A Conversation with Brad Olsen

Adventure travel doesn’t quite describe Brad Olsen’s eclectic repertoire of travel books; in fact, what some might constitute as an adventure might be pegged by Brad as simply a youthful fascination for the world and all its unique splendor.  In his first published book, for example, World Stompers: A Global Travel Manifesto (now having sold over 40,000 copies), Brad instructs newly-minted college graduates on the art of independent travel by offering such tips as how to find the world’s top stoner meccas to how to become drinking buddies with Asian men.  Since then, Brad has delved into other projects, of which his most recent collections, Sacred Places: 108 Destinations and Extreme Adventures, have him diving into the world’s most spiritual and most dangerous.  Check out his website here.

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

My first published book World Stompers: A Global Travel Manifesto is still in print in its 5th edition, and has sold about 40 thousand copies. The early success of World Stompers got me firmly in the publishing door, landing me a distributor whom I am still with, and the ability to learn the business, and eventually come out with a publishing schedule.

The key to my success has really been persistence, keeping my operating expenses low, and developing the Sacred Places: 108 Destinations series, which is now our cash cow and being optioned as a television series. Also having a love for travel has kept me enthused to stay in this business under sometimes overwhelming negative conditions.

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?

The trend now is to ‘recycle’ travel articles, create original content & produce ebooks in all three formats (PDF, ePub, Kindle) to be sold online. This trend is growing in my business by currently 5% this year, possibly up to 10% in the next three years. We used to say online sales was pennies on the dollar to the print media departments, but it is now becoming nickels and dimes, hopefully soon to be quarters.

Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer, what steps would you take to ensure success?

Become very adept with building websites. Learn and master SEO (search optimization). Create and populate at least one, if not many, blogs. Take photos everywhere you go. Build a portfolio hopefully be selling content, but building to have stories and images out there, which gets your name out there too. Now this is not to say give everything away, as we all need and deserve to be paid for our work. I usually reserve my best images and original content for paying gigs. Recycle older stuff online to build your presence with the search engines. Online content is the trend of the future, and we’re all going to need to be very tech savvy to survive.

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”?)

Do it for the love of writing, storytelling, but don’t expect much. Work hard and hopefully in a decade you’ll be able to support yourself! Thus, in the meantime, don’t give up your day job anytime soon. Travel writing has become extremely competitive. Print media outlets have closed at a record pace, and the old travel editors out of work are now competing for the same crumbs as you are. Find a niche in travel, and learn it from the inside out. Become an expert and reporter on the subject.


How did you go from a world stomping vagabond to heading up your own book publishing company?

I suppose I just grew up. Well really, I did want to start something all the while I was on the road, and with a three-year trip freshly under my belt, coupled with a very robust travel industry in the 1990s, I found a foothold in the book publishing business and have stuck with if for almost two decades. Now I publish mostly other people’s books.

How has the increasing success of e-books impacting your revenue as an author and publisher? Up, down, or a wash so far?

It has certainly been a positive for CCC Publishing, and the thing I like about it most is the instant transmission of content for cash. There is very little overhead in the transmission of online content: no printing costs; no shipping costs; no warehousing fees; no waiting on invoices; and no returns. But there is a strange thing that happens when you publish straight to an ebook, and that is lower sales. Somehow the presence of a physical copy of the book has a positive effect to the online sales. So our marketing mix is a combo of printed books, and converting the files to all formats for sale. In a way completing one book is now producing four different products, with four different revenue streams.

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Brad Olsen’s first book World Stompers: A Global Travel Manifesto, now in its fifth edition, was lauded by film director Oliver Stone as a “subversive masterpiece of travel writing” and Publisher’s Weekly labeled it a “quirky chain pleaser.” His travel web site relating to the book was Microsoft Network’s “Site of the Week” and continues to rank as a “Top 5%” Lycos site. His newest book, Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations (released in 2007) was a runner-up for Forward Magazine’s “Best Travel Guidebook of the Year.” Brad is also the author/illustrator of the “Extreme Adventures” series of adrenaline-pumping guidebooks. “Extreme Adventures Hawaii” and “Extreme Adventures Northern California” were both released by Hunter Publishing in 1998.

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

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