Want to be a Travel Writer? Don’t Write for Free.

0 Posted by - July 24, 2008 - Life

If you’re an aspiring writer or better yet, an aspiring travel writer, you might run across several opportunities to make a name for yourself by writing for free.

I know many people have covered this before, but recent events have changed my mind about the entire write-for-exposure market.  If you had asked me two months ago, I would have said, “Sure!  Why Not!”.  Now I’m convinced that the fastest path for getting paid for your work, is to get paid for your work.

Online Contests
The recent Spirit of Exploration Contest held by Bombay Sapphire (the gin in the blue bottle) asked bloggers, like me, to write a single essay about, wait for it, The Spirit of Exploration.  At first I thought this was a great idea and even sent it to some of my online contacts encouraging them to submit.  But it occurred to me:  this was a blog with no traffic, they wanted free content from bloggers, the bloggers would hopefully send their readers to the site and if you won (by getting the most positive votes, ie. you sent the most traffic), you get a jpg icon that says “Bombay Sapphire Winner” to post on your blog.  You write, send them traffic and get nothing but a jpg I could have made in Photoshop.

Disappointed, I decided to write a snarky version about the Spirit of Exploration and submitted it as my form of protest.  I began,

“The “spirit of exploration” is a carefully designed play on words intended to make you purchase high end liquor.”

I then proceeded to cram the essay full of random observations about travel, listing as many countries as I could and generally being a wise ass.  They posted it.  Clearly they weren’t even reading these things.  If you’re curious, you can read the full version here.

And I was right.  You know how many people click on the link to my website?  2.  My mother has sent more traffic to my site.  (Hi Mom, yes I will call you, and by the way I won’t talk to strangers in Paris anymore).

The Unpaid Content Writer

The writer Rolf Potts had an announcement this week on his website vagabonding.  They are looking for a new writer, unpaid, with the not-too-subtle hint that you will get massive exposure from writing on his site.

Several writers have moved on to paid positions after writing for Vagablogging, and now– I can tell you from personal experience– they’re really raking in the dough.

Now I have immense respect for Rolf, his books and his writing in general.  If he wants to open his blog to what amounts to extended guest blogging, that’s all well and good.  But I have a hard time believing that this is truly opening doors for people.  First, there is no link to the author’s website when they post.  There isn’t even an author bio.  So if I am an editor and I love the writing by Lea Woodward, I would have to google her name to track her down.  Secondly, the writing style of the site is usually short, travel related quips.  This isn’t exactly allowing these authors to showcase their best work.  I know, because I follow many of them on other sites like World Hum, Brave New Traveler and Gadling, where they both get paid and write more intensively on any given subject.

Finally, I don’t think there is necessarily a causal relationship between writing on Vagablogging and then making it as a writer.  These are good writers, who get published plenty of other places.  Are they really using their clips from Rolf’s site in their query letters to paying gigs?

Feel free to apply (deadline July 25th), but I would hope for less carrot dangling and more real incentives.  Link back to the authors.  Create writer’s bios.  Make it easy to find all the posts by a single author.  Or (gasp) pay them a little bit.

Writing for a Little

If you want to be a published travel writer, there are so many sites that will pay you and the barrier to entry is relatively small.  You have to have an angle.  You must write crisply.  Most importantly your content should get lots of hits from Digg, Stumble or Search Engines– for example, write a top 10 list or a controversial subject.

I recently wrote a post for The Traveler’s Notebook called 21 Trains that are Cheaper than Flying.  Granted I wasn’t paid a huge sum of money.  The truth is, you can’t make a living doing this, unless you can produce 5 articles a day.  However they also linked to this site and listed my author’s profile.  In the days after the article launched I got about 50 visitors from that site, but the good news, 30 of them became subscribers (hello and welcome!).  If you have a blog, you’ll know that getting people to stick around your site (not just visiting only to leave forever) is your main objective if you’re trying to grow.  To me, this was an added value that they didn’t have to pay for, but is highly valuable to me.  If I could recreate this by writing an article once a week, I would have 1500 subscribers by the end of a year (not likely, but there’s the math).

The Exceptions

Guest blogging will always be an exception for me.  I will write for anyone who asks (as long as you don’t all ask at once).  Also, I think contests (with prizes) are fun and easy can be a good way to interact with the community.  For example, Nomadic Matt has a contest on his site right now.  Also, if you are writing for a good cause, like Julie Collazo who just launched a three week series on her blog (sans ads, even) about the children in Colombia.  She’s posting articles written by the students about their country in Spanish and translated into English.  It’s important work, and she clearly feels passionate about.  In these cases, I wouldn’t hestitate at all.

The Bottom Line

If you want to write for free, be selective.  Make sure you’re really getting something out of it.  On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that the experienced travel writers on sites like travelwriters.com have a good reason for being against it.  Exposure is priceless, but it’s so hard to quantify that it’s easy for unscrupulous marketers to offer phantom rewards.  Besides, getting paid for your work is a great way to measure your progress as a writer and to make sure that your focusing on topics that are financially feasible.  If your goal is to make a living writing, why not start now?

