What do you look for in a travel article?
One of the most common mistakes that wannabe (and some professional) writers make is to assume the reader wants to hear about their holiday. They don’t. Travel writing is not about you or your holiday. The best travel writing tells a story that sheds new light on a destination. Whether it’s a city neighbourhood or a remote jungle reserve, I want stories that go beyond the surface (this is a cool street, with nice bars or this is an amazing natural environment with incredible wildlife) and delve a little deeper. I want to find out something I don’t already know, or can’t google in a few seconds. I want to learn something about a destination that will make me want to go there. Good travel writing is more than just describing a place. In fact, an overuse of adjectives is usually a sign that the writer is struggling to find a story. The best writers know what they want to say about a place, are confident in their story and tell it in clear, concise language.
How complex a story do you like?
The best travel stories are often the simplest. While you may be writing about a destination with a complex political or social backdrop, your story should have a clear narrative that doesn’t get bogged down by the intricacies of, say, recent elections or a convoluted history or the geopolitics of a region. That’s not to say your story should ignore the political/social/cultural context of a destination. It shouldn’t, but the trick is to give some context to your story, while inspiring the reader. Sometimes, a description of an encounter with a local person, or a meal, or a journey, can say as much about a destination as four paragraphs of dry history. In short, you should aim to find out as much as possible about a destination, but the art of travel writing is to then distil that information into succinct copy that will keep the reader engrossed.
What would you advise about pitching to several editors at the same time?
Ideally you would pitch to one editor at a time. Pitching to multiple editors may seem like you are increasing your chances but, if your pitch is accepted by more than one, you are left in the awkward position of having to backtrack with one of them. My best advice is to pitch to one, give them a specific time frame to reply (e.g. a week or two weeks); if they say no, or you don’t hear from them, take the idea elsewhere. If you do decide to pitch to several editors at the same time, be up front about it – say you’ve sent the idea elsewhere and then let them know if you get a response from another editor.
Isabel Choat is the Online Travel Editor of the Guardian, and was previously the Print Travel Editor there. For more tips on how to get into travel writing, check out The Travel Writer's Way: