Interview with a Six-Figure Travel Writer on How to Make it as a Travel Writer Today
When I first showed preview copies of my book, The Six-Figure Travel Writing Road Map, to some travel magazine industry veterans back in early 2016, I remember one former National Geographic Traveler editor remarking that the title was “ballsy.”
Not inaccurate. Just ballsy to provide a road map for others to join the club.
Later, a Travel + Leisure editor called it a “must-have.”
Since I wrote that book, many things in the industry have changed—namely that each year I talk to more and more writers hitting that “dream” income threshold…and many others reaching their personal milestones of all kinds in terms of making money through their travel writing.
This year, I’m bringing one such writer with me to WITS. I am inspired by her success and work ethic every day and know that her quick rise as a freelance travel writer can have the same effect on others, especially those wondering if they will ever be able to make this work for themselves.
I have known and worked with Vanessa Gibbs for several years now as she’s grown from periodically writing for our Travel Magazine Database, to running that project and several others for me, and now, this spring, co-authoring two new print books with me: 101 Things You Need to Know to Make it as a Travel Writer and 101 Magazines That Need Travel Articles—And Everything You Need to Know to Pitch Them.
Vanessa sat down with me this week to share what she has found most fundamental to making it as a well-paid, happy, successful freelance travel writer today.
Gabi: What kind of work did you do before you started freelancing?
Vanessa: I started out in copywriting doing a little work in advertising before writing website copy for a few different brands. I loved the writing side of things, but the brands happened to be things that didn’t really interest me: cars when I couldn’t drive and fashion when I’m hopelessly unfashionable, for example.
G: I know you’ve focused very tightly and specifically on travel clients while I’ve known you; did you always focus on that or did you start somewhere else and work your way into this?
V: I already had experience in fashion so when I was first starting out, it was easier to get clients in that industry as I had a portfolio I could share. Then I started pitching travel companies and slowly building up my experience and clips there. And, bit and bit, client by client, I took on less of the things I didn’t love and more of the things I did.
G: How do you decide when to move on from a client?
V: I have let relationships fizzle out and stopped following up or started slowly cutting down or turning down work when it wasn’t a fit for me anymore. Whenever I’m at the point where I have to turn down work I’d love to do because I just don’t have the time for it or I’m not pitching for the work I want because I’m too busy doing the work I don’t, that’s when I know I need to shake things up.
G: You’ve got a knack for picking up new projects and running with them. How has this habit helped your freelance business grow over the years?
V: It’s so easy to forget you’re not an employee, and you and your freelance clients are more like partners. You can discuss and negotiate and mold your work into what you want it to be, especially if it ends up benefitting your clients more that what you were doing before, because that’s where your skills and passions lie. I treat myself as a bit of an employee (of myself—not my clients) and have a standing monthly meeting where I look back on the previous month and see what I’ve been doing, who I’ve been working with, and what I’d like to change. Then, whenever I submit a piece or work or come to a natural pause in a project, I bring up how things could look going forward with that client, wording it in a way that shows how it makes sense for them and their business.
G: I know you’ve recently landed clips from Delta’s Sky in-flight magazine and the major British newsstand title Wanderlust; what have you found different about working with big publications versus working with big companies?
V: There’s more security and stability in copywriting and content marketing clients as they tend to be longer-term projects or weekly recurring work. You can plan ahead knowing that income is coming or get ahead on work when you’ll be offline or want to take some time off.
G: How did you know that freelancing was going to work for you and you weren’t going to have to return to a desk job?
V: When I sat down at my dining table on my first day as a freelancer, dead on 9 am still in my hard-set office habits, it hit me that I could do anything. I could work on anything I wanted, pitch whoever I wanted—even wear whatever I wanted. As cheesy as it sounds, in that moment I knew it was going to work because I was going to make sure it did. I’d learn everything I needed to and work however hard it took to make sure I didn’t have to give up that control—that and working in PJs.
Dream of Travel Writing, helping travel writers every day find their path and achieve their dreams of writing about what interests them and making money they are proud of, is proud to be a gold sponsor of the Women in Travel Summit North America 2019.
We’ll be offering exclusive first-look copies for WITS attendees of our two new print books and a special, exclusive jumpstart kit with these books and more that we’ll even ship home for you…along with all of the other swag you’ve collected. Find out how at our table.