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What even is commercial travel writing and does it pay the bills?
Naysayers might think it's not really travel writing, but we disagree...
Is there anything quite so therapeutic as sunshine in what, at times, has felt like the longest winter in history? Yes, we wouldn’t mind it being combined with a foreign beach and a caipirinha, but right now we’ll take it.
And the weather does seem to be reflecting the nation’s mood: the announcement of the British government’s roadmap out of the pandemic has left more than just us journalists mentally buoyed by the thoughts of future travel. Many of us have seen a wave of new press releases landing in our inboxes this last week, while consumer confidence in the prospect of travel looks similarly high — the remarkable boost in traffic that sites such as OutThere were reporting last week prove that the general public is more than ready to jump on a flight. It does seem that there are some tangible things to be optimistic about right now.
Lottie is particularly optimistic about a new one-off travel magazine that’s launched its crowdfunder this week. JRNY is a collaboration between more than 20 journalists, photographers and editors and will be a 250+ page coffee table title full of tales from the road. The brainchild of photographer Kav Dadfar, the profits will be split equally between the contributors, and most importantly, they’ll all be paid on time. Get your copy here. She’s also optimistic about the second round of her travel writing course that’s running in April — details here for anyone wanting a quick-start, month-long crash course in getting into this business.
In the meantime, this month we’re diving into the world of commercial content. Whether you believe it “doesn’t count” as travel writing, or whether you’ve never dipped your toe into these new waters, we’ll be exploring why it’s fertile ground, how you can find the opportunities and what exactly editors are looking for. Here’s Steph telling us the opportunities it has brought.
What is commercial travel writing and does it pay the bills?
My first ever anchor client was a cruise company based in South America. I found the job via an advert posted on a jobs board somewhere in the dark recesses of the internet and, very fresh to the industry (and very skint), I applied. The job paid US$40 per 500-word blog post, including sourcing stock photography and uploading it to their website — a task that, as the months went on and the reality of churning out 27 articles a month became apparent, almost entirely put me off commercial copywriting.
For many of us, this is the picture we have in our heads of this area of the travel media: content farms where low-paid and often poorly skilled writers crank out article after article for the purposes of ranking for Google. While websites such as Fiverr and Upwork have certainly driven this narrative — and a race to the bottom when it comes to terrible rates, I’ve since discovered that, if looking in the right places, commercial copywriting can actually prove remarkably lucrative and even useful for your career.
Naysayers would argue that writing blog posts, brochures and social media copy for companies isn’t travel writing. There’s even some stigma around doing it — some might say you’re “selling out” or selling your soul. Sure: it’s not the narrative-fuelled prose of a double page spread in National Geographic, but it is, as both Lottie and I have learned, a vital part of your freelancing pie. As we discussed back in January, to make this notoriously competitive industry work for you, you have to see travel journalism through the lens of a business — and one that earns you enough money to live your life, buy a house, retire happily or blow on whatever strikes your fancy.
Fundamentally, that comes down to diversifying your income. As we’ve seen, when global events and the travel industry goes south, having a few different strings to your writing bow is a way of weathering even the most unpleasant of storms. I’ve earned everything from the lowlights of the US$40 an article copywriting days to over US$0.50 a word through commercial copywriting.
But, best of all, I’ve found that I’ve often been able to set my own rates. As a result, I’ve taken on assignments where I’ve earned the equivalent of over US$100 an hour. Compare that figure to the rates you earn from even some of the bigger online travel publishers and commercial copywriting starts to look like a really attractive prospect.
The best part about commercial copywriting is that, on the whole, you don’t need to pitch for it. Once you’ve got your foot in the door with a company, it’s fairly normal to be assigned regular commissions without you needing to do much more than express your interest. If you’re not a huge fan of the pitching process, nothing quite beats the feeling of having companies reaching out to you for work for once.
Commercial copywriting can also lead to more conventional journalism work. Because it’s desk researched based, I’ve written about destinations I’ve never visited before. In doing so, I’ve unearthed interesting nuggets of information that I’ve been able to pitch to editors at travel publications and subsequently visit on assignment.
So, with decent rates and the joyous fact that you rarely need to pitch ideas, commercial copywriting is a segment of the industry that’s well worth your time. But how can you actually find these opportunities?
How to find commercial content gigs in travel
Networking is your biggest tool when it comes to securing commercial copywriting. Network with other writers, editors and travel brands so that you’re top of their minds when they need a copywriter (and check back in on our networking series for our key tips).
Make sure your portfolio has examples of commercial copywriting in addition to traditional editorial journalism — brands seeking out writers often use the search tools in these platforms.
Consider reaching out to brands and businesses that you know to see whether they’re on the hunt for any copywriting or whether they can keep you in mind for future opportunities.
Update your website to include a page with examples of commercial copywriting you’ve done for brands or other companies within the industry. If anyone finds you through Google, there’s a chance they’ll stumble upon this page.
Websites such as Underpinned and the jobs section of LinkedIn (search “travel copywriter” to browse the jobs that come up) have well-paying opportunities pop up on a frequent basis, while Facebook groups such as the Freelance Content Marketing Writer have regular threads sharing job opportunities.
This is the free edition of Talking Travel Writing. Throughout March, paying subscribers will get exclusive tips on securing commercial travel copywriting gigs, exclusive insight from editors at major travel brands, plus the lowdown from travel content marketers who work exclusively in commercial copywriting for travel. Don’t miss out and become a paying subscriber today:
Tweet of the week
Who to follow
I promise we’re not surreptitiously sponsored by Couchfish (this must be the second or third time we’re featuring the newsletter) but last week Stuart McDonald wrote a fascinating piece on why backpackers are wrongly dismissed by tourist boards, and how they will be key to tourism recovery in so many destinations post-pandemic. Yesterday’s story on what it’s like to be in Myanmar right now is also incredibly enlightening. Excellent independent journalism going on in that newsletter and we love it.
We also love From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 and a recent edition included a brilliant story on visiting museums in Florence between lockdowns, when there were almost no other visitors and Julia Buckley almost got a case of Stendhal syndrome.
And finally, plan your pitches and press trips with this decent little digest on the countries likely to be open to Brits this summer, by Greg Dickinson at The Telegraph.
Have you read something brilliant in the last few weeks? Share it with us — we’d love to have a gander.
This is the free version of Talking Travel Writing. Don’t miss out on this month’s practical advice and editors’ insights and sign up as a paying subscriber for just £5 per month.