Love it or hate it, we live in a world where monetizing our hobbies is simultaneously easier than ever and simply a fact of life if creatives want to get by. There’s a tacit understanding these days that if you’re spending significant time on something, you ought to find a way to make money doing it. We can debate this state of affairs all day long, but there’s no reason an artist shouldn’t try to make it work for them; writers, photographers, musicians and more will all know that as much as we enjoy these passions, they still require hard work. That work has inherent value, and you never know what can happen if you seek out opportunities to contribute your time and effort.
Step one is always to believe in the value of your work, especially as a writer. Whether or not you cast your lot with the college English majors, they and other wordsmiths have long faced the brunt of jokes about Starbucks jobs and simply not making any money. I’m here to tell you that photographers and musicians have heard the same jests, and that while others may scoff, writing is just as much of a skill as anything in the professional and creative fields. There are very talented people from the worlds of business to the visual arts who cannot write and would bite your hand off to be more articulate on the page. Understanding grammar, sentence structure, cadence, and even spelling can all set you apart.
Step two is to deliver. Even before you pick up any assignments or pitch your first story, be writing more. You could write songs, letters to your friends, a fan fiction of your favorite show, or literally anything else that gets the cogs turning. Writing obviously involves translating thought, but a first draft of anything should always be more about feeling. Some ideas will live, others will die, but by and large the act of writing often will shorten the gap between thinking and feeling. It won’t happen all the time, but sometimes the words will come quicker and the will doubts stay away entirely. Even when you feel you might be forcing yourself to write, the result might surprise you. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Before you even pitch, submit, or work to a deadline for a publication, holding yourself accountable to habitual writing will make writing for work seem less like work. It’s the only way to discover your voice as a writer―which is really just a matter of confidence. These elements will set you apart from writers who have great stories or ideas, but lack the tools to properly realize them. Considering how many pitches that travel publications (and indeed, any publication) receive, it’s crucial to stand out with your words from the outset.
Step three, and something to value throughout this process, is patience. Your first few pitches may not be accepted, or a publication may not be able to pay you yet. If your portfolio is small or you simply don’t have one, your first and only goal should be to get published and have a product that you can present to potential clients. None of my paid writing work could have happened without internships and work for “exposure,” which may sound frustrating but is actually the only instance where I’ve worked for free in an industry and then been able to advance. The freelance and non-contractual nature of such work actually works in the writer’s favor here.
Step four is to finally start looking for work, and to do so methodically. Even though it seems like you’ll be performing one fairly standard duty—writing a story—pick out publications like you would full-time jobs. Read their “About Us” information and see what different types of content they produce. Some websites will have their editorial content divided into clear themes and topics, and call for submissions based on those. In any case, only pitch to or inquire at publications that you know you would have something to offer. If they specialize in adventure travel and you’re more of a foodie, perhaps it’s best to move on to the next one.
With a little looking, you’ll always be able to find at least one website or magazine where your story fits. And of course, look to your local publications, especially independent ones! Supporting small media is a great way to build your portfolio and form valuable relationships in the industry.
When I prepare to make another round of pitches, I create a simple spreadsheet that lists every story on my docket—whether I’ve started them or not—and then list publications that I think would be a good fit for each particular story in the adjoining cell. If there’s a specific theme that the publication calls for, list that as well. To make things as easy as possible when the moment of truth comes, list the submission email addresses for the publications in the next column.
Want to find your content a home, but don’t even know where to start looking? As someone who stepped into my role at Passion Passport after scrolling through Instagram on my morning bus ride, social media is a great place to start. Even though it’s a visual platform, accounts with a travel angle will sometimes have editorial departments and/or websites, and more often than not if they’re a larger publication (think 50k+ followers). Twitter is equally good for just searching a relevant hashtag and the word “blog” to see what kind of accounts come up. This thread lists a lot of online publications that accept unsolicited, paid pitches.
But of course, pitch first to the publications that you know best—if you’re reading this, here’s your reminder that Passion Passport accept submissions, too. If you’re not in a huge rush to make money, but want to put your time spent writing into building for future career prospects, consider starting your own blog to publish stories in the meantime. The personal travel blog is an oldie but a goodie, so long as you approach it with a fresh perspective. Besides that, check out our guides on dealing with your inner critic and simply improving your travel writing. Good luck!
Have your own tips for making money by doing what you love? Leave them in the comments below!