Over the years that we’ve been on the road, I’ve seen lots of ‘nomads’ who chronicle their adventures on a blog, keep a journal, create travel diaries, write poetry, or write travel articles. Some have also always thought they might write a novel one day, but are not sure how to start – or how to get it published when they write ‘the end’. Quite often, people have asked me how they might go about writing travel articles or writing a book (either fiction or non-fiction).
So… I thought that it was time to put together a quick guide on how you might go about doing it all. What follows is a summary, which gives you links to further information. I’ll continue to post more about writing to this blog; if you enter your email address to follow the blog, you’ll be notified about any new posts.
All Kinds of Writing…
Some of you will want to write for fun; others want to earn money. A large percentage of you will say: “I write because I enjoy it – but if I can earn money, that’s a bonus!”
What kind of writing can you do? There are quite a number of different things you could tackle, but for now I’ll address just two: writing books and writing travel articles.
Luckily for all of us, the publishing scene has changed dramatically over the past few years, thanks to the popularity of e-readers like Kindle and Kobo. Once, you needed to go through a long, frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking journey to get a book published – either fiction or non-fiction. This is what the scene looked like if you wrote a novel and then did the rounds trying to find a publisher:
- write it (could take anything from a month to years)
- research publishers to see who published books similar to yours
- send a query letter (and perhaps a couple of sample chapters) to see if they were interested in publishing your book). If you were lucky, or an enormously talented writer, at this stage the publisher would offer you a contract. 99% of the time they would not. Often, it would take months to hear anything back.
- rinse and repeat – continue querying publishers until someone said ‘yes’ or you gave up.
- if you get a ‘yes’, break out the champagne.
- sign a contract. You would be offered a small advance against sales (anything from $500 to $10,000, unless your book was expected to achieve mega sales) and royalties of anywhere between (on average) 6% and 10%.
- go through the editing/proofing stage before publication.
- wait 4-12 months for publication.
- wait 6 months after publication for the first royalty cheque (which is usually tiny)
- continue to get royalties every 6 months. If you used a literary agent, they would take 10-15% from your earnings.
They were the bad old days. Quite a lot of writers still opt to go that route, but increasingly, writers are choosing to publish their own books on Kindle or Kobo (or other e-publishing platforms). Instead of waiting months to see their book published, then waiting a year or more to see the first royalties, they can have their book up online 48 hours after finishing it, and start earning royalties within a month.
Publishing a Paperback
You can have a hard copy of your book published fairly easily. There are POD (Print on Demand) publishers out there who will publish a limited number of books as they are required, so you don’t have to have thousands of books in cartons in your garage. Amazon has a print publishing arm called CREATESPACE. You can publish both a hard copy and an e-book of the same title.
The Learning Curve
Of course you can’t learn the ins and outs of epublishing overnight, but it’s not nearly as hard as you might expect. There is a lot of help out there now to get you started: private sites; e-courses; e-books and plenty of how-to advice on Amazon Kindle publishing (KDP) and Kobo on their websites. I also have a lot of information on my various websites and blogs.
You will also have to have a book cover designed (I advise that you don’t try to do t his yourself unless you’re handy with graphic design – a book cover is very important in attracting sales) and you’ll have to organise taxes, but that can all be learned.
What Kind of Books Can You Write?
Take a look at the books on the shelves of any bookstore or any book department in a major chain. Pretty well anything you can see there, you can duplicate. BUT – think twice before choosing to produce anything that is heavy on graphics (photos or art work) because this is (a) expensive to produce, if you need to have someone do the illustrations and (b) expensive to send via platforms like Amazon. A book full of graphics is a much bigger file and takes longer to download, so Amazon charges more every time someone buys one via Kindle.
- a novel – mystery, thriller, romance, chick-lit, paranormal, etc – you choose the genre. Instead of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple solving mysteries, have a sharp-witted grey nomad finding whodunit in every state!
- a book of short stories – fiction, tall tales
- a self-help or ‘how to’ book – are you good at something? Can you write a book to teach others to do it? Go for it! Dog training, renovating a caravan, building boats, craft work, budget ideas… you name it.
- a book about your travels around Australia, or ideas and tips on free camping
- tips, ideas and handy hints for RVers
- a book of bush poetry – we have lots of budding poets out there. Put your work in a book, and make it available just for friends and family or for the world at large.
- books for kids – thrill your children or grandchildren by making them the heroes of an adventure. Take photos of them doing things or acting out a scene and build a book around what they’re doing. Write a book of short bedtime stories.
Writing Travel Articles
I’ve written articles for many magazines over the years, but now as the Editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine, it’s interesting to see it from the other side of the fence. We use freelancers as well as staff members to write articles in the following categories:
Travel – different areas of Australia
Dollar Stretcher – travel, but with plenty of activities that don’t cost too much, and/or budget campgrounds/caravan parks
Feature Articles – stories of interest to travellers and related to the lifestyle, but not necessarily about travel. (e.g. from a recent issue: The Great Aussie History Trail (places of interest following a theme of six unique aspects of Australian culture – Dinosaurs and Fossils, Aboriginal Australia, Trailblazers (explorers etc.), Underground Riches, Australia at War, Everyday life of Australians (pioneers and settlers); Travel Comfortably on a Pension, and Buy a New Van the Smart Way.
