1. Can you tell readers about your writing journey and how you came to be involved with travel writing?
I worked at RCA Records for seven years in marketing and did a lot of writing there as a part of my job. When my now-wife and I started preparing to go backpacking around the world long-term, the obvious money-making paths for me seemed to be teaching English and travel writing. So I did both. The stories I got published were just a trickle at first, but over time I got more assignments and eventually I was able to dispatch stories and hotel reviews from five different continents. I worked part-time for many, many years before I made the leap to this being a full-time job. For me, things really started to take off when I put out a book that sold well and started a blog to go with it.
2. You have a new book coming out soon…would you share a bit about that with Freelance-Zone readers?
It’s hitting the virtual shelves now, so you can get it at the usual online shops, at Booklocker.com, and soon at the Apple iBookstore. It’s called Travel Writing 2.0: Earning money from your travels in the new media landscape. This is the first guide I know of to address how to actually earn money at this in this time of transition between print and digital media. Besides my own hard-won advice, the book has lots of nuggets from 52 other travel writers and a group of editors and publishers.
3. In your opinion, what are the biggest mistakes writers make when it comes to travel writing?
Trying to publish broad stories about places instead of spending time finding unique angles that have not been covered before. Sure, you read plenty of ho-hum destination stories in magazines that follow a similar script, but what editors really want from new freelancers are unique angles, especially ones that can fit onto a page or less in the print world. The same concept applies to blogging as well: if what you’re writing is not noticeably different from everything else out there, why do readers need you? We’re already drowning in average prose from average writers.
The other big mistake is not having the long-term vision and persistence required to succeed at what is a very competitive field. It can take years to get established as a travel writer, whether on the old print path or a new digital one, so choose opportunities based on what it will do for you long-term, not how big that single check may or may not be.
4. Would you share a career highlight with us?
I can’t pick one because the highlights are two-fold. First, I’ve taken some mind-blowing, amazing trips that either paid for themselves from articles sold or were covered by someone else paying the expenses and to me that’s the real payoff of this job. Writing assignments have taken me to the Galapagos, Peru, Panama, Iceland, Botswana, Hungary, Nepal—and plenty more places. Winning a Grand Prize from the North American Travel Journalists Association was nice. Selling Italian rights to The World’s Cheapest Destinations was pretty cool. But probably the greatest highlight was being able to reach the point where I could pay the bills and support my family as a writer/editor/blogger. I’m proud that I’ve accomplished this mostly because of websites and blogs I’ve created myself from scratch, not from pleading with rotating gatekeepers over and over.
5. What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?
One of my high school English teachers told me not to use 20 words when 10 will say it just as well—or better. What’s made me a good writer, more than anything I think, is being good at brutal self-editing.
BIO: Tim Leffel is a full-time freelance writer and the author of several books, including the new Travel Writing 2.0 and The World’s Cheapest Destinations, now in its third edition. He is the editor of the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel, the CheapestDestinations Blog, and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.