We’re not experts and you won’t find us giving presentations at blogging conferences. However, we have been earning a living from travel writing and blogging for eight years, writing for our own and other people’s websites as well as printed publications. We are also commissioning editors for two online travel websites and occasionally act as consultants to identify potential writers/bloggers for destination specific guides for an online travel company.
Finding bloggers who can make the jump from writing for themselves to being a professional blogger hasn’t always been easy and many times we’ve had to say thanks, but no thanks.
These are some of the barriers that have proved too high. By listing them we hope it provides a little bit of help to anyone out there who wants to make the leap.
Make Life Easy for the Editor
The ideal blogger is someone who makes life easy for editors by producing quality work that fits the remit and then some. If we think a person has potential, we’ll spend as much time as we can offering suggestions and advice to improve an article that hasn’t quite nailed it. However, it is incredibly time consuming. If a blogger continues to create work rather than help ease it, we have to stop using them.
I was lucky with my first paid travel writing gig. I had an editor who gave me priceless advice that I tried to follow to the letter. Learning from someone with more experience who is willing to share it is a precious gift. Sometimes people take advice on board, sometimes they don’t. When the person commissioning you advises what they need and you ignore it, there’s only going to be one outcome.
Learn to Stick to Word Count
For our own blogs we have freedom over how many words we wax lyrical with. This isn’t the case when writing for a commission and the word count is set in someone else’s stone. Sometimes I’ve got 1800, 1000, 500 or only 80 words to play with. Learning to get the required information across in 80 words is an excellent writing discipline; it makes anything longer seem like a luxury.
Keep a Strong Voice
We’ve worked with bloggers because of the personality that came across in their blog. But the moment they write for someone else, that voice can totally disappear to be replaced by the blogging equivalent of HAL (dated reference, but I’m sticking with it). It’s a common occurrence. Don’t think too much about the fact you’re writing for someone else or you might lose the voice that attracted them in the first place.
Blog, don’t be a Copywriter
One of the most common reasons we decide not to use a blogger is that they can’t produce original content that also has a personality. Often we’ve asked for quirky details and tips about specific places a writer is supposed to know well, and what we get back is copy of the type that you find on some bland travel company websites. If your content consists of the sort of information anyone can dig up after ten minutes with Google, it’s likely to get bounced back.
Write for the Reader
Learn to change tone and style to suit different audiences. It’s an essential skill if anyone is serious about writing for others. Some bloggers write only for specific groups of travellers and submit material that is suited to their readers but not the editor’s target market. It’s important to write for the audience of whoever commissions the article, not your own.
Write to Order
Whilst it’s important for people to keep your voice and personality, it’s essential to adjust to the style of the publication you’re writing for. On our destination specific online magazine we’ve had submissions that were badly researched, vague and inaccurate and just didn’t match our style at all. Always, always read a few of the publication’s articles before submitting.
There’s a line in the movie Almost Famous when Lester Bangs says to aspiring rock journo William Miller: ‘I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.’
Lots of friends commenting that your blog is great gives a warm and fuzzy feeling. But unless it really is wonderful (in which case you’ll have people you don’t know telling you as well) it won’t do you any favours at all, save for massaging the ego. The first time you submit a piece to an editor who will appraise your work with a far more objective eye, feelings are likely to get hurt. Park them and move on. As long as the editor is constructive about why a blog doesn’t make the grade it will help you develop your writing a lot more than well-meaning friends ever will. Constructive criticism isn’t just good, it’s a precious key.
Step Outside your Comfort Zone
This is one of the biggest problems we’ve encountered when commissioning features from bloggers whose only experience of writing is on their own blog. On our own blogs we have complete control to write exactly what we want, about subjects we choose or know well and possibly without adhering to any set structure. With paid gigs we have to follow someone else’s game plan and rules. Until you get use to this, it can feel uncomfortably restrictive. This passes.
Writing is a craft
A lot of writers say that the first article they ever submitted anywhere was a pile of garbage. I cringe and want to hide away forever when I think of mine.
Before I crossed my fingers and sent that first submission straight to someone’s waste bin, I read reams and reams about the art of travel writing. I pored over books and online articles giving advice about article construction, the use of grammar and punctuation and hints and tips about good practice and what were considered no-nos (the outlawed exclamation mark comes to mind). I don’t always get it right and continually strive to improve as a writer.
That’s the point; writing is a craft. And crafts need to be learned.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow him on Google+