Follow the Writers' Guidelines and read what has been published.
It may sound simplistic, but as an editor I receive hundreds of queries and submissions from well-meaning writers with good stories who have not bothered to read the travel writers’ guidelines we have taken great pains to develop over the years.
In many cases, it is clear that prospective writers have not read through some or any of the featured stories on the website. This is an immediate put-off, as the editor must either explain for the thousandth time what they are looking for while referencing the appropriate parts of the site, or simply ignore the query and submission if it appears to be generic in nature.
Editors of larger publications sift through such queries and submissions as headhunters sift through resumes, often giving them only a split-second look, so it is absolutely crucial to know who you are writing for and provide a pitch or submission which meets the criteria for publication.
With more and more people considering themselves travel writers simply by virtue of traveling and writing about their experiences, it will become increasingly important to be disciplined and professional when making queries and submissions if you seek publication apart from your own blog.
On the other hand, those who have done their homework can quickly find their pieces published while establishing long-term relationships which may result in becoming regular contributors or columnists.
This advice SHOULD be simplistic, but I agree, Greg: the most frequent fumble I see among writers submitting work is the fact that they’ve clearly not read the writer/submission guidelines and they haven’t gotten a feel for the publication at all.
As an editor, I want to support writers–especially those with limited publication experience–and help them develop in their writing and their career. However, if they’re not doing the bulk of the work (and just the basics, really), then I’m inclined to send a polite note saying that we’re not interested in publishing their submission and we’d advise that they review the writer guidelines and familiarize themselves with works we’ve published.
A related pet peeve is when a writer pitches a topic that’s already been covered ad infinitum. Writers can avoid such a fumble by doing a quick archival search, and for online publications, that’s not hard at all.
Sometimes, writers may read the guidelines and submit work similar to what the publication usually publishes, and often times, the editor may not be looking for/accepting those particular stories at the time.
This has happened a handful of times with some really big pubs I’ve pitched.
When editors responds with a “not interested/not covering destination at this time”, I usually respond with a question asking which destinations/stories they are covering, and then I re-pitch appropriately.
This has worked a handful of times too.
Good point (and great advice!). Many print publications are working on their editorial calendars as far as a year in advance, so they often have a well-defined idea about what they’re seeking at any given moment.
Regardless, you probably don’t want to pitch a Holy Week article *after* Holy Week. It’s not infrequent that we receive pitches or drafts of articles about events that have just occurred: a guide to Burning Man *after* Burning Man, a guide to Holy Week in Mexico… in June, or a guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival once it’s already well underway just aren’t fresh, and few editors are going to be likely to hold onto that type of piece for a year, especially for online publications.
Great advice, Lola. I think finding blank spots in a publication’s content is crucial, too. Some of the pieces I’ve published have come out of queries that say, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t covered this topic, and I’d cover it like this…” Combined with a solid understanding of the publication’s tone, style, and regular content, this can be a really winning strategy. (Granted, you also have to have a good understanding of whatever the particular blank spot is!)