point. I let images tell the story. It goes without saying: making successful web content is very different from writing for the travel section of a print newspaper. –La Carmina, travel & fashion blogger
For proof that writing and photography silos continue to be dismantled at a rapid clip, consider the Chicago Sun-Times, which recently eliminated its entire photo staff in favor of providing reporters with iPhones. As a backpack journalist, I’ve been taking my own photos and smartphone videos on the road for years – and am convinced that successful travel communicators will need to develop and hone multiple skills, including social media. –Laura Bly, Blyonthefly
From your main interests, find the key players, markets and influences are and start networking. Social media is very important in today’s market so you have to be an active participant in many social media channels along with a beautiful website, blog, stock site or any photo hosting site that will showcase your work to a buying market. –Noel Morata, freelance photographer
Personally, I find podcasting easier than writing. I still spend a lot of time on structure and messages, and think a lot about how to ensure you keep people engaged in a logical and interesting way. Podcasts that are made without the discipline and structure you put into good writing do not work, attract and retain listeners. –Gary Bembridge, Tipsfortravellers
Advice to Freelance Writers
Pitch; think; think more; think better; be incisive: pitch again. Repeat. –Kim Mance, founder of TBEX
Perhaps you hold a geology degree and your passion is researching mineral resources. Find a way to combine those gifts in a way that involve travel and writing and appeals to that particular audience. Research your competition. Start producing solid, well written content. Once you have a slew of top quality published blog posts, seek out guest post blogging opportunities. Ideally, position yourself as an expert in your field and market yourself as a resource. –Nancy D. Brown, freelance writer & equestrian expert
I’m a big believer in relationships. If there’s a magazine I love I try to connect with the editor in person….I think new travel writers should take advantage of gatherings like TBEX or New Media Expo or Blogher to allow for opportunities for those real-life connections. Also, don’t forget the value in your fellow writers. There will come a time when they’ll be asked to recommend someone for something they can’t do. It could be you. –Heather Greenwood Davis, Globetrottingmama
I instruct them to write out a mock three month editorial calendar based on what their plans are for the next few weeks so they can see what kind of content they would be able to create through their experiences. I then suggest they write five blog posts in a word document just so they can see how much time is involved in the writing process. I would say that only 50% of the people that take this advice discover they love the planning and writing process. –Andrew Dobson, Dobbernationloves
How to Make Money Doing What You Love
I don’t think I could have built up a loyal readership had I monetized immediately. (My book was the first thing I ever asked for support on, and it was almost 4.5 years out of keeping the site.) So, if they do want to monetize, at a minimum I would say to hold off doing so until they establish a community. –Jodi Ettenberg, Legalnomads
Since April this year, my income doubled every month. This month it was enough to cover my monthly expenses which is a great achievement! (Note: I live in Turkey at the moment, it’s cheap here!) The earnings from my blog are a mix of Adsense and Affiliates. If you want to make money, you need traffic first. I wouldn’t start monetizing before you have at least 500 visitors a day. Choose Affiliate products you love and write reviews about them, they will sell much better than a simple banner in your sidebar. –Sabrina Iovino, Justonewayticket
It seems that the new economic model is to decentralize income and instead build a network of smaller streams, leaving a person less vulnerable than relying on one big paycheck for a complete livelihood. –Jennifer Miller, Edventuretravel
You have to do it because you simply love to write and love to travel, not because you just want free trips places. If you go in with that attitude – that free is what you are after and you are owed free things because you write – you will not get far. Always be kind. Network. Get your name out there with guest posts on other blogs, try your hand at freelancing for publications. The more you get into the mix, the better chances you will have at growing your own blog. –Diana Edelman, Dtravelsround
Become a travel PR rep. Seriously. Coincidentally, my daughter did just that, though for other reasons, and she makes more money than I do, which is what I would have predicted. Also, she gets to travel to great places leading press trips—Argentina, Switzerland, and more. –Carole Terwilliger Meyers, author of 18 travel books
Going the Self-Publishing Route
I’ve used Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service, which also lists the book on Amazon as soon as you’re done. This works great as long as your book is in black-and-white. The price for printing color, however, can be prohibitively expensive. There’s an average of one photo per page, and there’s plenty of color icons as well….Enter Lightning Source – a printing company that will print on demand and plays nicely with Amazon. They have some strict guidelines to follow regarding formatting, but once it’s done, it’s done. I’ll recommend them if and only if your book needs to be in color. –Chris Backe, author of Weird and Wonderful Korea
Traditional publishers may no longer have a monopoly on information delivery; we writers just have to find new ways to provide our readers with – and earn income from – this content. –Carolyn B. Heller, author of Moon Ontario
How to Approach an Editor
The most common mistake guest bloggers make is not following our guest blogging guidelines and trying to insert spammy, anchor-rich text links in their posts. Too much focus on getting a link and not on producing good quality content and I am just not interested in that. –Paul Johnson, Editor of Aluxurytravelblog
The biggest piece of advice: pitch like you have nothing to lose. The writers that get published are the writers that try to get published, plain and simple. Editors aren’t scary, they just need what they need – figure out what that is and give it to them. –Andy Murdock, U.S. Digital Editor of Lonely Planet
As a young girl, Nancy grew up around horses. Because of her deep love for all things equestrian, her personal traveling motto has become “What better way to see the world than from the back of a horse?” Nancy obtained a degree in journalism in order to combine her passion for horses with writing and now runs two travel blogs as well as freelances for various travel publications (such as the group travel blog Hotel Scoop). In our interview today, Nancy tells us about running multiple blogs, getting into print publications, and where she expects to be in five years. Enjoy!