What do you think? Be honest.  Would you write for free?  Are there conditions you use to evaluate opportunities?  How has it worked out for you?

  • http://www.trifter.com/Practical-Travel/Budget-Travel/Seven-Phenomenal-Websites-That-Will-Save-You-Hundreds-Next-Time-You-Travel.178077 Mox

    AlmostFearless,

    Love what you are doing. I aspire to become a travel film documentarian/photographer/writer. I have started writing some articles on how to save some money when traveling, because I’m poor and in college but still manage to travel around the world!

    Because I’m a college student and enjoy writing, I use triond.com to publish articles through, and get paid. There’s so many different ways to approach the situation when it comes to getting paid for what you love. Wouldn’t it be great to find that happy equilibrium between making money from what you do and still enjoying it. I hope you can through your website, I recommend people to this site constantly.

    Here’s an article I just wrote about cheap travel websites, other than just expedia or priceline. It’s for the real life travelers.

    http://www.trifter.com/Practical-Travel/Budget-Travel/Seven-Phenomenal-Websites-That-Will-Save-You-Hundreds-Next-Time-You-Travel.178077

    -Safe Travels,

    Mox

    Moxs last blog post..W. Sparks

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa

    I agree 100%. As a writer you have to value your work and then make others value it too. I’ve gotten a number of emails from people creating new blogs and asking me to write for it for nothing but the exposure. Sorry, I’m not interested. I find it to be an especially impertinent request when the site is making (or intends to make) money. I’m supposed to provide the manpower, while they make the profits? How dumb do they think I am?

    And while I hate to burst any bubbles, I have to say that no big, well-paying publication is going to be impressed by something you published on a site that accepts anything from anybody. They want to know that you’ve already been vetted, at least a bit.

    If you’re trying to get your foot in the door, it’s best to start small, but you should still demand to be paid. Check out local newspapers and regional magazines, along with websites that do pay. (And if you want to go ahead and query National Geographic, I’m all for you doing that too. Some people get the lucky breaks, why not you?)

    And while we’re ranting, can I please ask other writers and aspiring writers to inform themselves about rights issues and fight hard against publishers that want all rights or works-made-for-hire? You—not big conglomerates—deserve to make money from your work, but as long as some writers are willing to sign that publisher-gets-everything contract, it’s going to just get harder and harder for writers to hold on to rights.

  • http://lifeinflight.wordpress.com Daniel

    Great article, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve always felt that if another entity gains something from your work, you should be compensated in some sort of way. This is especially important on the Internet, where it’s almost too easy for someone to steal material and use it to his or her own advantage.

    For me, I really enjoy writing, and right now, I think I’m still writing for myself. I’m trying to find my niche, so I’m content with finding a steady (and hopefully growing) audience. I’d write for free to a reputable site if it’d help me do that.

    Daniels last blog post..When a writer gets confused

  • http://www.nomadicmatt.com Nomadic Matt

    I tend to agree but with some caveats. I think that some writing is good for exposure. For example, I’ve written for Vagabondish.com. Mike, the guy who runs the site, doesn’t pay but the site is heavily visited and the link from a major site helps my site as well as get me click through traffic. That alone is enough for me but I wouldn’t go around writing for a lot of mags for free but doing one for the exposure, especially when you start off is good.

    Guest blogging is an exception. It helps build a blogging community and speaking of which, you guest blog is up today!

  • http://itpilgrimage.wordpress.com IT Pilgrim

    Christine, that is good advice, but I wonder if it holds true for other genres of writing as well …

    Pilgrim

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    Eva explored this very issue over at Vagabondish – http://www.vagabondish.com/travel-writing-for-free-worth-it/

    Great points especially measuring your progress as a travel writer.

    However, it does boil down to doing your homework and being a visionary. Like Nomadic Matt said, if the reputable site (aka Vagabondish) is going to get you closer to getting the big paying jobs as well as free exposure on Google and blog hits, why not?! (within reason of course).

    Free press always pays off in the long run.

    I recently did a free dispatch that was a no brainer for me!

    Lolas last blog post..Learning Swedish: 5 Lessons Learned So Far

  • Christine

    Theresa: I just want to point out to everyone that Theresa is an editor at the Smithsonian. I agree though that the value you personally place on your work is paramount. Especially in the small industry of travel writing, if I am aware of what sites pay and don’t pay, you can bet future editors are as well.

    Daniel: That should have been my other exception: writing on your own blog. You make a good point and I think if you own the content and you can use it as a proof of concept to future editors, then it’s a good deal. I would hate to write something for free and have it take off. I have had single posts get thousands of views (and in one case over 100K) and I would much rather those people see my work than line the pockets of some dot com that isn’t willing to pay their writers.

    Matt and Lola: I think if there you’re going for exposure for your website, they have high traffic and they link to your blog, then the numbers can definitely work out. In the case of vagablogging.net, I actually have higher alexa website ranking, plus they don’t link back, so it’s not a good deal. But if I knew I could get significant traffic (especially since my site is monetized) then it would be worth it for sure. Personally, I find that you can still get a good amount of exposure from paying gigs, so I’m still leaning in that direction.

