The five biggest mistakes aspiring travel writers make

Relax! Everyone makes mistakes, especially when entering a new field. But wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t need to make those mistakes quite so publicly? By following the advice of our travel writing presenter, Sue White, you just may be able to avoid the most common mistakes of many aspiring travel writers. Here's what Sue says:

Mistake #1: Not targeting the right publication.
As a travel writer you need to know your publication well. By this, I mean understand the publication from the inside out. Who reads it? What ages are the readers? What sort of things do they like to do when they travel? Is the publication targeting budget travellers, luxury travellers or families? Every publication is different, and if you don’t find out the individual perspective of the publication you are targeting, it’s difficult to get your pitch across the line.

Mistake #2: Thinking it’s a holiday.
Ahh, holidays. Great hey? Yes, but (unfortunately) a holiday is not the same thing as being on the road as a travel writer. It’s true, very often the life of a travel writer LOOKS surprisingly similar to a holiday (you’ll be found sipping cocktails, hiking to the same fabulous lookout as other holidaymakers, or exploring an interesting museum). But a travel writer is also interviewing, researching, comparing, contrasting, making notes and always moving. If you’re doing your job well, you’ll be doing three times as much (or more) as an average visitor – after all, you’ve got research to do.

On a holiday, you may be able to return to the same beach every day, because in your opinion it’s the best beach in the area. But as a travel writer you need to check out many (or ALL) of the beaches in the area, to give readers a choice. Perhaps some beaches are better for families? Others are better on a windy day? Life on the road can be busy, so it’s a mistake to confuse travel writing with endless holidays. So, if you’ve been on a recent holiday, and DIDN’T take notes, interview people, and do lots of research, it may not be a story after all. (Next time, you’ll know though, and plan accordingly!)

Mistake #3: Writing only what people already know.
Yes, publications often cover the same destination more than once, but it’s a mistake to think that means your story can cover the same old ground as someone else has done recently.

Editors will be looking for new angles about a destination – perhaps the place you are suggesting is now easier to get to? Or maybe there’s been a food revival in the city you want to write about, so it’s now a new hot destination for foodies? Think about your travel writing as a series of insiders tips – aim to uncover the things your reader might miss if you hadn’t gone and tried things on their behalf.

Mistake #4: Pitching the same story to many publications at the same time.
This is a big one: DON’T, and I repeat, DON’T pitch exactly the same story to numerous publications at the same time. Especially competing publications. There is nothing that annoys an editor more than deciding to take your story and hearing, “Well, actually, I’ve also been told by your competitor they are going to run it.” (Or worse, not hearing, but just seeing it there in print!)

There are ways around this (we’ll teach you in our travel writing course) but you need to be conscious, careful and always think of the big picture: after all, annoying editors is a fast path to a short career as a travel writer.

Mistake #5: Not meeting the brief.
1000 words is 1000 words. Not 1500w that the editor can “cut down where they’d like”. Editors are busy people. Be professional and meet any brief you are given. This means meeting deadlines (I actually like to send my stories a day or two early, always good to exceed expectations!) and filing stories which are accurate, checked and on word count. You can submit about five per cent over the word count without causing anyone too much stress, but beyond this you will be landing your new editor with a problem, rather than a solution.

Want to learn more about becoming a travel writer? You can do the Travel Writing course with Sue White from the comfort of your own home.

And you can check out Sue's website here.

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