How to Pitch Your First Travel Article

You can't spending all day dreaming about travel writing. To actually make it happen, you have to pitch! What's a pitch? Keep reading...

I realized in my last post that I got ahead of myself by using terminology that may be unfamiliar to budding writers. That’s what I get for spending most of my time alone in front of my laptop instead of actually having conversations with people, ha! Anyway, there was a word I used that you better get familiar with if you want to make it as a freelance writer and that word is “pitch”.

So, what’s a pitch you may ask? A pitch is essentially a summarized version of your story idea that you will email to an editor when you want to write an article for their publication. There’s a lot of information on the interwebs about what makes for the perfect pitch, but it’s pretty much all opinion-based. Sadly there is no perfect formula because editors all have difference preferences. In my experience, there are a few key things every pitch for a travel story MUST have for an editor to even consider it, but keep in mind that timing, the editor’s mood and plain dumb luck do play a small but significant role. Here are factors that I use to help me pitch.

Is the pitch timely?

I know I said that timing can play a small role in landing a pitch, but actually it plays quite a large role in a few different ways. The first thing to consider is lead time, also known as how long it will take your article to actually publish. For an online publication, try to give yourself at least a month of lead time between sending your pitch and when you ideally want it to publish. For example if you have a story idea about romantic hotels in Bali that you want to publish around Valentine’s Day, start sending your story ideas in early-January or even late-December. You have to give your editor time to read the email and assign the story, and to give yourself time to write it. If you have your eyes on a print publication, give yourself a lead time of at least three months but preferably six months. Yes, I know it seems insane to start pitching holiday travel stories in July, but print magazine editors truly do work this far in advance.

A January trip to Kansas City to see the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum led to my CNN Travel story about lesser-known Black History sites to publish during Black History Month. Timing and newsworthiness was perfect. Photo Credit: VisitKC.com

Is the pitch newsworthy?

As hard as it may be to ingest the news right now, tying a travel story to what’s going on in the world or an upcoming major event is one of my favorite ways to sell a travel piece. Pay special attention to anniversary celebrations, global sporting events, once-in-a-lifetime events (the upcoming Royal Wedding is a perfect example), or if you want to go the travel news route, pay attention to parts of the world that may be experiencing unrest or recent natural disasters. Along those lines, follow up stories about a destination six months or a year after a natural disaster or political unrest (assuming things have calmed down) are also easy to sell to editors. While there is the rare case for a travel story that appears to come out of nowhere, most editors are looking to publish stories that have a strong “why now?” hook. Try to ask yourself as you’re writing your pitch, “why should my editor care about this?” and most importantly “why should the audience of this magazine care about this?” Answering those questions within your pitch is essential.

When I was digital editor for Four Seasons Magazine, I would get pitches from writers about budget travel. Umm the folks reading FS Mag ain’t traveling on a budget. Know your audience!

Know Your Audience

So many travel writers, myself included, think that travel writing is all about what we want to share about what we’ve experience while traveling. Newsflash: literally no one cares about what you thought about a destination, ESPECIALLY your editor. You do not matter, the audience of the publication matters. Most travel pieces these days have a serviceable angle, meaning that they in some way equip the audience with useful information about traveling to a particular destination without making it sound deathly boring. You have the responsibility to know the audience of the magazine or website that you’re pitching.

How do you find this information you may ask? For print magazines, one of my favorite tools is their media kit. Whenever you visit the website for a print publication, somewhere on the homepage (usually at the bottom) there is a media kit that’s basically a guide for advertisers that provides demographic information about the audience of the publication. Everything from median income to age, gender and location are within these media kits and they are essentially a gold mine for freelance writers.

For example, you may not want to pitch a luxury travel story featuring hotels that all start at $500 a night to a publication where the audience median income is $40,000. Online travel publications usually have similar media kits that are titled something like “digital media kit.” An editor will absolutely want to know within your pitch why you think their publication is the perfect outlet for this story vs. another travel outlet.

Ok so I’m going to give you a freebie here…Another amazing factor of the media kit? The editorial calendar!! An editorial calendar is as it sounds, a calendar of topics that the editorial team of the magazine plans to cover in each issue for that year. Some publications have editorial calendars that are more vague than others as it relates to topic matter, but they all featuring closing dates (the date that they close the issue to articles and advertisers) that can help guide the timing of your pitches.

Sell Yourself, Don’t Be Scared

The last thing you must include in your pitch that most writers ALWAYS leave out is why YOU should write the story! I know it can feel weird to talk about yourself over email to a stranger, but it’s important for your editor to know why they should trust you with writing this piece especially if you’re a new writer. If it’s an article about where you live, mention how long you’ve lived there. If it’s about a place you’ve recently visited, tell your editor that you’re just back from xyz. If it’s about a culture, food, tradition, custom that you studied in school, say so! Anything that legitimizes you on the topic is always a plus.

So, to summarize, ask yourself these questions while writing your pitch:

  • Am I pitching my story idea within the timeframe of when it should ideally publish?
  • Is there a news hook?
  • Did I clearly state to my editor why this article is perfect for his/her publication?
  • Did I tell my editor why I should be the person to write this story?

Finally, one note about the length of a pitch—don’t go overboard. A great pitch needs nothing more than a couple sentences about the story idea and maybe one extra sentence to tie it to a news hook (the “why now?”) if you have one. Then provide a couple sentences about why this story idea is perfect for this publication and why you’re the best person to write it. You can do this! I believe in you.

Have you ever attempted to write a pitch before? Have you had any pitching success? Where do you dream to see your byline? Let me know below!

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