    IT Pilgrim: I’m not sure what genres you are referring to, but I can only guess the same would hold true. Do you have a specific example?

  • http://feeds.feedburner.com/AsianRamblings Stevo

    Christine: I completely agree. There are too many websites/contests, that want articles for free. And, they want all rights. Kiss your prose goodbye and get nothing in return? No thanks.

    For you Facebook users: Have your read the Terms of Service on Facebook? You know they own and can republish everything you post, right? Your great travel photos could be used in a book and you’d never see a dime.

    Stevos last blog post..going for broke

  • Eva

    Hey Christine,

    Good post! I think our conclusions (mine are in the link Lola already posted) are strikingly similar – even though I came down on the side of writing for free, I agreed that the bottom line is to be selective.

    I have to stick up for Rolf and Vagablogging, though – I have both to thank for significant, tangible progress in my writing career. Aaron was being a little tongue in cheek about the raking in of dough, I think, but he was serious about the overall message. The fact that a number of Vagabloggers (past and present) are writing for Gadling and World Hum isn’t really a coincidence.

    It’s not just a matter of exposure through the site, either – Rolf doesn’t have cash to throw at us, but he does have some of the best connections in the business, and he goes out of his way to hook his writers up with paid opportunities. I don’t like to think of it as strictly a something-for-something exchange, because I chose to write for the site without any guarantees, and I like doing it, but it’s certainly been worth my time!

  • Eva

    ps: While we’re on the topic, until just over a year ago, writing for World Hum involved writing for free – and a whole heap of top-notch travel writers went for it anyway. Instead of dragging the writers’ market down, the site’s success proved that there IS a demand for high-quality, literary travel writing. Enter the Travel Channel, and now World Hum is a paying publication. We all benefit. :)

  • Lily

    Great post. I think this happens in a lot of areas, people wanting talent for free. And you just have to stick to your guns. My question is – where do you get started with travel writing, where can you find postings? Is there a particular site that all travel writers go to? I’ve read countless articles but no clear guidelines on how to get started… Any advice appreciated! I love to travel and do it often so it would be great to get something out of it, since I love writing as well.

  • http://www.parisianspring.blogspot.com Tanya

    Did anyone else note the awesomeness of Christine’s post on Bombay’s site?

  • Christine

    Eva: To be honest it’s probably unfair to target vagablogging, but it was timely and the way the announcement was written left a bad taste in my mouth. If Rolf is hooking writers up with editors and promoting their careers, then there is a real value from that.

    As far as writing for free for World Hum, I still don’t know if writing for a startup (last year) for free is the best way to further your career. The success World Hum has had is great, but if they weren’t picked up by the Travel Channel, then you’d be stuck with a bunch of clips from an obscure online site. I know that Rolf also wrote for free for them, but he is already an established author… when you’re just starting out, you’re not giving a small site a leg up, you’re just bankrolling the effort.

    I knew this article would cause some problems, especially for people I really respect like you, Lola and Matt who have all done writing for free and are finding success elsewhere. I’m not trying to say you made the wrong choice, just that I am suspicious of anyone offering me something I can’t quantify.

    Tell Rolf to link to his authors! It costs him nothing and it would just be a nice gesture, in my opinion! Also he should have written the post himself about looking for an author, because at least then you’d know he’s truly active with the site and stands behind these claims.

    This is a great discussion and I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments. I think there is more than one way to make a career for yourself, this is just my take on the direction I want to go. There are much better writers than myself who have found mucho dinero via the write-for-free route, but there are plenty of others who have languished in the “can’t get paid squat” dead zone.

  • Christine

    Lily: Here are some resources I use:

    The Writer’s Market: http://www.writersmarket.com/Default.aspx

    It’s 3.99 a month or 22.99 for the year. It lists all of the print publications for writers, not just for travel but for everything. Here you can search for publications that take freelance writing, find out their submission guidelines and pay rate. They also have lots of articles about writing a good query letter, marketing yourself and legal issues. If you go to a major bookstore you can also find the print version, but I prefer the online, especially when traveling.

    Travel Writer’s: http://www.travelwriters.com

    $59/year. They have a great pdf download of all the travel related print publications and details. They also will send you press releases and press trip information. If you don’t want to pay, you can still check out their forums for free (a great resource for travel writers).

    Problogger.net http://jobs.problogger.net/

    If you want to go the blogging route, you can check out the listings on problogger.net. These are typically work for hire, and aren’t the best gigs, but there it is. I made $30 by responding to one of the posts and doing what amounted to 15 minutes worth of work. They also regularly post openings for the B5Media network, which can include some popular sites.

    http://matadornetwork.com/, http://gadling.com, http://worldhum.com,

    If you want to write for an online magazine, these all pay. Matador even has a “bounty board” http://matadortravel.com/travel-classifieds/bounty-board that lists ideas that they want to see turned into articles.

