A very rich travel writer
Michael Shapiro talks about what it takes to be a surviving freelance writer. Believe me folks, it ain't easy.
Making a living as a freelancerWanna be a great Freelance Travel Writer? Good Luck
Every June, I mark the anniversary of leaving my last full-time job, at CNET in SF. It’s been 14 years with lots of highs and lows, but I’ve never regretted the decision to walk away from the rigidity of full-time work and hang my virtual shingle. Here are some tips that have helped me make it as a freelance writer:
Following is a roundup of advice, tips, and thoughts from freelance writer and editor Michael Shapiro. These suggestions cover the business of freelancing, rather than writing advice. A student at the first Book Passage Travel Writers Conference in 1992 and a 13-time faculty member, Shapiro has developed a productive freelance career by employing the techniques below. Michael also works with writers to develop, polish, and edit stories. He can help writers place articles in top publications. Contact me for more info.
It’s not just an adventure, it’s a job: Travel writing can be romantic, but recognize it’s a job — don’t start out writing grand epiphanies about your summer vacation. Focus on service (consumer or advice) pieces, such as a story on five little-known museums in New York. You don’t have to be a superb writer to be a competent reporter. By providing service pieces, you can develop relationships with editors that lead to more interesting assignments, including destination stories. A good way to break into magazines is by writing “front-of-the-book” features, which can be as short as a couple of paragraphs.
Stick to a routine: get up in the morning; take a shower, have breakfast and go to work. Put on shoes and get dressed. Slippers and a bathrobe don’t cut it. You can tailor your schedule to fit your personality. Be sure to carve out work-free blocks of time. I find it essential to take at least one full day off each week. Part of the attraction of freelancing is flexibility, so I give myself some leeway, for example to spend a couple of weekdays on a river trip or to take an occasional afternoon off.
Accuracy first: Be a thorough and accurate reporter above all else — then strive to be an excellent writer. Clear and concise prose is important because editorial space is so tight today. You don’t have to write with the lyrical beauty of Pico Iyer to get published. You do, however, need to get the facts right. An editor will hesitate to give you another chance if you make significant errors. Most newspaper travel editors are too busy and don’t have the resources to fact-check, so double-check your facts before submitting. Use online resources to fact-check but be aware that not all info online has been vetted or updated, so confirm by phoning or seeking multiple sources for corroboration.
Find a niche: Develop an area of expertise and work it. Only after choosing Internet travel as a niche was I able to make it as a full-time freelancer. My goal was to get editors to think of me as the Net-travel guy, so when they needed a story on this topic they’d contact me. This opened the door to more literary destinations stories: Because the Washington Post had run my Net-travel pieces, the editor there knew my work and published my Cuba by bike story.