Nancy, you publish Writinghorseback.com, a blog about where to go for horseback riding vacations, as well as your personal blog, Nancydbrown.com, which offers insider tips on things to see and do while traveling. What made you create two blogs and how has blogging helped your writing career?
As a freelance writer, I write a travel column, “What a Trip” for the Contra Costa Times newspaper. I only have so many words allotted to this column. I wanted to have a place where I could continue the conversation with my readers so I started my blog “What a Trip.” This blog serves many purposes; I am able to write hotel reviews and travel gear reviews here, and it also serves as a showroom for my freelance writing. As a result of my “Things to See and Do” specialties, I’ve had newspaper and magazine editors seek me out for articles on destinations that they see I am familiar with.
Tell us more about the equestrian blog and how that relates to the travel writing industry. How did a blog about horseback riding vacations get started?
As a travel blogger, rising above the clutter is difficult to do. I combined my passion for horseback riding with my writing background to create a niche blog that involves travel and horses. A lot of travel today is about experiences. Equestrians and adventure seekers love seeing a destination from the back of a horse. It provides a unique travel perspective. With my freelance writing career, I was already traveling to places worldwide. Why not infuse horseback riding into the mix?
I see that you’ve written an Active Adventure Guide for Shape Magazine and you recently had the cover of Alaska Airlines writing about Loreto, Mexico. How did you get into these print publications and what advice do you have for others?
With my journalism degree in public relations, I started on the agency side. Handling clients such as Auction Napa Valley, I worked with a lot of food, wine and travel writers. The grass is always greener on the other side and I jumped the fence to travel writing. I attended a Travel Writing conference in the San Francisco Bay Area and they suggested I pitch my local newspaper a travel column. My freelance career has blossomed from there.
How did you cross over to travel blogging?
Living in the Bay Area, home to Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, it’s easy to become an “early adopter” embracing new technology. I attended a BlogHer conference in San Francisco. While I learned a lot about the business of blogging, I was shocked that there wasn’t a travel track. After the conference I proposed the topic of travel and blogging and my panel idea was selected and I presented the next year in Chicago. This also happened to be the inaugural meeting for TBEX. What started as a room full of bloggers has now morphed into the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers and new media.
Sometimes I compare my income stream to the Colorado River–a vital source of water, controlled by a systems of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts. When writing assignments come rolling in, I try and build up my cash reserves so that I can withstand the dry spells that come with life as a freelance writer. Like the mighty Colorado, my writing consists of multiple revenue streams; print and online writing, social media consulting, public relations projects and media partnerships.
Nancy D. Brown is a freelance travel writer, blogger and public relations consultant. She’s the woman behind http://www.nancydbrown.com , a travel blog offering insider tips on things to see and do, as well as http://www.writinghorseback.
Interview conducted in December, 2013 by Kristin Mock.
Kim Mance and I were recently panelists together at the NATJA convention talking about how blogs are valued and how to make one valuable. I tracked her down afterwards to expand on some of the things she mentioned there while telling her story and giving good advice. The only thing she couldn’t answer was…what’s taking them so long to announce the next TBEX dates and location? Sorry.
Most writers know you as the founder of the successful TBEX convention. Tell us how this now-huge travel bloggers conference got started and how your role in it evolved over the years.
I’m truly humbled and flattered by the first part of your statement because it was a total fluke. I was working very hard on launching Galavanting (see below), and happened to “meet” some really engaging, generous and cool travel people online during that time frame. At some point, I emailed six of them inviting them to stay at my place in Chicago during another larger and more broadly focused conference. One thing lead to another after a phone call from Debbie from Delicousbaby.com, and once we’d invited more folks to join, a deluge of travel bloggers sent RSVPs. I needed help. So I reached out to the Chicago Tourism Office, which was extremely helpful and from there, TBEX was born.
I’m not an event planner, and therefore never planned to plan events. It just happened. And that’s why I still like TBEX so much. Travel writers and bloggers just can’t help themselves. No matter how far and wide they traverse the globe, they always want to meet up with like minds.
But still, I was no event planner, and even with all the kumbaya, TBEX needed help. I was very relieved that Rick and the professionals took over in 2012 after New Media Expo acquired the TBEX events.
What is Galavanting all about and how did that get started?
Galavanting was born during a conversation with a wonderful woman in my office, Katy, while I was working in communications in Washington, DC. My young son had a relapse of spinal cord cancer, and I realized I needed to phase out of my high-pressure job and go freelance full time (I’d been writing a lot on the side), so I could work from hospitals and such. She and I chatted about what would be the thing I could be most passionate about would be. And how I could have the most ideas for going forward for freelance work. Travel always came in on top of the brainstorm pile of ideas. My first trip abroad was at the age of fourteen while volunteering on a church trip (I’d found a loophole in my Evangelical upbringing and could see other parts of the world if I pretended to want to evangelize it).