  • http://www.women-on-the-road.com Scribetrotter

    I think it depends completely on circumstances.

    I’ve been a professional writer and earned well from publications. Writing for high-end commercial media means I’d expect to get paid top dollar.

    I’ve been a magazine editor – relatively specialized so low circulation and non-commercial. Even so, I paid writers, though not much.

    I now have my own website – it’s mostly non-commercial (barring Google Ads and a couple of affiliates that basically pay for hosting each year). I can’t afford to pay writers, but I do give exposure, bios, links back and pretty much anything that will help the writer. I get decent traffic, and the writer does get the exposure, which many people appreciate.

    Why am I saying this? Because I too write for free. Often. I’ve written for Vagabondish and other blogs and sites, not to get the clippings – I have plenty – but to encourage people to visit my site. I won’t write for anyone who doesn’t publish a brief bio and at least one, and preferably two links back. But I believe it’s a useful tool for online barter – we each get something out of it.

    Perhaps as a journalist I should be more of a ‘purist’, but if I want to get paid, I’ll go write for the corporates. The rest is for fun, friendship, and a few extra pennies along the way.

    Scribetrotters last blog post..How to Learn a Language

  • Lily

    Hi Christine! Thanks so much for all the detailed info, I really appreciate it! When you do freelance, do you just travel somewhere on your own dime and then come home and write an article and try to sell it? Is that how it works? Thanks a bunch!! Am still narrowing my places for my sabbatical next year… Anyone been to ARgentina?? Thanks have a great weekend!

  • http://www.boldlygosolo.com boldlygosolo

    My very first published story, at the age of 23 or so, was in The Washington Post. And I was paid. I had no clips. I had no “exposure.” They liked the story idea. Pure and simple. I agree, I got lucky. But why couldn’t you?
    Now I write for “exposure” so people will come to my site. Because that’s how things work now on the Internet. But I would never write for free for publications/sites that make money from my work. I don’t think you have to. And I think you’re selling yourself short.
    If your story is good and you market it and someone can use it, you will get paid. The one investment you might have to make as an unknown is to write the story first. Once you get known, you probably can submit ideas first, without going to the trouble of writing the whole piece.
    Good luck to all.
    boldlygosolo dot com

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Christine-

    First, thanks for mentioning the project with the kids in Colombia. We all shared a very emotional evening last night as the kids learned that the first article had received more than 1,600 page views, more than 6 comments, private e-mails, and donations for their project. It motivated them so much, and reaffirmed why I’m both a writer and a traveler.

    I agree with your criticisms of the limitations of Vagabonding’s site. I’ve tried to look up Eva’s articles before, only to find the search function utterly frustrating. And while I acknowledge the fact that Eva has made significant connections by writing for Vagabonding for free, I also think that basic good website design calls for simple details like linkbacks, hyperlinks to the writer’s own website or, at the very least, a bio.

    I’m not all against writing for free or for little money, especially in this particular niche. The fact of the matter is that some of the best online publications are in start-up phase and are actively and aggressively seeking funding. They’re exceptionally loyal to writers who understand that the scale up is a process and that while big bucks may not be in the works now, they could very well be a year or two down the road.

    I also think that some novice writers DO need to write for free– not only to build up a portfolio of published work, but also to learn about the whole process of writing from pitch to publication. As an editor on the MatadorTravel team, I have to say that I’m surprised (and really disappointed) when I receive drafts of articles that demonstrate a lack of attention to simple details that are very important. Newer writers can begin to learn what editors expect, how to pitch, and how to develop editorial relationships by writing for free or at a lower rate, which prepares them for larger, better paying publications.

  • http://perceptivetravel.com/blog Antonia Malchik

    Christine, this is one of the best posts or articles I’ve read paring down the issues and pitfalls of writing for free. Nice job!

    And I wholeheartedly agree. When I first joined travelwriters.com I had zero clips. It was tempting to write for free for “exposure,” but I had an excellent travel writing teacher who was very much opposed to the idea.

    With a little more digging, I found places that paid minimal, but still paid. Travel-wise.com (now under different ownership) in Canada was a great starting point because the editor paid, but he also published in a tiny chain of regional newspapers. At the time World Hum was a good option not because they paid (they didn’t) but because they had pieces show up in Best American Travel Writing, which would be the real clip. Now that they pay, though, they seem to publish more big-name travel writers, which is great to read but maybe not such a good outlet for beginners.

    When looking for bigger exposure and more pay, the number one rule to keep in mind, I think, is boldlygosolo’s experience above: editors want ideas. Great writing, sure, but they’re really looking for different angles and new ideas.

    Across the board, writers who are travelers also neglect a huge area of exposure, some paid and some not: literary journals. Sure, these won’t publish “where to go and what to do” pieces, but my work tends to focus on the character of place in any case. If you’re a writer with a literary bent, this is the place to go. Tom Swick, esteemed travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, started out the same way. A big name literary journal like Granta might not get you the kind of clip you want to get into the Chicago Tribune, but it will still build your writing career.

