Thursday, April 17, 2014

Itching to be a travel writer? Read these books first

When talking to people about what I do for a living, I often get asked, "Gee, what would it take for me to become a travel writer?"

(This usually comes right after, "Boy, I'd sure love to have your job!" when you've regaled the person with tales of your latest adventures.

Before you can travel, you have to be able to write; 
before you start writing, you should read the books below.

It's not easy being a travel writer, although many people do find they have a knack for creating good travel prose. Perhaps I should re-phrase that: it's not easy to be a successful travel writer.

However, if you are set in trying it out, you will need to invest in a bit of study, first.

To help, here are “Five Books Every Travel Writer Should Have.” 

Some of these books are very basic, and if you’re already an experienced freelance writer, they will seem rudimentary. Some of them do not deal with "travel-writing" at all. But if you're a newbie, you have to walk before you run. And if you're already running, even the best pros experience “slumps” from time to time - and like a slumping hockey player trying to get his game back on track, it sometimes helps to go back to the basics and remind ourselves about how we got there.

You may notice one thing that is absent from my list: any book dealing specifically with travel writing online or travel writing in social media. I don’t know of any that hard-copy books that deal specifically with travel writing, although there are several books about social media and blogging in general. Because these types of media change so quickly, you're probably better off borrowing e-books from your local library or digging up info online about writing for websites or social media platforms.
Once you've mastered freelance basics and
queries, you can move on to this book.

So here are the books:

  1. Beginning Writer’s Answer Book, edited by Kirk Polking. This is one of several books published by Writer’s Digest Books. It’s the first book I read about freelancing, and if you’re new to freelance writing, you really need to read it. It outlines how to get started, important terms to know, some of the really important “do’s” and “don’t’s” about working with editors and publishers. Even if you have been freelancing for a while, it’s not a bad book to have for reference.
  1. The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. This is the second-most important book a freelance writer needs. Once you’ve learned the rules about freelancing from the book above, this one teaches you how to break them all – successfully. There are times and situations where it’s okay – in some instances it may even be imperative – to break the rules. This book helps you figure out when and where those are. It covers topics like simultaneous submissions and/or queries, calling editors on the telephone, etc. It’s written in a very entertaining style, as well.
  1. How to Writer Attention-Grabbing Query and Cover Letters by John Wood. This is another Writer’s Digest book. When it comes right down to it, there are two essential aspects of successful freelance writing: A) The ability to deliver good quality writing, on time and on target for an editor; and, B) The ability to get an assignment in the first place so you can deliver great articles. This book helps with the second item. It deals with soliciting work from periodical publications as well as books. In addition to query and cover letters, it also provides advice about how to handle other forms of correspondence with editors. As I mentioned in the intro, it’s not a bad idea every now and then to re-read some of this stuff and eliminate any less-than-desirable habits we may have picked up without even being aware.
  1. Writing Travel Books and Articles by Richard Cropp, Barbara Braidwood and Susan M. Boyce. Okay. The first three books I’ve listed here are not travel-specific; however, if you’re not a good freelance writer to begin with, these last two – or any book dealing with just travel writing - won’t help you at all. (Besides, how many “how to be a travel writer” books do you really need?) This book was my bible when I became interested in concentrating more on freelance travel writing. It covers some of the same basics as the books above, but without as much detail. Then it goes on to provide many more details about all the different aspects of travel writing, including the importance of images. Which leads us to …
    Basic photography skills are
    a must for any travel writer.
  1. Digital Travel Photography – Digital Field Guide by David D. Busch. If you want to be a successful freelance travel writer, you have to be able to take good photographs. Not great - but good. This book briefly covers the basics that are essential to any kind of good digital photography, and then spends most of its pages focusing on how to produce successful digital travel photos. It goes into a great deal of detail about the different elements as well as the different types of travel photography. It also offers a list of online resources at the back. Best of all, it’s really small enough to travel with, in the event you need to refresh your memory with some forgotten detail, while on the road. It does not really delve into getting your travel photos published, but if you’ve read the first four books listed here, you’re good to go.
If those five are not enough …

Five more books you, as a travel writer, may want to read, or have for reference or inspiration (in no particular order): 

  • The 10 Best of Everything, by Nathaniel and Andrew Lande
  • Travel Yoga, by Darrin Zeer
  • 1000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz
  • A Sense of Place, by Michael Shapiro
  • Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher. 
Travel Yoga is not about writing - but if you do pursue the life of a travel writer, it may come in handy. And while the last book is not about travel or travel writing, as travel writers, each one of us has the power to change the world - something we should always bear in mind when we put words to paper or into cyberspace.

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