‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path; and that will make all the difference.‘ – Steve Jobs
The beauty of escape the city events is that you never know what you are going to leave with. I brought a journalist friend along to ‘How to travel and write for a living’ because I knew it would benefit us both in some way. Although not a journalist I’m also drawn to travel, well-being and having just started up a new little blog, writing too, so I was sold. As always, I learned so much over the course of a couple of hours and left with so many exciting ideas.
Caroline Sylger Jones has had a fascinating and varied career in travel journalism and kindly offered herself up to questions from eager escapees. Having completed a BA and MA in English Literature, written for numerous international publications including all the broadsheet newspapers and glossy magazines such as Tatler and Condé Nast Traveller, had two books published by Footprint Books (Body & Soul Escapes and Body and Soul Escapes: Britain & Ireland (see www.hutonahill.com/books) and set up her own successful retreat review website Queen of Retreats (see www.queenofretreats.com) – her wealth of knowledge and advice was highly sought after and keenly received.
The session was structured as a Q & A, with some really interesting questions and insightful answers for anyone looking to learn more about journalism and how to escape into a more authentic life.
Key advice for all aspiring writers:
- Be honest with yourself – can you really write? If you can, have faith that talent will out – people always want to be inspired and editors of any kind are always looking for great writers.
- Get the basics right – grammar, spelling, structuring a story – then arm yourself with tangible skills – find an evening/weekend class, take a journalism diploma, etc.
- Get lots of experience – develop your style by writing regularly in your spare time, look for an internship, pitch things to local papers, free magazines, collaborative blogs etc. to develop your portfolio.
- Find a niche – for Caroline this was writing about spas, well-being retreats and healthy holidays. By finding a niche you can stand out from the crowd and people will eventually seek out your knowledge.
- Be authentic – Caroline still has a core belief that retreats can truly help a person get the most out of their life – esp today, when everyone seems so stressed out – which helps her write with integrity. Find something you are passionate about and are good at, deliver it with integrity and people will notice.
- Take time to find the kind of writing you want to do – Caroline likes to write slow, thoughtful reviews or personal experience pieces rather than newsy stories. What would you like to write?
- Remember people are opportunities – You need to go to parties. Talk to people. Make lots of contacts. Most of the commissions Caroline has got are by her being proactive – so build and maintain authentic relationships wherever you can. (Adele from Esc had a great bit of advice here too – rather than seeking out advice or help from others, think about what you can do for them. If you help someone in some way they are far more likely to return the favour).
Summary of responses to specific questions:
Q: Journalism sounds like a tough industry to get into, is this a fair assessment?
A: It is getting harder! There are a diminishing number of magazines and newspapers around for a writer to write for and to get their name known, says Caroline. It’s also harder to get a book publisher, and people still want you to write for free online a lot of the time, and it’s easy to get lost online too – there are far, far too many blogs and online magazines. You need to find ways of making yourself stand out. Be picky. Take your time. Learn your craft. Do something different.
Q: How have you maintained financial security whilst being a freelance journalist?
A: Ultimately this industry is portfolio-based, so you’ll want to have your fingers in lots of (related) pies – so as well as writing about spas, retreats and healthy holidays for papers, magazines and websites, Caroline also works as a spa copywriter (writing press releases and web copy for spas and retreats) and a retreat consultant (helping people set up or improve spas or retreats). Her website www.queenofretreats.com helps ‘sell’ each of these parts of her work as well as offering a fantastic array of in-depth, honest reviews of spas, retreats and healthy holidays to help readers can find something appropriate to their life situation.
Q: How do you get copy writing work?
A: You need to be able to write, spell, check grammar, proof read and create professional copy to order and deliver work on time. Get your first client – ask around and see if anyone you know needs help with their web copy, for example. Build a portfolio. Get good testimonials. Then you can start to ‘sell’ your writing – peopleperhour.com works for some people – but for Caroline, word of mouth is everything.
Q: Should you keep your job?
A: The short answer is yes. Write and learn the skills needed in the evenings/weekends until you have built up the confidence/portfolio to attempt your escape and give it the best chance of success. A part time job is always good in the beginning!
Q: Any hints/tips on submitting/pitching for work?
A: Buy the publication you want to write for, have a good look at it and only pitch something you think is right for those readers. Be professional. Call the organisation to ensure you get the correct person to send your pitch to. Email them and make the pitch pithy but short. In Caroline’s experience, if they’re interested they’ll get back within a week. If you don’t hear, chase them once only, one week later. Then leave it – life’s too short to pursue unless your pitch is sensationally amazing. If it is – call them once. Then leave it. Never take being ignored personally – editors are stressed out a lot of the time.
Q: What can an aspiring travel writer do in the next month?
A: Be honest with yourself about what it is you want to achieve and why. Start a writing course. Write as often as you can. Look out for internships, writing circles and mentors to look over your work. Start building genuine relationships with people who can help you and see if you can help them in some way first.
Q: You run a successful website, www.queenofretreats.com. What are the best ways of growing the readership of a site?
A: Mainly, write for others so you can get inbound links – as well as her regular journalism, Caroline writes spa round ups for everyone from the Guardian to Positive News, and regular columns online for The Huffington Post, Healthista.com and Welldoing.org, all to help spread the word about www.queenofretreats.com. Newsletters can help too.
Q: You’ve been writing about spas, retreats and healthy holidays since the late 1990s. What are your favourite spas?
A: It depends on how she’s feeling and the size of her bank balance at the time, says Caroline. She likes Gaia House in Devon for an affordable meditation retreat. Kamalaya in Thailand for a lush holistic break. A retreat can mean anything you need it to – she’d just spent a weekend in St Mawes in Cornwall staying at a self catering retreat where she had daily treatments with a fantastic local therapist. In the UK she tends to avoid spas in hotels unless they’re exceptional and/or pampering (She likes Limewood in Hampshire and The Scarlet in Cornwall) – she’s not keen on massive destination spas as she thinks they’re trying to do too many things and are too commercial. She prefers smaller places that can treat everyone as an individual.
Q: What makes a great retreat?
A: 1. The people. You need first class, experienced teachers, welcoming hosts and brilliant overall management. Not everyone gets it right. 2. A beautiful setting which meets the needs of your guests and matches the claims made in your marketing. 3. Organisation. Leave no detail unaddressed!
Caroline Sylger Jones:
Jobs in journalism:
Other resources for travel & travel blogging:
http://school.escapethecity.org/essays/can-become-paid-travel-writer/ – Great essay by Mark Johanson is an American travel writer and the former travel editor at International Business Times.
http://www.meetup.com/TravelMassive/ – A massive meet up for travellers in London. The next event is 26th June 2014 at Guanabara, I will be there, come and join us!
Note: a little bit of esc the city magic: whilst browsing the esc community boards I spotted the following post:
I responded and got speaking to Prash. Prash is setting up a fantastic project, where travel bloggers will have a collaborative platform to share great travel experiences. He will also be attending the meet up mentioned above. In the meantime feel free to get in touch with Prash directly or me, check out the website and fill in his survey. The site will be going live soon and I can’t wait to both write for and read the posts on localoids to help me on my adventure!
Some great blogs to inspire:
http://www.giveliveexplore.com/ (Matt from Esc’s site!)