Magazine Writing: The Travel Piece

Let’s face it—almost every writer would love to land the coveted “travel article” in a glossy magazine. Writing about a destination is considered one of the most glamorous things you could do as a writer—but how do you break in? Competition is fierce, and there are some pretty established pros out there doing it, so knowing where to begin is important.

The Good News

It is possible for even a newbie writer to break into this market—if—they have a unique angle and compelling story to tell. This is one reason I often suggest people write about where they live. That way you can share something about the area that others are not likely to know. Finding the right angle is everything, and if you can come up with one, you’ve got a shot.

The Bad News

Finding a unique angle isn’t as easy as you might think.

I live in a city that is known for its Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. I generally avoid pitching that as an idea, because it has been done to death. I did, however, land a travel piece in a major art magazine by pitching a piece on our local arts district, which has some interesting art and artisan stores. Most people outside of the area have never heard of it—which is part of what makes it so interesting.

As for “angle” – I did write about the Frank Lloyd Wright district in my neighborhood, but I avoided pitching the play-by-play of what buildings are there and how to take the tour. Instead I wrote a first person piece on how my parents and I used to take a drive through the district when I was a child to look at all the architecture—and how many years later I still found it comforting.

Think outside the box.

Tips for the Pitch

Here are some suggestions to help you fine-tune your idea for a travel piece in a magazine:

+ Ask yourself if you would be interested in reading the article you are pitching. If you have read anything like it already, scratch the idea—or find a more compelling angle.

+ Brainstorm. A mega list helps open up the possibilities.

+ Let the artwork lead you. If you already know of a source for great photography, it may be an idea worth pursuing. Remember that glossies need high-resolution photos, and if you can provide them (or a contact for them), it can help sell your idea.

+ Make sure you let the editor know why this idea is unique. Capture their interest with your query letter by providing a fascinating statistic or an amazing anecdote.

+ Match the style of the travel article with the magazine you are pitching. Don’t send an idea for an overseas vacation to a publication that only runs weekend trips. Don’t pitch a first-person piece to a magazine unless you have seen an article like that among their pages. Do your homework. This is one area where writers make major errors. Don’t be one of the casualties.

+ Make sure you mention it if you have photos (or access to photos/artwork) when you make the pitch.

+ Avoid the “I went here and did this and that” approach. It's easier to write this way, but the vast majority of magazines are not looking for a laundry list of places. Concentrate instead on developing a sense of place and some highlighted moments.

+ Read. Read travel stories. Read travel writers. Read the travel pieces in magazines you’d like to pitch. Read all kinds of styles, voices and publications. This will help you learn what is interesting, what the current style is and how to craft your query for a particular magazine.

+ Write. Pick a travel writer you like and try to mimic a short piece that they have written. This can help you develop your voice and it will also assist you in learning how to select details that might interest your reader. It’s good practice.

Getting a travel article accepted by a magazine is possible--you just have to have a solid approach and the willingness to learn how to craft the query in a way that will catch the editor's eye. Hopefully I've shared some things with you here that will help set you on your way...

If anyone else has a tip to share--please feel free!

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Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

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