This article appeared on the Walkley website and contains some very practical tips from travel writer and Lonely Planet ‘Poland’ author Tim Richards. There’s also a link to the travel articles he mentions having written on Sydney and Melbourne bookstores – both classic “list” travel stories.

7 September 2010

Written by Walkley Intern Lucienne Bell

‘Travel Writer’: for so many it is the dream job. In this session at last month’s Walkley Freelance Convention in Sydney, Tim Richards (travel writer and Lonely Planet ‘Poland’ author), shared some tips on how he has turned the dream into a reality. Below is a brief summary of his tips and advice.

The Pitch

“Cutting through to editors requires a brilliant pitch,” said Richards, who usually only writes three paragraphs in an e-mail when pitching. “The pitch is about three things,” he said, “One, you need the editor to open your e-mail, two, you need them to read your pitch and three, you need them to request the full article.” Richards acknowledged that it is a difficult, time consuming process and that he gets many knock backs.

“Your pitch needs to be different and fresh,” he said, “and you don’t want to make them feel pestered.”  To keep his story ideas present in the editor’s mind, Richards waits a few days and then sends a short follow up e-mail “just saying, ‘have you had a chance to look at my ideas’.” Richards also advised never pitching two editors the same story at the same time.

In terms of pitching before or after your travel, Richards finds it difficult to pitch beforehand. “Travel writing is so emotional, you often find the right angle and lead when you’re there in the midst of it all, so pitching before is hard.”

Short and sweet

“Editors have unsolicited material pouring out of their inboxes,” said Richards. His advice is to always have a few shorter pieces ready. “600 words are great when an ad falls through, you make less money but the flexibility is valuable,” he said. Richards did this himself recently when he travelled to Sydney and wrote 600 words on spec about Sydney bookstores. He later wrote a corresponding article about Melbourne bookstores and had them published by Fairfax.

Photos are as important as the ink

Richards said he has never had a photo turned down because of quality and he uses “a simple 7.1 mega pixel digital camera”. Not only is it possible to take reasonable photos with a small digital camera, says Richards, but he also believes it is also much less hassle and more discreet than large professional cameras.

Richards acknowledged that there can be pressure to provide photos for free, “as a package with your words”, because of competition from online photo libraries and micro-stock agencies which charge around $2.00 a photo. The way to get around this, says Richards, is to “really link your photos to the text of your story, make them necessary and make them specific, not generic.”

Sponsored Travel: yay or nay?

The obvious benefit of sponsored travel is that it keeps expenses low but it is paramount, says Richards, that your ethics are not compromised. He spoke about his own experience doing a recent sponsored trip to a Canada, “you must not be complicit and never promise to write x number of stories.”

10 strangely-themed-eastern-European-festivals

Although he dislikes them, Richards recommends “list stories” as a popular option for budding travel writers. “Web people love them,” he said “because they are snappy, quirky and use key search words.” The trick is to find unusual examples for common topics such as festivals, food, markets and natural wonders.

Story Shelf-Life

How long can you store a story? In Richards’ opinion, “two to three years is a good rule of thumb.” Having said that, Richards made clear that it is vital that you “do your research, make sure anything you wrote remains relevant, such as entry prices, transport suggestions, etc.” You don’t want to discover that the museum you’ve recommended closed six months ago.

Above all, Richards encouraged participants to soldier on through the “endless” rejections and keep writing.

You can find Tim Richards’ travel blog Aerohaveno here and his professional website I, Writer here

Related Articles

Tales in the City
The Sun-Herald, 22 August 2010

Why is Melbourne such a readers’ paradise? It might be something to do with the weather. As summer fades and balmy autumn nights signal the shift toward chilly winter, there’s nothing more comforting than the thought of settling down with a book next to a log fire in a St Kilda cafe. Here are five of the city centre’s best booksellers.”

Visiting and rating the bookshops of Melbourne’s city centre.