Travel writing: Think local, act local
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Photo by Dro!d (Creative Commons)
The first lesson we were taught in my ninth grade writing class is one that most of us have heard about a zillion times: ‘Write what you know.’
BACK THEN, I TOOK it to heart as far as poetry, short stories and scripts went – but more recently, I’ve been forgetting to apply the lesson to travel writing.
That is, until the last couple of weeks.
My local paper, like many, can only buy so much freelance travel material. Sometimes the weekly section might have only one story bought directly from a freelancer, instead of from a syndicated service – and some weeks, it might have none at all. The competition between writers selling stories about Dubrovnik, Bali, Peru or St. Kitts is fierce.
Most dailies have a strong local element, and as a freelancer, this can be a huge opportunity.
Each week, though, one item is constant: a ‘Daytripping’ piece, about an activity – generally family-friendly – within a couple hours drive of the city. Weeks might go by without a story about Asia running in the travel section, but the paper is committed to consistently publishing local content.
My local paper’s far from unique in this; most dailies have a strong local element to their travel sections. And as a freelancer, this can be a huge opportunity for you.
We may not all live someplace glamourous, the world may not always be interested in our hometowns – but chances are, your hometown is interested in your hometown.
If you haven’t already, study up on your local paper and get in touch with the travel editor. Introduce yourself, and ask for submission/pitching guidelines. Mention that you’d be especially interested in writing local content – I can almost guarantee that it’s what he or she receives the least.
Then brainstorm about your stomping grounds: What makes it different? What’s something you’ve done that most people in town may not know about? A hike? A farmer’s market? A small-scale, quirky museum?
Come up with a solid list of ideas, and pitch away.
I don’t want to sound like a testimonial on an infomercial, but here goes: Over the past two years, I’ve sold four international travel stories to my local paper. Last week, in the course of a single half-hour meeting about local content, I sold six stories.
Lesson learned? Give the editor what they need, and the clips (and fame and glory) will follow!