Max Hartshorne’s impressive career as a journalist and editor has culminated in the popular destination travel site GoNOMAD.com, an online space that connects travelers through well-crafted travel writing and stunning photographs. GoNOMAD.com, which prides itself on “participatory travel”—travel that takes you outside the passive and catapults you into the active—is for anyone who “wants to get the skinny on the unexplored, the unseen and the unwritten about.” The site has become so popular that it’s even led the way to the GoNOMAD café, a cozy community space in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. See Max’s site here!
What path led you to the position you have now? What’s your background?
I got into editing GoNOMAD.com after working at a print travel magazine called Transitions Abroad. Before that I spent 20 years in advertising and sales. I wasn’t wild about the print part of it, with all of the long deadlines, limitations on space, and the headache of not being able to update or revise content. I first learned web design at the magazine and I knew that was the path I wanted to take.
What qualities do you look for and admire in someone you hire to write material for your publication?
We want writers with their own unique voice, and style, and someone who respects the language so that their copy is clean, ready to use, and doesn’t require us to edit heavily or change it. I think if it needs a lot of work, it should be rewritten by the author; not totally changed by an overzealous editor. The writers have to have traveled recently, and understand that the story is about the reader’s trip, not their trip, and it should be full of practical and useful information about the destination…not a travel blog or commentary.
What mistakes do freelancers make in how they approach you and what do the good ones do right?
Sometimes we get pitches by photographers who don’t have any articles to use with their photos. If you can’t include text we can’t really use it. Others send blog posts or emails they’ve written that they think would make travel articles. Sorry, but you have to sit down and write a travel article after you have read our writer’s guidelines, and follow the style and type of format you can see on our website.
They don’t send good photos, or they send just a few photos when we need at least 20-30 to choose from. They don’t put it all in one email with a link. They make us look at several different emails to find everything we need. If we ask them to revise they send something else that’s a loose part—we need it all in one email so we can keep track of it in our huge stack of stories waiting to be published.
Based on what you know in your position, what honest and unvarnished advice would you give to an aspiring freelancer who wanted to become a successful travel writer?
To be a travel writer, you’ve gotta travel and you’ve gotta write. Take lots and lots of photos, approach people from the front and be bold. Ask questions, take notes, collect literature, be curious, provide good useful information, and think about what’s in it for the reader. How can you help them take a fantastic trip?
Is there anything else you would like to add about what has changed and where things are headed?
Now everybody is a publisher. Find your niche, write a blog, post to Twitter and Facebook. Create great articles about interesting places and work hard to get them out there. Don’t forget that even for publications that don’t pay there is value in links, for others that only pay a little, leverage that broad coverage to get assignments that pay well. Some writers can show off their travel writing links and get book contracts. But you’ve gotta travel and write.
You’re an editor overseeing a lot of writers’ work, but you still travel a good bit and write stories as well. What kinds of places get you jazzed up and make you excited to get on a plane?
I love everywhere I go! I would never go unless I was excited and jazzed up, and I can have fun in Pittsburgh or in Istanbul. I hope to see new places like Africa, Japan Thailand and old favorites like Australia and New Zealand in 2011.
What are the biggest drawbacks of moving from being a writer or staff editor to being a publisher and owning the business?
There are absolutely no drawbacks in being the boss, and controlling everything and taking any opportunity that appeals to me to travel. Why would I want to beg an editor to pay attention to me and answer my email, or have to ask them for an assignment? I guess it might be nice not to have to worry about making the payroll and paying the workmen’s comp insurance but all in all, no way I’d ever work for someone else again. Never!
Max Hartshorne got his start in journalism at the Granite State Gazette in Lebanon, N.H., at age 18. He went on to write record and concert reviews for the Valley Advocate and features for the Amherst Bulletin and worked at the Portland Express, a daily on the Maine coast when he was 23. He eventually got a job editing a weekly called the Portland Chronicle, before working in newspaper advertising for 12 years.
He got into travel by editing Transitions Abroad, a travel magazine once published in Amherst MA (and now online at TransitionsAbroad.com). Today he is the editor of GoNOMAD.com, the travel website, as well as owner of the cafe of the same name in South Deerfield. He travels about once a month to somewhere far away, and writes a daily blog called Readuponit where he chronicles the people he meets and the places he sees. He is also a partner in the 360 Degree Travel Influencers Network.
GoNOMAD.com’s writer’s guidelines
Interview conducted in February, 2011 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.