    Antonia Malchiks last blog post..Have Baby Will Travel Redux

  • Eva

    Hey again Christine and all,

    Christine – I don’t think you need to worry about those of us who’ve written for free feeling maligned by your post. You weigh the options and come up with a conclusion, but – unlike some folks who’ve written on this topic – you don’t accuse those of us who came up with different conclusions of somehow undermining the entire industry.

    That being said, I’m going to nit-pick a little more about World Hum! :D

    “I still don’t know if writing for a startup (last year) for free is the best way to further your career. The success World Hum has had is great, but if they weren’t picked up by the Travel Channel, then you’d be stuck with a bunch of clips from an obscure online site.”

    I have to disagree on this one – far from being a start-up before the Travel Channel acquisition in 2007, World Hum was already one of the most well-respected, well-known (in travel writing circles if not the world at large) travel publications in existence – online or in print. They were already winning Lowell Thomas Awards and getting notice in the Best American anthologies in their first year of existence (2001). Had I been lucky enough to write for them, for free, before the Travel Channel purchase (and I did try! :P) it would have been a huge accomplishment.

    Can you guys honestly say that, given the opportunity, you would have turned down the chance to be published alongside the likes of Jeffrey Tayler, Tom Bissell, Jeff Greenwald or Jason Wilson, knowing that every travel editor was paying attention to the site, just because it wasn’t paid?

  • Eva

    ps: Antonia, totally agreed about literary journals! They’re tough to get into, but so gratifying if you can manage it – a home for all those essays in your head that don’t fit into a neat “Top 10″ or “How To” format… :D

    Evas last blog post..World Geography with Yakko Warner

  • http://perceptivetravel.com/blog Antonia Malchik

    Eva, I think you’re absolutely right about World Hum. If there’s any exception to writing for online travel sites, World Hum was it. But pre-Travel Channel, I actually think it was more like a literary journal for writing of “place” and experience, rather than a travel writing outlet. That’s how the essays read, anyway.

    Travel writers should really be encouraged more to try outlets such as literary journals. Colin Thubron, arguably the best living travel writer, publishes pieces in Granta, and plenty of agents read the writers who show up in places like Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, or Paris Review, among others.

    Granted, it’s harder to place travel-themed writing in journals. But everyone should use their imagination and talents. Fiction and other essays need the same things travel writing does: dramatic movement, character, dialogue. If you consider yourself a writer, why not use your travel experiences as background to short stories, or to build up a thriller series? I’d rather do just about anything over a “Top 10″ list :-)

    Antonia Malchiks last blog post..Have Baby Will Travel Redux

  • http://perceptivetravel.com/blog Antonia Malchik

    P.S. Christine, I love the photo you used for this post! That’s my ideal existence, right there in that picture …

    Antonia Malchiks last blog post..Have Baby Will Travel Redux

  • http://www.artist-at-large.com kimba

    I can see both sides of this issue. Having been educated in the US art system, we were always encouraged to give our work away at first or to start out selling our work very cheaply just to get exposure and start building a network. It’s kind of discouraging as I get older and realize how screwed up that line of thinking is.

    On my site, I publish pieces with a sense of place, not necessarily travel writing, but yes, some straight up travel stuff too. I *had* to put submission guidelines on my site because I got so many emails in the first few years from people who wanted to write for me. I got tired of answering the emails, and especially having to say that I couldn’t pay. Once the guidelines were up, the submissions slowed to a snails pace, and the only submissions I get now are from people who just really love the site and want the links back. This is fine with me.

    I’ve only had advertising on the site for the last year or so and maybe someday this will pan out and the site will develop into the guide that I envisioned it to be.

    So what I’m trying to say is that – submission guidelines on sites that don’t pay are not necessarily a promotion to get work for free. Sometimes they are just the opposite.

  • http://thingsyoushoulddo.com/category/europe juliemarg

    I went to the Bombay site and tried to give you 5 stars, but they won’t let me register. Alas.

    I’d love to have you as a guest author if you’re in the mood. You can see – I give lots of link love and twitter, stumble and otherwise promote the post and the guest. ;^D

    Kim from Jet Set Life just did a fabulous post for me on Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos. Check it (and her) out!

    http://thingsyoushoulddo.com/what-to-do/nightlife/10-step-cavo-paradiso-plan-mykonos-greece
    http://www.jetsetlife.tv/

    juliemargs last blog post..10 Step Cavo Paradiso Plan – Mykonos, Greece

  • Cuckoo

    I have been reading your blog for quite sometime by adding it to my Google reader now & have become a fan of your blog.

    You are quite a good writer. I can relate to many of the things that you say.

    Keep writing, keep smiling.

  • Cuckoo

    And I write guest posts occasionally but free of charge, now I see your point of view. I’ll have to think on gaining some advantage… if not monetary then something else.

    Great post as usual.

  • A. Wannabe Travelwriter

    I blog therefore I am…what?

