After spending the day hearing travel experts give advice on where to travel and how to plan travel, I ended my time at The New York Times Travel Show by attending a panel focused on helping travel pros get better at what they do. This year was the first year that the topic applied directly to me, so I made sure to listen extra-hard.
Sonja Stark of PilotGirl Productions offered tips on how we could improve our videography. To be honest, much of her advice went right over my head because I have absolutely zero videography experience, but a lot of the other audience members seemed to be really engaged with what she was saying. What I took away from Sonja’s presentation were general tips (e.g., shoot when the light is right, spend sufficient time getting establishing shots, focus on where the action is) as well as a newfound understanding for how difficult and how expensive doing videography on a professional level is–the insurance requirements and the process of even getting through airport security and getting permits for shooting on location are just mind-boggling.
Max Hartshorne of GoNOMAD followed, and he gave a crisp, helpful top-ten list for travel writers hoping to get published and/or improve their blogs. His tips (with some elaboration from me) were:
- Include photos in your queries–these days, people expect authors to provide their own photos for their stories; plus, the photos could be a way to drive home the hook of your piece.
- Let the people reading your query know where you’ve been published–this is your chance to impress them, and that could improve your chances at publication.
- If you already know someone who’s being published, mention that in your query–maybe that person’s good luck can rub off on you!
- Include a question or two (not too many) in your query–this demonstrates your engagement with whomever is reading your query and is a way to start a dialogue.
- Reference current movies and books–this will make your piece more topical, which is of prime importance in deciding what gets published and when.
- Find a narrow focus–too many people have queries that are too broad; if your focus is narrow, you will actually be able to do your subject matter justice and you will be able to better demonstrate why your piece is unique and, thus, deserving of publication.
- Don’t just use your voice: quote people–this will give a greater sense of authenticity to your piece not to mention make it more interesting to readers.
- Keep blog posts short–in this day and age, people coming to your blog want to read something that is easily digestible.
- Offer to have your blog published in tandem with a daily paper–while this might be harder to do in a place like New York (although you could always look to niche papers), this would be a really great way for a blogger in a smaller market to gain access to a broader audience; the paper benefits by also getting exposed to a different audience as well as by gaining additional interesting content for its readers.
- Comment on other people’s blogs, Facebook pages, etc., and link back to your blog–the travel writing community is very small, and everyone helps each other out; by being connected in this way, you help to expose your readers to a broader range of bloggers (thus providing your readers with more value), you improve your blogging by being exposed to what else is going on in the field, you provide support for other bloggers, and you make connections with other bloggers who can help to support you in reaching your goals.
The most meaningful tip that I received at the panel was from Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick. In addition to the brand-building presentation that she gave at the beginning of the panel, she was kind enough to speak with me one-on-one after the panel was over and answer a question of mine, namely, the one piece of advice that she would give to a new blogger. Basically, she told me to just do it, more specifically, that I should publish frequently and regularly–at least twice a week. This is definitely something that I need to work on, but her words have definitely pushed me to improve as I continue on this journey of travel blogging. Let’s see where this takes me!
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