Sunday, August 23, 2020

Follow Up Thoughts on the WMC Travel and Wine Writing Panel

Zephyr did a great job hosting a virtual online conference. But by not being in person, it was difficult to get a bead on the immediate needs of the audience by a quick “show of hands’ type poll to determine how to best tailor the content.

We never did mention that what our panel was really discussing-- wine tourism.
Wine + Travel = Wine Tourism. 

I think it’s important to think about your travel writing from wine tourism perspective because it will help focus your pitches and how you approach a story, be it for outside media or your blog. I actually have a Wine Tourism tab on my blog. Please Note—I have not updated this blog regularly (or at all really) in the last several years because paying work is my priority. Some posts are courtesy posts about trips for stories I could not place out.

One thing I wanted to say on the panel is it helps to know what your goals are. What do you want to achieve by adding travel content into your wine writing?

* Do you want to be published in high profile print media (National newspapers or glossy magazines) or online media?

* Are you looking to start a freelance career? Or transition into full-time freelance writing? (Spoiler alert: It’s not easy or profitable.)

* Do you just want to augment your wine blog with travel writing?

* Do you want wine samples and press trips?

You must know what you want before you can get it. I believe once you truly know what you want—nothing can stop you.

The Pursuit of a Published By-Line
Some people are obsessed with getting published because they think it gives them legitimacy. Yes, in many respects it does, but your work is worthy regardless of whether it is published or not. You don’t need anyone else to confer status upon you. Own it for yourself first.

I have travel writer friends who have “by-line fever” they just want to see their name in print. That’s their motivation. (The only place I want to see my name is on the check!)

Unfortunately “by-line fever” can lead to the dreaded “work for exposure” trap.  Meaning no pay, work for free. You may feel it’s a quick ramp up to publishing riches but it’s not. It just serves to drive down quality and pay rates across the board and hurts all writers. Don’t work for free or “per click” rates.  That’s what your blog is for!

Blogs are back again. I see more and more PR’s happy to see work published on blogs as they too are faced with the disruption and collapse of the traditional print industry as they try to get their message out.

Your voice and opinion is worthy and you will find an audience and attract notice if you bring a fresh perspective to the topic and inject it with your personality and sensibilities.
—Be yourself but have a point.
—Inform and entertain.

NOTE—do not publish anything on your blog that you think you might want to pitch out. If it’s been published, even on your blog, it will not be considered.
These days more and more work is assigned in house. So it’s difficult to pitch unless your story is newsworthy, you have a special knowledge in some way, or the pretty much guaranteed to be accepted—it’s about a celebrity and you have secured an interview.

To break in to print try pitching the personal page or the essay portion of the magazine.
Always read several issues of the periodical you are pitching to get a feel for the tone and style before you pitch.

Think beyond the standard glossy Wine and Travel periodicals —affinity group periodicals often have money and budget. Look to alternative print outlets in travel such as: 

—Airline magazines although these are budgets are shrinking and the wonderful Southwest Air magazine folded recently.

—Regional AAA publications.

—Lifestyle publications in which feature wine/travel content
            Golf, Boating, Etc.

—Professional Trade Organization Magazines
            Doctors, Dentists, Insurance, Realtors, etc.
The “I” in Travel Writing

In the panel discussion I said that historically there was no “I” in travel writing, but I think that’s no longer the case—what I meant is I do think it is acceptable to inject some of your personal experience into a story—but not at the expense of the subject matter. 

There are instances where you may be you the lynchpin or conduit through which the story or an element of the story is told or illuminated. This type of storytelling is normally only in the personal essay, although I see it happening more in other types of articles.

But I do agree with Per that the tedious regurgitation of a trip in the form of a travel diary entry such as —I did XXX, and then we went to XXX —is always to be avoided.

Editor Feedback and Improving Your Writing
Getting feedback from an editor on your work is valuable and important. But these days you may not get much more than a few minor changes.

Anthologies are a good way to break into travel writing and editors do spend considerable time with you to shape your story. It’s a great learning experience, you will get paid (usually just an honorarium $100 and a few copies of the book) but you are published and now have a good credit/example of your work.

There are many annual Travel Writing Anthologies that have open submissions throughout the year. Just Google calls for submissions. Unfortunately there are not really any Wine Writing Anthologies—but someone should get right on that! ;-)

I totally agree with Per that you must READ.
If you want to be a writer you must first be a reader.

Take a class or attend a writing conference. There is very little that you can learn in a one hour panel talk or workshop on writing. You really need to spend the time and money on qualified instruction.

Some Conference Examples:

Consider taking a local writing workshop or online travel writing class.

Final Thoughts

Wine or Travel Writing as a full-time career is not impossible—just improbable given the shrinking of outlets, reduced staff and continual pay cuts.

That being said —this pandemic will eventually end, and while the virus might linger forever, preventative methods and vaccines will allow for resumption of travel. But what remains to be seen is what the travel and wine tourism industry will look like—what will change, what will end and what new ideas and modes will emerge? What types of destinations will rebound first. What about the cruise industry—winemaker cruises have been popular in the past, how may that change?

As you consider what topics you want to write about, seek to observe and note what’s changing, what’s just beyond the topic, the story hidden within the story.

There’s a thing astronomers call averted vision—it’s how when you look at a star or bright object you need to look slightly away to the edge to see it clearly —and I think that’s the same technique you need to find a good story, be aware of what’s happening on the periphery.

Additional Resources:

Per Karlsson’s notes on the panel


Good luck!

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