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Some thoughts on Travel Writing today

 
This was an Interview I gave to  www.whereslisa.com about travel writing and social media.
1.    What are your views on the market for travel writing today?
Travel is something that everyone loves, either because they do it themselves or because they dream of it (“One day…” “When I’m retired…”). So I feel that it is a perennially popular market. The main limitations (from my point of view) I see are the rise of the ‘Celebrity Traveller’ and the ‘Novelty Traveller’. The celebrity is a famous person who does a moderately interesting trip and gets a big book deal. The novelty traveller thinks of a witty pun or a natty gimmick, and shoehorns some travel and a book into that.
2.    How have you found the process of trying to get your writing published – both your books and shorter pieces for magazines etc…?
At first I found it phenomenally hard. I failed to find a publisher for Moods of Future Joys and had to self publish it. I got very, very few articles published in magazines and definitely not enough to earn a crust from. Even today, after 6 books and many articles, I am nowhere near able to live from the proceeds. Although travel writing is popular it is still quite a small niche in terms of sales (compared, say, to thriller fiction).

3.    There has been lots of commentary in the press recently about the demise of the traditional career of the writer (e.g.http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/02/bestseller-novel-to-bust-author-life). What’s your take on this in relation to travel writing?

Whilst it is harder to earn decent and regular money from traditional magazine commissions, I believe that the rise of the self-publishing industry has made travel writing more meritocratic than ever. You are no longer at the whim of a publisher whose desk is groaning with prospective manuscripts. Anyone, today, can publish a book on Amazon and sell it worldwide. If the book is good and if you are good at marketing (a massive ‘if’), then you can succeed, whoever you may be.

4.    What role do you feel your blog and social media activity play in your writing career?
These things play a very large role in my career. 80% of my income comes from my speaking work and only 20% from my books. I took a conscious decision about 5 or 6 years ago to make my blog really good, and to become an ‘authority in my small niche’. I put huge amounts of time and effort into this unpaid aspect of my career but I believe it really helps me to get more talk bookings and sell more books.

5.    What feedback have you received for any pieces that have been rejected for publication? And similarly, what reasons have you been given for pieces that have been accepted for publication?

My cycling round the world manuscript was generally deemed to be ‘unoriginal’ – Bill Bryson had cornered the ‘travel’ market and Lance Armstrong had sewn up the ‘cycling’ market. So who needs a story from a non-famous person about spending 4 years travelling round the world on a bike…!? My latest book – Microadventures was accepted by Harper Collins because it was ‘original’, ‘relevant’ and captured the ‘zeitgeist’ (whatever that may be!). I think they are probably three useful things to aspire to with anyone’s manuscript.

6.    What advice would you give to any aspiring travel writer?

Do it because you love travel. Do it because you love writing. Be prepared to market yourself hard. Assume that for several years (at least), or until you get a big break, that you will need to supplement your income some other way. I would encourage people to start blogging, and to do so in an untapped niche. “A Travel Blog” is too vague, at least at first. Do you travel by bike? Do you travel to Muslim countries or Christian pilgrimage sites? Do you visit every bar in a city? Do you write reviews of coffee shops? Be unique, be specific, be persistent.

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Comments

  1. Rory Graham Posted

    Thank you Alastair for and interesting and helpful article. I’m now revising my book on trekking in Madagascar which I would like to be published and am realistic as to how likely that is to happen. Previously a friend and I did have a book published so I do know a little about how these things work. Do you have any information, another article perhaps, on self publishing/printing?

    Kind Regards Rory Graham

    Reply
  2. Rory Graham Posted

    Thank you Alastair for an interesting and helpful article. I’m now revising my book on trekking in Madagascar which I would like to be published and am realistic as to how likely that is to happen. Previously a friend and I did have a book published so I do know a little about how these things work. Do you have any information, another article perhaps, on self publishing/printing?

    Kind Regards Rory Graham

    Reply
    • Alastair Posted

      Cheers Rory – if you search around on my blog you’ll find lots of posts on it. Also read The Creative Penn’s website…

      Reply
  3. Good read. I found the bit about the publishing criteria at the end interesting. Round the world travel books are so interesting because nobody CAN corner the market there; every trip is unique and the stories are always unpredictable and inevitably really personal. Such a shame that so many crime thrillers and erotic lit get the green light in place of travelogues.

    Reply
  4. Thanks Al. I think the marketing bit is really hard but very important. Blogging has been on the decline whereas video blogging has been on the rise according to Google Trends, so unfortunately it may get even harder for bloggers to get attention. However, I think a lot of people still appreciate a good read.

    Reply

 
 

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