From there forward, Katy and I wrote ideas on those big poster sticky-notes on a wall, cataloging all the things we thought were missing in travel media for people like us: Brave, perceptive, non-trust fund women with an insatiable curiosity about the world. A few friends joined in on brainstorm sessions over a few months about what they’d like to see in travel media, then I got to work learning Dreamweaver software, HTML, CSS, etc… I worked on it full time for months, and we launched Galavanting to 15k visitors the first month. No matter the momentum now, it has steady traffic regardless of how often we post, so I take it we were on to something.
Who else have you written for in the past and what else are you working on now?
I started my writing after an invitation from Huffington Post in 2007, soon after their launch, and after getting featured on their homepage several times, got more confident to pitch paying editors. I’ve done things for a lot of outlets since then, mostly on the sheer bliss of ignorance and not knowing how hard it is to break into writing. Places like Babble, Marie Claire, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and even the Women’s Policy Journal of Harvard (yep, that Harvard) have published me since I put my mind to it.
Pitch; think; think more; think better; be incisive: pitch again. Repeat.
Right now I’m doing a lot in freelance TV projects while working on a book of my own. It’s an amazing leap from gaining an online following, but a natural leap (ugh, I sound like a douche with that statement, but it’s true). In truth, I kind of feel like I don’t work at all now, because it’s all very fun and satisfying work. But I guess that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing — work doesn’t feel like work: it feels like living. My entire goal has always been to influence travel media more into reality rather than platitudes or stereotypes, and broadcast media was a central goal to that end. So I feel like I’m fulfilling that now to some extent. Boy, I sure would f@*%$ng like to be the female Anthony Bourdain though.
I’ve also joined a band in upstate New York, just south of Woodstock. I’m somehow become their lead singer, to complement their stellar skills as musicians. We’re still in rehearsal mode, but I expect at least $14 from our first gig.
I guess I always follow my heart, regardless of the tip jar. The heart is much more passionate than the head, and seems to find resonance with others more readily than strategy. Yes, I’m kind of a hippie.
One great thing about being a writer is you can follow something that intrigues you and become an expert on it after a while. How did you get to be recognized as a Nikola Tesla expert and invited to a conference on him?
The great thing about being a travel writer sometimes means you can be a huge, huge nerd. An no matter how few people follow you to that nerdy place, there are enough. Enough to make an impact.
I got — and am still — obsessed with the turn-of-the-century inventor Nikola Tesla. He literally described a mobile phone in a 1906 New York Times interview during a time when you had to wind a crank and hope to reach an operator to place a call. The man was an eccentric and full of curiosity. Which is where I find my resonance: eccentric people who are effective and contribute to the greater good.
Anyway, after creating a Nikola Telsa tour by following his major places he lived and made inventions (Rural Croatia, NYC, Colorado Springs, Niagara Falls, Belgrade, Paris, and others), I got asked to speak at a conference about an upcoming science center dedicated to him on Long Island (the site of one of his laboratories), among other cool, nerdy things.
You never know what can happen when you get obsessed with something. And often, it can even be better than being invited to speak at a conference on your hero.
What are your main revenue streams and how do you see that changing in the next few years?
Originally I thought we’d make around $3,000 a month through advertising with Galavanting when launching it it 2008. There were spreadsheets. I was sure of it. But all through that time of launching the site, I funded it (and eating) through freelance writing for other publications. Galavanting didn’t start turning a profit for years. And by profit, I mean, paying for fees to run the site and a salary for those working for it. Replacing an income – that’s what I mean.
So, my income now is a huge mish-mash of things. It’s partly freelance writing, partly the sale of TBEX, and a lot of freelance TV work. I don’t think anyone should ever underestimate the power of their own expertise. Even if you just do it for the love of doing it, like I do, it often converts into people paying you to write or talk about your passion.
What advice would you give to a travel blogger #8,462 just starting out right now?
Be passionate. Not about getting traffic or ad revenue, or klout (cough, cough).
Be a person, not a bot. Be yourself. Create something you think is missing and do it in a very sensible way. Once you’ve isolated what it is you’re excellent at doing, make a plan, but not a cynical one that makes you feel guilty (or you’ll lose your creative edge). Use that smart plan to help get your take on things out into the world.
Know that: A) No one gives a crap unless you have a very specific angle that someone is interested in knowing, or knowing more about because they’re as obsessed with the topic as you are. And B) There’s no such as a million-dollar idea without a crapload of work behind it. Going out on your own is about 300% more difficult than being in an office cubical. It takes all you have to give. But as I said before, it doesn’t even feel like work if you’re doing what you love. It feels like more like you’re cheating the system. If you’re able to do that and eat and pay your bills, you’re probably on the right track. If not, get a bar tending job and refocus your work until it does.
Kim Mance is a travel writer and a bit of a wisecracker.