Over the course of the year, I give about a dozen speeches on travel across North America. Inevitably, when I sign books afterwards, a familiar scenario will play out.
I’ll hand back the book on which I’ve just scrawled my name and notice that the individual standing in front of me looks very, very nervous… and doesn’t want to move away from the table. He or she will chitchat for a few minutes before taking a deep breath and blurting out, “How can I become a travel writer?”
Of course, there’s no one path to this type of career change. But I do have advice, which I share, and it boils down to this: One of the best first steps is attending the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, which is held each August in Corte Madera, California (right outside of San Francisco).
I know, I know. There are a lot of gatherings for travel writers and bloggers. But I think Book Passage is the best for beginning travel writers for three key reasons.
A Focus on Craft: Unlike other travel writer conferences where networking is the key activity, attendees come to Book Passage to master basic and advanced writing and photography techniques. Each morning, they attend a three-hour-long seminar, studying for three days in a row with one teacher or a team of two teachers, and covering such topics as travel memoirs, newspaper and/or magazine writing, or creating one’s own brand through blogging.
It's terrifically hands-on, with the students creating their own short pieces, reading work aloud, and learning how to better edit their own work. In the afternoons and evenings, there are lectures and panels that cover different genres of travel writing and photography as well as sessions on the business side of the equation.
All-Star Teachers: And I realize that I’m going to sound like quite the braggart with that headline, as I have taught at Book Passage over the years, and will be doing so again this summer. But I don’t refer to myself. I’m in awe of my fellow faculty, which has included novelist Isabel Allende, The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean, and Pico Iyer.
This year’s staff includes movie-star-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy (who was named Travel Journalist of the Year a few years ago by the Society of American Travel Writers), Tim Cahill (one of the founders of Outside magazine), Catharine Hamm (Travel Editor of The Los Angeles Times), and Don George (founder of the conference and an Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Traveler).
Not only are these folks, and others on the faculty, all whip-smart, they’re also unusually kind and generous with their time and attention. They’d have to be, as the entire faculty donates their services for free, honored to be part of this event.
Intimacy: Unlike TBEX and the SATW yearly conference, which are held in the types of places that house conventions, Book Passage is a small bookstore. There’s room for no more than 200 students at the conference, and all but one of the meals are held on the store’s patio and shared between teachers and students. That means that even though the conference isn’t focused on networking, some great networking can be done. I’ve hired authors here, and several of the conference’s faculty are alumni who got their first jobs here.
The Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers conference will take place August 9–12. Go to www.bookpassage.com for info on price, housing options, the detailed schedule, and more.
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