    My goal is to get into magazine writing, at least until the print medium goes the way of the cassette player. As an official old person, even though I do have a travel blog (really…is there anybody out there anymore that doesn’t?!?) I really don’t understand all the talk about creating and monitoring reader traffic.

    Whether the blog writing, as well as leaving insightful comments on the blogs of others, will equate to higher quality writing that will pass the test of the query letter and critical editor has yet to be seen.

    And with a goal of writing funny, I may have created a wall Pink Floyd might even write a song about some day.

  • Pokin

    Great insight on your experiences and observations with this topic. I haven’t thought about being a travel writer “professionally” but I do like writing. It’s cool to see what would be involved for one to pursue it more seriously. I think it’s always does end up being a fine balance between exposure (if for free) and endorsement (by being paid) in the beginning while starting out and staking a name for oneself. Good comments from fellow readers as well!

    Pokins last blog post..Kill some time during airport layovers

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    Cuckoo: I do guest posts for free! It was one of the exceptions I made for writing for free, because it’s nice to do, and builds community. Thanks for visiting the site and I’ll definitely be checking out your site!

    A Wannabe Travelwriter: You wrote: “Whether the blog writing, as well as leaving insightful comments on the blogs of others, will equate to higher quality writing that will pass the test of the query letter and critical editor has yet to be seen.”

    I suspect by “yet to be seen” you mean, it probably won’t. I almost want to agree– we’re writers, so in fact that means we will do nearly anything to put off actually writing something we could get published, and naturally blogs (your own and the reading of others) is a great time killer for the procrastinator in all of us.

    Can a blog be a marketing tool? Can it improve our writing? Can participating on other people’s blogs be a way of networking and building relationships? I think it depends on the individual, but for me, the answer is a definite YES. So in this article, when I say there is value in web traffic, it’s from my own perspective. Even if all this web stuff fails to replace the work I have to do to become a better writer… being part of a community saves my sanity– well worth it in my book.

    Pokin: Hello! Glad you liked it and thanks for stopping by!

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa
  • http://www.tylerbell.net Tyler Bell

    Super post that mimics a lot of my thoughts (especially Vagabonding’s lack of author exposure.

    I have found it quite difficult to find opportunities for both free and paid travel writing and video content. I’ve generally found Gadling, Matador, and Vagabonding to be brick walls in terms of communication.

    My writing, photography, and video I feel would be a great addition to some of the travel sites out there, so I will keep trying!

  • http://www.nerdseyeview.com pam

    Can you tell me what the difference is between guest blogging and writing a blog post for free for anyone else?

    I’ve done a little guest blogging here and there and I always spend a lot of time wondering if that isn’t just giving my work away too. I will also concede that doing a guest post can be a great traffic builder.

    Commercial entities will ask for guest blog posts too. Where and how do you decide who to “guest blog” for?

  • http://www.artist-at-large.com kimba

    I see writing a post, or multiple posts, for free gets you a post on a blog with your name on it and maybe a link back to your site. Like one step above commenting on a blog post.

    I see ‘guest blogging’ as writing a short post, getting a one or two or so line ‘bio’ at the bottom of it that states clearly where or for whom you usually write with a link as well as a blog post or some kind of an announcement from the blog owner that you are guest blogging. This may be a one off kind of post, or you may be a regular contributor, but either way, your status is a little higher than ‘just’ writing a blog post.

    Guest blogging can also be a trade – I’ll write for you if you write for me.

  • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

    In answer to Pam’s question, I think it depends what your purpose is.

    If you are trying to build a blog, then writing guest posts for other blogs is a great way to network and potentially pick up new readers.

    It’s something you do for free but most blogs are not money-making entities so it’s giving but strategic giving. You are getting something out of it.

    However, if you do not have a blog or keep your blog simply as a hobby then it’s probably not worth guest blogging.

    If you are primarily trying to break into paid travel writing, then there’s not much point either. I think it’s unlikely to win you any new commissions and you may be giving away your best ideas, as well as your time, for free.

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    I second what Caitlin and Kimba said, and I will also add my two cents.

    To me, writing a guest blog is a one time favor that you do for another blogger. It’s good karma, but it won’t get you a ton of exposure. I had 10 guest blogs on my site when I moved to Madrid, and I wish I could say that they had hundreds of new visitors but they didn’t. I have one guest post that has gotten close to 10,000 views. Know how many people clicked through the author’s site? Less than 25. So the guest blog was good for me, because I was away and it let my site continue to have content. But despite getting lots of traffic, it didn’t do miracles for the very kind guest bloggers. That is why I will write for other people. To be nice, to do them a favor, to pay back the blogging community so when I need a guest blogger again, I don’t feel so bad…

    When a commercial site wants a guest blogger, they usually mean on a continual basis. So you are giving them content, more than once, they are making money (or trying) and you get nothing. Sometimes, if they are nice, they will link back to your site. Let me tell you, I have had my site referred to on posts by some of the bigger travel sites, and I COMPLETELY appreciate it. But the traffic is not so high that I would consider writing free blog posts for them on an ongoing basis. Most of the time they don’t link to your personal site, so what exactly is the point? If you’re desperate to write for free, start your own blog and at least you control your content.

