It's possible to be a travel writer and not get involved with electronic publishing, but it wouldn't be a good idea for someone starting out now. There's simply too big a frontier out there to ignore, and too much competition from those already in the game for the narrowing range of print outlets.
There's a good reason that critics in the early days of the Internet said that WWW stood for the "wild wild west." They were comparing getting started electronically to the Great Land Rush of 1893, when the US government opened up the Cherokee Strip in the northern part of Oklahoma Territory, to anyone who wanted to go in and stake a claim among the 42,000 parcels of land available. There were thousands of horses and wagons waiting when the rush began with the firing of a cannon at noon on September 16, and about 100,000 people swarmed across the line. Some raced along on bicycles, or horseback or on foot.
The web is even more chaotic. How many websites are there? Way back in 2005, Google said it searched more than 8 billion web pages, but now they just say "billions".
What about travel and travel writing? In late May, 2008, Google said it would search 1.2 billion pages on "travel," about 15,400,000 on "travel writing." Given Google's propensity for searching beyond the realm of common sense, it's reasonable to say that there shouldn't be 14,300,000 pages on "travel writing classes," either. Even "Key West Travel Writing Workshop," the name of my course in Florida every winter, gets a 181,000-page figure, far too many results. So we know the search seems too broad, but we also know there are thousands of writers out there, many with websites and even more with their own blogs. Three years ago, Pew Internet estimated a new blog was being created every three seconds, or 23,000 a day, and this year, Google said it would search 817,000,000 pages for plain old "blogs" and 30,300,000 for "travel writing blogs."
If you aspire to travel writing today, you must have your own website and your own blog. Each will enable an editor to learn more about your writing ability and style, to begin with, and each serves as your public relations window to the world. In addition, keep your eyes open and be ready to do your digital story telling with links, photos, a searchable database, text messaging, audio clips, and yes, even print.
Finding a Site
If you surf the net a lot, you will already have run into favorite sites for which you would love to write. Some will relate solely to travel (such as www.frommers.com), others will be all-purpose publishers, such as Salon or Slate (the latter owned by the Washington Post, by the way). You still have to create good proposals to catch an editor's eye. A site like Salon, for instance, said last year it gets about 25 submissions a day. You should try to get paid about $50 an hour minimum, more if the publication and your status allow. (We will get into how to create a good proposal later in this series.) If you can find someone to pay you to blog, you should charge at least $25 per posting, more if you are an expert in the field covered or if you have some kind of fame, locally or otherwise. Should you land a job with a going commercial website, you may be able to earn $150 to $300 per article, or on staff maybe start at around $25,000 per year.
Don't forget portable book readers or e-book reading devices. Introduced in late November 2007, Amazon's Kindle ($399) weighs about ten ounces and holds more than 200 books, the company says. Sony has a Reader ($295), introduced in 2006. And the regular printed book is not quite dead, yet. The Book Industry Study Group estimates 408,000,000 books will be sold this year, making about $15 billion dollars. In late 2007, Ipsos Public Affairs conducted a survey in which 27 percent of Americans read 15 or more books per year, though an equal 27% had not read one book in the previous year.
My advice: write your book, but publish it electronically and in print. Get ready for innovations yet to come. We may yet see books published for cell phone, Japanese teenagers having invented the genre a few years back and publishing at last count over one million "books" in this manner.
This is the seventh in a series of "How to be a Travel Writer." The author, a contributing editor here and former editor-in-chief at the Fodor guidebook series, teaches at the Key West Travel Writing Workshop, which he founded in 1991, every January and February. Details at www.heritagehousemuseum.org.