Around the edges, the way we work as travel writers and travel bloggers changes faster each year. There are new tools, new publications, and the corresponding death of what both are replacing. The year 2016 was notable: the death of Vine, the steep rise and slow fall of Snapchat, and the leveling off of Twitter (except for one very visible bully who loves to rant). For anyone with a fan page, Facebook became just another ad platform.
On the publications side, we lost a few more of the remaining newspaper travel sections. Magazines More, Self, Islands, and Penthouse, ceased, as did Yahoo Travel. One whole publishing company (Harris Publications) went under.
For most of though, these are periphery distractions. They just lead to a slight shift in tactics.
Here are five lasting things you can do in the coming year that will make a huge difference in your travel writing and blogging success.
Pay More Attention to the Money Stats
Are Instagram “likes” paying your bills? Does getting to 12,000 Twitter followers earn you any more money than having 10,000?
If you’re paying more attention to your social stats than your blog stats or your income statements, you are probably feeding your ego more than your bank account.
One key thing to do each year is figure out where most of your income originated from and what you worked on that didn’t result in any substantial earnings. For most of the people we’ve profiled on this blog and my travel writing book over the course of six years, their income streams fall into a few main buckets. Earnings come from freelance writing, ad/sponsorship revenue, product sales, consulting/speaking, or a related side business like running tours.
Within that ad/sponsorship bucket there’s a small sliver of bloggers making real money promoting things on their social media accounts. They get paid well for running Twitter parties or posting about a client on Instagram.
If you are not part of that small sliver making big bucks from your huge social media followings though, stop obsessing over those stats. They are vanity stats. They may help you get invited onto a press trip, but press trips don’t pay the rent.
You wanted to be a writer, right? Then spend more time writing and less time being a slave to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Update Your Portfolio Site
If you’re a freelancer, your portfolio site is the first thing that should come up when an editor searches your name and it should be in the signature of every query you send out. It is, therefore, the face of you and your business online. It’s the portal to all the important work you’ve done and everything you’re doing regularly. Find portfolio site examples and next steps here.
If you’re a blogger, make sure you’ve got a great About page or “Work With Me” page that’s compelling. Does it quickly show what sets you apart? Is there social proof? Does it demonstrate a well-defined audience? If you’re struggling with some of this, you might want to set aside some quiet time with all the gadgets off and work on your focus.
Write Articles With Your Audience in Mind
Often when I attend TBEX I’ll come back with a stack of cards and will spend an hour or two surfing through those blogs. I’d say at least 75% of them are interchangeable. They are formulaic in their title and the types of stories they’re running. They don’t have any defining purpose. There’s no core tribe they’re serving. Most are some version of “Here’s where I went. Here’s what I did. Follow me…please?”
Yes, there are a few personality blogs built like that doing extremely well. Most of them have been around since before you even thought about starting a blog though, so they’ve got a huge head start. They’re also run by people who are savvy about marketing. They have been hustling hard for five or ten years. Over time, some of them also went from generalists to specialists. They didn’t go broader to grow their audience; they went deeper.
Who is your ideal reader? What problem or desire brought them to your blog? Why will that person keep coming back? Will they still be reading a year from now? Why? When you’ve figured the answers out, you can write with purpose and not just be doing an online journal.
Pitch Beyond the Obvious
If you say you’re a travel writer, half the time people will ask, “Who do you write for?” Or, “What magazines are you in?”
I suggest you come up with a short answer to that (“Whoever pays the best” or “The ones that can use my expertise” are good answers.) Then put the ego aside and stop worrying about getting into the hyper-competitive travel magazines everyone has heard of. For every one of those there are at least 30 that are easier to crack. The editors don’t get hundreds of queries a day and you won’t spend weeks going back and forth with some junior editor trying to justify his or her job.
Write for custom publications, write for online outlets, write for the trades, write for company blogs. There are a lot of less visible jobs out there for freelancers if you keep your eyes open. Go grab some of them.
Create Work That Lasts
People are still reading articles and blog posts I wrote a decade ago. When I put out a new book people buy it for years.
Did you really become a travel writer or blogger so you could write listicles and clickbait every week? Was your imagined path to greatness getting lots of likes on a photo you snapped with your phone?
Anyone can run a mediocre travel blog. Quality writing requires more effort, but it lasts a lot longer.You may have to do research, interview people, go places that aren’t part of a press trip. You may have to find an angle that not one single person has pursued before. You may have to do eight drafts before what’s on the page is really worth publishing. But that’s how you win awards, do work you’re really proud of, and get noticed.
If you strive to make an impact instead of just get clicks or checks, eventually you will. This year, strive to become a better travel writer.