Hey, travel writers - when do you pitch?
January 26, 2010 8:36 AM   Subscribe

What's the best time for a travel writer to pitch a story to an editor? Before the trip, when you still have some flexibility? Or after, so you don't have to retract your well-worded promises when the place/angle turns out to be a dud?

My only travel-writing experience to date has been with editors I've known reasonably well. In those cases, I've just said that I'm going to X destination, and would they like a story? If the answer was yes, I was trusted to find a decent angle. This is probably not the norm, but it certainly made things simple.

Now I'm looking to write for a publication at which I'm not a known quantity. I've been in touch with the editor, who says it's fine to pitch in advance of the trip, if the pitch is solid. But I cant decide whether or not this is a good plan. It would great to travel with the knowledge that my idea's been approved, assuming that happens, but what if my plans totally fall apart when I'm on the ground? (Yes, I could just ask said editor about this, but I don't want to be a hand-holder, especially since I've already emailed once with some general questions.)

Anyway, I'd love to know if there's a rule of thumb - my internet searches haven't been so helpful so far. And if you think this question is better suited for a specific forum, feel free to point me in that direction. I'm a little clueless on that front, too.
posted by nicoleincanada to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I work in the travel industry so I'm in touch with both ends of the spectrum - writers and editors at publications.

My guess is that most editors like to have a fairly solid idea of the pitch before you go, which gives you the foundation for your research while you're on the road. On the other hand, that shouldn't stop you from exploring other angles in the field, and then talking to the editor when you get back and saying, "You know, while I was there, I discovered X, Y and Z, and think they'd make a great addition to the story."
posted by HeyAllie at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2010

I was a travel writer in the 90's. Someday I might go back to that. It was fun.

"Before" is the right answer. Publishers may be interested but not commit until you show them some results, but it gives them the chance to give you advice or encourage certain topics that would make the results more useful to them.

Once you have a decent relationship with a publisher, of course, they'll tell you where to go.
posted by rokusan at 9:20 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, Allie. In your experience, how solid are these solid pitches? Are people pitching trendy new restaurants/etc. sight unseen, based on blurbs from tourism boards? (I'm not criticizing this, it's all just a bit new to me.)
posted by nicoleincanada at 9:21 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry rokusan, didn't preview that last comment. Thanks for the feedback - can I pose the same question to you? How much detail do you give in those early pitches?

The relationship-building will take time (though I'm hoping I never have a publisher tell me where to go).
posted by nicoleincanada at 9:27 AM on January 26, 2010

Best answer: Half a page, covering the basics:

"I plan to go HERE, check out THESE PLACES, do THESE THINGS, and explore THESE IDEAS, to suss out information that might be useful to THIS KIND of traveler."

Basically, you're writing a book flap. The things that might make you buy a book in the shop, or at least open it up and examine it more closely? Write those things in advance.

If it's a new relationship, with no editor assigned, you should also include samples of other writing, even if it's not travel related. Or you could do what I did my first time: enclose a few pages of an 'excerpt' from A Guide to South Fake Island in which you make up everything.

(Someday I'll draw a map of that amazing subway system they have there.)
posted by rokusan at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pitches need to cover an angle that hasn't been done to death - editors are definitely attracted to that.

I was just at a conference for adventure travel and at the session featuring editors from all the Major Travel Magazines, they stressed that often they are trying to forecast the future. What are the newest trends? Unheard of destinations within a destination? Etc.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2010

Best answer: I'm a freelance journalist who writes mainly business pieces, but does about a dozen travel pieces a year for national newspapers and mags in the UK. Although most of these are now for people I now know, I pitched to all of them as an unknown or near unknown in the first instance.

I don't think there's any real rule of thumb, but I would say:

The pitch should be no more than a couple of hundred words. It should explain what makes the place compelling to the reader, what's new and interesting about it and maybe a couple of weird facts (it's famous for spider eating or its extraordinary cave houses, etc.).

If you can get a commission before you leave, of course you should do so. Don't worry about your plans falling apart. Stuff happens. Awful experiences can make good stories. And besides, if you knew exactly what was going to happen, you wouldn't be going there.

Don't be needy. Editors (I've been one) want someone who can deliver good copy on time. By all means ask questions if very important, but neediness would put me off and make me question your judgment. If you want to know what they want, read the publication.

If you don't get a commission when you go out, pitch when you return. I've probably had more success doing this than the other way round. To be honest, I think it's down to indivdual preferences. But do take notes about hotels etc.

Enjoy the time out there. Don't obsess about the piece. Your job is basically to go on holiday, be a bit more adventurous than most and write about it.

My email is on my user details - feel free to send me any specific questions.
posted by rhymer at 10:11 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all. (rhymer, I might take you up on that offer.)

I'll try to remember to update this thread later with how things worked out.
posted by nicoleincanada at 2:22 AM on January 27, 2010

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