New Year, new mindset | Calls-for-pitches
They key to success in 2021? Remembering you're running a business
Happy New Year, dear writers. Or is it? We’d initially written a rather optimistic intro to this first newsletter of 2021, but then the UK’s nations announced their respective lockdowns and holidays were banned again. While we’re still delighted to be on the other side of 2020 and still feeling relatively optimistic, despite the current situation, about what the next 12 months will bring, these new restrictions do still bring all sorts of anxious feelings. Look after yourselves, lovely travel writers. We will be OK in the end. Hold tight…
Anyway, onto business. We spent December looking back at 2020, reflecting on our industry and our own work. And so this month we’re going to look ahead – we’re going to plan, motivate and be ambitious about the coming months. January’s series is all about what comes next, and here’s what paid subscribers can expect:
Practical tips: Useful tools for running your travel writing business
Editor’s perspective: understanding how ROI and budgets influence commissioning
Ask the expert: Anna Codrea-Rado gives us a masterclass in goal setting
We’ll also be sending out a short survey for all readers in the final week of the month, so keep your eyes peeled for that powering into your inbox. We’re keen to know more about you, your career and your goals for the year so that we can better tailor these newsletters — and there will, of course, be some traveltastic prizes for those who complete it.
In the meantime, this month’s free email is from Lottie, who wants you to make a New Year’s resolution about your travel writing work.
The only New Year’s resolution travel writers need for 2021
This time of year is rife with promises. We use the neat beginning of our calendar year to turn over a new leaf, making New Year’s resolutions to guide us in the year ahead. We promise ourselves we’ll exercise more or practice mindfulness or be better to the environment. Or perhaps we resolve to call our parents more often, read lots of books and cook vegan food once a week. Whatever it is, however minor or major, we make these promises to ourselves to set an agenda and hold ourselves to account.
And so, as you look at the months that stretch out ahead and you dream of trips you’ll take and people you’ll interview and editors you’ll pitch to, I want you to make a New Year’s careers resolution:
Don’t forget that you are a business and you need to act like one.
It is all too easy to get carried away with the thrill of successfully landing a pitch or planning a trip to a new destination. We have inexplicably enjoyable jobs and, if you’re anything like me, you probably feel equal parts baffled and fortunate that this is what you’re paid to do. But that’s just it: you must be paid to do it. Not only that, but you must be paid well enough to do it profitably. After all, this is your business and livelihood, and it must be treated as such.
We need to get out of that “it’s a lifestyle choice” mindset or the “I’m just lucky to have the work” ethos. It’s these attitudes that sees us accepting low fees for labour intensive jobs, or in some cases, no fee at all.
I hear all too often other travel writers say things like “Well, we don’t do it for the money, do we?”. I often laugh it off, but this year I won’t do that. I do do this for the money, and there is absolutely no shame in that. I want the prestigious bylines and exciting trips as much as the next writer, but I also want to bring in enough cash to pay the bills, put food on the table and enjoy my life.
In fact, last year, I did just that. During the 2019-20 fiscal year I not only earned plenty for paying my London rent and bills, but my profits were healthy enough to secure me a mortgage so I could finally buy my own home (albeit outside the capital). Almost 100% of that money came from some form of travel writing, so when you tell me you don’t do it for the money you’re either saying you don’t need it (and good for you), or you think you simply can’t make enough of it.
If you’re in the latter camp, I implore you to change your mindset. Ultimately, it’s OK to do this for the money, and I firmly believe it is possible to make a good living from being a travel writer. We just have to remember that we’re running a business here and so our services must be remunerated and we have to ensure we’re focusing our energy and time in the right places.
While rates for travel writers might be at an all-time low right now, there’s still profit to be made. You’re not going to get sent off on an all-expenses paid trip for whatever newspaper or magazine or website you pitch, but there are ways you can still make a good buck when travelling and writing for a living. You just need to be a bit clever, and occasionally a bit brutal.
Practical tips: 5 ways to be more business
Hire an accountant
You shouldn’t be spending January stressing out about your taxes. Let your accountant do it for you – they’ll likely know better what can and can’t be expensed, and they can help make your payments on account more manageable when you have periods of low income (like, ahem, during a pandemic).
It’s not sexy or romantic, but to be a profitable writer you have to be a little bit calculated with the way you work and earn. When I get a commission, I’ll often estimate how long I think it’ll take to complete the piece and decide whether or not the fee is worth that time spent. Think about it in terms of an hourly or day rate (we’ll cover these in next week’s newsletter) and you’ll soon figure out what’s worth your time and what’s not.
Get multiple commissions
You’re never going to make a profit by taking a three-day trip and receiving a £200 fee for the resulting piece. You can make a profit, though, by gathering multiple commissions from one trip. See if you can spin alternative angles before you go, or pitch stories you gather on the ground when you return to make the trip more lucrative. In 2020, I had a four-day trip to Dubai with £2,000 worth of commissions confirmed before departure. For what would have been around 10 days’ worth of work (including the travelling itself), that’s a decent day rate.
Don’t be afraid to talk cash
It’s a very British thing to clam up when you’re talking about cash, but this is business, so you needn’t be afraid to ask. I know too many writers who haven’t broached the subject in the first few email exchanges with an editor and only later found out the fee is, in fact, “exposure”. Ask about the fee up front and you won’t waste your time or the editor’s. Equally, if you find the fee is too low to justify the work you’ve got to put in, ask for more. The worst they can say is no – and they won’t judge you for asking.
No project or byline is worth devaluing your work, or the work of our entire industry. If the fee isn’t up to scratch or you can’t make it work financially, then simply say no. When we accept low-paid work, we make it harder for everyone to get paid a reasonable wage.
Don’t miss out on the practical advice and editor’s insights we’ve got for the rest of January. Become a paid subscriber now:
Calls for pitches
Tweet of the week
Who to follow
Rory Boland is the Editor at Which? Travel Magazine and has been an absolute rock for so many consumers during the pandemic, demystifying travellers’ rights and calling out companies who aren’t following the rules. Follow Rory for brilliant insights on the industry and to keep up with the travel chaos over Brexit and coronavirus.
It’s a must-listen this week, and not just because our co-founder Lottie features in this podcast… January’s Travel Goals Podcast is a fascinating delve into what the travel industry might look like in 2021. Industry bods like Paul Charles (see tweet above), Karin Sheppard of IHG and Lola Akinmade Åkerström explore the potential issues and trends we’re going to be seeing in the coming months. Plus, host Pip Jones has gorgeously dulcet tones and the production values in this pod surpass many on the market.