    If you want to promote your blog, I would say focus on writing the best content you possibly can. If you’re good, the people will come. There are people who get popular blogs because they work the system, promoting themselves 24/7. But it’s not sustainable. You have to continue to promote or your traffic goes down. The number one best thing you can do is to have interesting and unique content. It will sell itself.

    Christines last blog post..The Graffiti of Lisbon

  • http://www.thesoularchive.blogspot.com Eva

    I’ve continued thinking about this as the discussion has carried on, and I’ve really been wondering why writers in particular have such an aversion to working for free, even if they are just starting out.

    Plenty of professions involve a “paying your dues” period – actors scrape by on day jobs and put in hours of their own time on community or school theater projects, athletes obviously put in years and years of effort to get to a professional stage, same goes for musicians in bands, etc, etc. Moving into more “professional” professions – sure, no one asks a lawyer or a dentist to work for free for the first couple of years – but then, no one asks us to pay upwards of $50,000 for a piece of paper that says we’re writers, either. I’d say law school qualifies as “paying your dues” – in that case, literally, paying through the nose.

    There’s also the “for a good cause” side of things – I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t have a problem with writers choosing to volunteer for NGOs, etc, but who gets to define a “good cause” on someone else’s behalf? As World Hum used to say at the end of their submissions policy (prior to the Travel Channel acquisition, obviously): “Thanks for supporting independent publishing!”

    I dunno, I guess it never occurred to me when I was just starting out that I “deserved” to get paid for my work. I was still learning, finding my way, and happy to gain some experience. The advantage of writing for someone else’s site, instead of just creating a personal blog? Guidance, advice, and a focused framework, content-wise, to work within. Plus, I don’t know a darn thing about the tech side of things.

    Now that I’m a bit more established, I continue to write for free for selected sites out of loyalty, for other benefits such as contacts, and for pure enjoyment. I’ll also note that neither of the two sites I regularly write for free of charge have advertisements – and that includes Vagablogging. (I have to admit, I’ve been really puzzled by the reaction Rolf’s site has gotten here.)

    There are two different discussions here, as I see it – whether it’s “right”, and whether it works. Whether it’s “right” for you is a personal decision, but I guess I’m here to contradict a few other commenters and say, in my case at least, it definitely worked.

    Evas last blog post..R.I.P. Isaac Hayes

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    Eva,

    I agree, I think that people should decide for themselves how to proceed in their careers. That’s why I think having this discussion is good. Because they see someone (like myself) who is against it, and they can read someone else (like yourself) who it has worked for and decide what feels right for them.

    I don’t entirely know why, but I just feel really strongly against it. That’s my take. If I was an actor I would do community theater, as you mentioned, but I wouldn’t do a commercial for free. I think that is where I draw the line. If I feel like this is a commercial venture, then they should pay me. I feel that I have to believe I “deserve” to be paid, because otherwise who else will?

    Also I will point out, beyond the sites you write for: World Hum, Vagablogging, etc, would you write for free? Would you write for say Travel-Hotels-Online.com (made up) some random travel site that has posted a listing for free writers? My point is, that there is an entire range of quality even within the free writing market. Some of these sites looking for free content are flat out using new writers for financial gain. For every World Hum, there are a dozen scammy sites. I think I said up thread that I picked on Vagablogging, not because it’s the worst of them, but because it was timely and the ad made certain promises,

    “Several writers have moved on to paid positions after writing for Vagablogging, and now– I can tell you from personal experience– they’re really raking in the dough.”

    What it didn’t say, and would have precluded me from even talking about it, was as you pointed out, the real benefit: “Guidance, advice, and a focused framework, content-wise, to work within.”

    I guess the thing that always bothers me is this: If it’s good enough for publication, why isn’t it good enough to get paid? If the answer is, it’s not good enough for a paying gig, then I’d ask, why is it being published? Is it just another form of vanity publishing? Or if the answer is, it is good enough, but you have to pay your dues, then I would ask, says who? If it’s good, an editor will buy it. Or if they won’t, I will accept that. But is everyone trying to sell their work? Or are they hiding a little bit (not directed at you Eva) waiting for someone to discover them? I think you can’t avoid the hard work of being a writer. You have to write. You have to try to sell your stuff. You have to work hard. If you go one route or another it’s the same. There is no shortcut to being a better writer. Even with the best advice in the world, you still have to write!

    So Eva, will we ever agree on this? :) Probably not, but I still think you have valid points, it just doesn’t feel right to me. I have to follow my instinct. And to anyone reading this, I think you should follow yours.

    Christines last blog post..The Graffiti of Lisbon

  • http://infiniteexcursions.wordpress.com Alex

    Indeed, this article is a great source of inspiration. Thanks a lot.