Free Camping (good free camps, tips on free camping, free camping gear, different trips or stays at great free camps)
From the Road (stories from travellers)
Club Event (Different caravan and motorhome clubs contribute articles about a get-together)
Your Hobbies – we’re always looking for interesting/different hobbies!
Money Matters (a new column which grew out of ‘Earn While You Travel’)
Festival – have you been to a great festival, or are you going to one? Particularly good if it’s something different.)
Travelling with Pets – any issues/stories to do with pets
Articles: What do we Want?
Depth: In most towns or regions of Australia, you’ll find the so-called ‘tourist traps’. They’re the attractions that are easy to find on information websites and that are listed on brochures in information centres. It’s natural that many visitors will want to see these attractions, but what else is there? It’s nice if we can find something different in each place that visitors will enjoy seeing, but which isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Brochures and websites are fine to give you background information for your article, but please don’t copy and paste information, or even just paraphrase it. When you visit these places, what are YOUR thoughts and impressions? What do they look like through a visitor’s eyes? Is there something else there that really struck you that wasn’t mentioned in a brochure? Did one of the guides tell a fascinating little anecdote that gave you a glimpse into a different time or the locals’ lives? Look for the stories under the surface.
A Point of Difference: Are there small towns or interesting locations near major centres? Could you include a great farmstay or a little-known free camp? Is there a budget campground or a caravan park that delivers a few pleasant surprises?
Useful Information: What would travellers like to know? Cheap eats? Where to stay? Where to refuel? Tips on travelling a certain route? Pros and cons of opting for certain equipment for free camping?
Fluent Writing – can you write about places or events in a fluent, interesting way? Can you bring a place to life for readers?
Pitching an Article
1. Ask first. Don’t just send an article directly to the magazine. Write first to find out whether they are interested. (Sometimes there might be absolutely nothing wrong with your idea – it might be that they’ve just published a piece on the same general area, or they have commissioned one from someone else.) You will usually find the editor’s name and an email address on the masthead (the section near the front of the magazine that lists all the editorial information) or at the end of the editor’s column.
2. Explain your idea. What would you like to write about? Why do you think it would be of interest to readers? Give a brief outline of how you intended to approach the article. Tell them a bit about your background and your travels.
3. The Editorial Team looks at your idea in relation to what else they have in the production line, what they need, and what has recently been published. If the editorial team is interested in your idea, they’ll write back. You might, at this stage, be asked to send in a sample of your writing.
4. Follow the format. If they would like to commission an article, you’ll be given sent guidelines on writing and presenting the article – there is a certain format to be followed. Take a look at a current issue and this will give you a very good idea of the style of writing required and the way articles are laid out. Usually, the body of the article (the main content) is broken up by sub-headings and some of the information is put in breakout boxes – e.g. ‘Where to Stay’, ‘Cheap Eats’, ‘Don’t Miss…’, ‘Did You Know?’ etc. You will also need to sign a contract (all freelancers for C&M need to do this), so you’ll have to provide information about whether you are a hobbyist or writing as a business. You will also be required to provide a certain number of high-resolution photos of acceptable quality.
5. Meet the Deadline. Producing 15 issues a year, the editorial and design teams are always busy. When they give you a deadline, it’s important to meet it (get your work in early and they’ll love you forever). You will receive an article brief that gives you a brief outline of the article, how many words are required, number of photos required and the deadline. If you have any questions, ask them earlier rather than later.
6. Photos. These are vitally important and not only support the information in your article but also give travellers a great sense of what the place is like (or how to follow your advice on renovations, etc.) You must own a camera capable of taking good photos (at least 10 megapixels in quality) and take care with the composition of those photos. Be careful that you don’t have people in half-shade and half-sun, and show people enjoying themselves and DOING things rather than just posing in front of a caravan or monument and smiling. Try to take some driving shots (a photo of your spouse towing a caravan through some scenic countryside, or entering a town, for example). We need high-resolution photos – generally each photo will be at least 2mb.
Links to Further Information and Help
Writing4Success www.writing4success.com This is a website I established for writers over a decade ago. It has hundreds of articles on writing fiction and non-fiction so you can develop your technique.
Writing4Success Blog – regular posts on all aspects of writing and some handouts for writers.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing – read all about e-publising your book on the Amazon KDP website.
Kobo “Writing Life” e-Publishing – produce your books in an e-Pub format for Kobo
The Busy Writer Series: Plotting a Novel, Creating Characters, Editing Your Work
I have a series of novels for writers called ‘The Busy Writer’ series – all aimed at getting writers up and running quickly. You can see them all listed here:
1. Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Marg-McAlister/e/B0083FV4MC
2. Kobo http://store.kobobooks.com/en-ww/Search/Query?q=Marg+McAlister