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Travel Writing for
Pleasure and Profit

travel writing

by Durant Imboden

Part 1:
Opportunities for travel writers

Travel and writing go together like passports and visas. Most major newspapers have travel sections, dozens of magazines are devoted to travel, book publishers churn out guidebooks to destinations great and small, and books by authors like Paul Theroux and Peter Mayle have helped to breathe new life into the long-dormant travel narrative or "armchair travel" genre.

This doesn't mean that travel writers are getting rich. (In fact, most aren't.) But it does mean there's a large audience for travel prose. You can reach that audience if you know your subject and can bring it to life through good writing.


The guidebook market is tough to crack, simply because there already are too many guidebooks chasing after a finite number of buyers. However, opportunities do come up from time to time. A couple of years ago, for example, Rough Guides used its Web site to recruit writers for a U.S. guidebook series. And I was commissioned to write Buying Travel Services on the Internet, a book for McGraw-Hill largely because of my Europe for Visitors travel site.

Self-publishing can be a viable approach in tourist markets that aren't large enough to interest the major national publishers. An entrepreneurial writer in a place like Washington's San Juan Islands, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Northern Minnesota, or Nova Scotia might be able to earn a modest income from a privately published guidebook.

(CAUTION: Before trying this approach, analyze the size of your local tourist market and make sure you don't already have competition. Also, you'll need chutzpah and marketing skills to win distribution through local bookstores, visitors' bureaus, and businesses frequented by tourists.)

Travel narrative

In the "armchair travel" genre, you need two things to succeed: an interesting topic and the ability to write a nonfiction book that reads much like a novel.

A destination that's off the beaten path is more likely to interest an editor than yet another book about Paris or Tuscany. Still, a new angle on an old subject might work. An American's lively account of two years as a chef's apprentice in French restaurants might well find a publisher. Similarly, a three-month tour of Northern Italy on horseback could be intriguing to editors and readers.

Continued on page 2


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