    Alexs last blog post..New Home

  • http://www.greecelogue.com Cristina

    Honestly, not if there isn’t a cause attached to it. I’d gladly write for free abt the things I’m passionate (think: animal protection, being a vegetarian, etc) but not to get others the traffic they need. I’m a travel writer (under contract) and i adore what I do. I was tempted lately to do something for free in exchange of “Exposure” but when I started to think what that exposure meant I emailed back telling that “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to do this type of work” (you cannot even call it “work” when you write for free, can you?)

    I tend to agree wt you and I’d also add: if you like to write almost for free, sign up wt a freelancing site (you won’t get paid much but you get a chance to work on your skills).

    Cristinas last blog post..Greece Itineraries: First Time Explorer

  • http://www.boardingarea.com/blogs/loyaltytraveler Ric Garrido

    I published a piece on my Loyalty Traveler blog back on April 15, “The Write Stuff, For Free?” where I debated travel writer economics and contributing to sites like TripAdvisor and Wikipedia. I realize now that I posted on tax day — how appropriate.

    I have now come to view blogging as the Beatles taking the world in the 60s or punk rock in the 70s. The effect was to allow individuals to create a unique niche of pop culture that is picked up by mainstream media.

    Travel writers that want mainstream just need to start blogging away and trying to sell your stuff at any opportunity. Don’t settle for a TripAdvisor freelance underpaid permatemp position if you feel you have the write stuff.

    Bands got snapped up into record deals left and right in the late 70s as punk became profitable to legacy record companies. Lots of bands got screwed on royalties from bad contracts.

    Go the Siouxsie (and the Banshees) route and create your own words, package your own image, and as you become better known and more desirable, negotiate your own deal with the mainstream media when the contract can be dictated on your own terms due to a groundswell of fan popularity.

    Or maintain independence, maintain creative freedom, and settle for a more sustainable living without the pressure to produce more and more.

    I am more of a travel analyst than a travel writer. If you want to know how to travel in the hotel style on a budget, then check out my blog.

    Ric Garridos last blog post..Hilton Rome Cavalieri Rebranded as Waldorf=Astoria Collection

  • http://www.best-barbados-vacation-packages.com Hammer

    Just maybe there is a need for both… I think writing for free is a great way to get exposure, imagine getting link back from a PR 6 or PR 7 site from a webmasters propective I think this is priceless.

    But no doubt your aim is to be paid for your work. Having said that the Internet has transform the way we get paid, so maybe writing for free will get you paid in the long run.

    Just my two cents worth…

    Hammer´s last blog post..Dec 6, Barbados Sitesearch

  • http://www.travelwriter.at/191/photos-sights-world.shtml Travelwriter

    I would not have a problem to put down some stories for free but it should not be a website whose business concept is about collecting stories for free.

  • http://www.didyoupackthepassports.com Jen

    Hey, I’m new here but I just wanted to say that I love your site and this post has really helped me! How to get started with travel writing is something I have been wondering about for when I eventually leave on my travels and I will def be popping back here to check out your advice again! best wishes, jen x

  • Grist

    I’m nether writer nor blogger but chef, the same is true with restaurants and fresh chefs. “We can’t pay you much now, but….” If they can’t pay you now, they won’t pay you later.

  • Pingback: Should Freelance Writers Ever Write for Free? | Bleeding Espresso

  • http://matadornetwork.com Carlo Alcos

    Hi Christine. I clicked over to your post on the Bombay site – hilarious! Nice work. Stick it to them! Haha…great post too! I would consider publishing for free but it would have to make sense of course.

    Cheers!

  • Bryna

    Your faux-post submitted AND ACCEPTED by the bimbos at Bombay is f-ing hilarious! Well done, mate. A snarky, wise-ass, and well-deserved comeback to a sleazy, corporate come-on. My Spirit of Exploration is truly inspired!

  • http://www.driftersblog.com/ JR Riel

    Thanks so much for this wonderful article that has given me lots to think about. I’ve just made the big leap of leaving behind, home, family and job to live a life traveling. I hope to one day be able to organize my priorities the way you have, and I thank you so much for all of this helpful tips. I’ll be reading…
    .-= JR Riel´s last blog ..This Week in World News: Sat. May 29- Fri. June 4, 2010 =-.

  • http://www.themightybiro.blogspot.com James Cheyne

    This article is damn right! This sort of generational shift toward journalistic slavery is happening in newsrooms too (my own environ.) Huge media companies here in London have no blushes at posting adverts for entry level staff – no pay, no expenses, long hours far from friends and family. And eager young people lap them up, even in one of the most expensive cities in the world

    One resultant effect is that only the rich kids can afford to stick around long enough to ever hope of landing a real media job.

    If the entire generation followed your advice about freelance travel writing – applying it to entry level journalism here – they could arrest this horrible problem.

  • shyamala

    Thank you Christine & others.

    Reading this blog & all the comments above, give perspective to someone like me who is older, has travelled quite a bit and has a lot of pictures & plenty of information to share.

    Seriously, I never knew you could get paid for blogging about your travels.

  • http://www.laviajeramorena.com La Viajera Morena

    Loved this article, gave me a lot to think about. Also found some great resources in the comments section by more seasoned bloggers. Thanks for posting this article Christine!

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