Travellers Calabria Contest: Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston Part 5 of 5

Travellers Calabria by Lara Dunston and Terry CarterWelcome to the final day of our Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston! Previous installments:

Remember that I’m giving away FIVE copies of Lara and Terry Carter’s new guidebook, Travellers Calabria. See details here, but essentially you can comment every day this week for a chance to win Lara and Terry’s book.

And don’t forget to go back and comment on Sunday’s post for a chance to win a Calabrian CD by the group Marasà.

Hurry, today’s your last chance to comment on all the posts!

Now, the final part of my interview with Lara (all photos provided by Lara and Terry; remember you can hover over the photos for their descriptions):

9. Can you share some advice for aspiring travel writers?

Learn to write, learn to travel, and learn about people and places – these are the most important things.

Skills and qualities that come in handy are organizational abilities, especially trip planning, scheduling, budgeting and creating itineraries – you have to think of what you’re doing as a small business otherwise you’ll never be successful, time is money and all that; research skills, of course; language skills or an ability to mime and a mimic accents at least (!); and people skills, especially skills of diplomacy, because while most people you’ll deal with, especially those in hospitality, are absolutely delightful, you will meet the occasional jerk (trust me!).

La Cattolica in Stilo, a Calabrian must-seeThe most important qualities a writer needs to develop, however, is what I call skills of discernment, that is, the ability to judge whether a meal or restaurant is good or bad or why one hotel is better than another. This has nothing to do with taste, that is whether you like a place or not, but it has to do with form and function and all the many elements that comprise them, and you need to consider these things very objectively and critically.

And then – yes, there’s more! – there’s a tonne of knowledge writers need to develop in all sorts of areas, from the travel industry and airlines and hotel companies, to transport and telecommunications and health and weather, to history and politics, arts and culture, archaeology and anthropology, food and wine, fashion and music, you name it!

You need to read as much as you can about a place before you go, while you’re there, and when you’re writing up, and that’s why research skills are so important.

I always encourage writers to hone their writing skills by using other quality pieces of writing as models to aspire to, whether it’s a longer magazine narrative piece or a guidebook you really liked. They should always keep the reader in mind – don’t write for yourself (so forget the corny jokes) but think about what it is that your reader wants from this text, do they want to be inspired, do they just want practical information? Some books require both.

You also need to learn to pitch, because it’s the pitches that get you the writing commissions in the first place. And there are certain etiquettes and protocols to learn, such as keeping in mind that editors, especially magazine editors, are very busy people, so take care when writing your pitches, don’t waste their time, think about what it is that they might need to know to make a decision as to whether they’re going to give you a story or not.

Develop a relationship and stay in touch but try not to be a pain in the butt by annoying them too much. Although to be honest, I often wonder how busy some editors really are, especially when on a Friday afternoon I get an email that ends with “have a good weekend” because they’re at least going to have a weekend – I’m not!

In this economic climate, I wouldn’t advise any aspiring writer to do what we did and quit their jobs and take to the road. It’s a tough time for the media and publishing industries, as it is for everyone.

Peperhoney from TropeaTerry and I no longer have a year’s worth of work lined up as we did for a few years running.Guidebook publishers are “slowing” their schedules, and books that aren’t bestsellers are getting “postponed”. Fees are also declining. Magazines and newspapers are cutting their freelance budgets, so that means they’re buying less content from writers who are in the field and more editors are writing stories researched from the desk.

My advice would be to start to develop your portfolio while you have a more secure job or are freelancing in a more lucrative area, and don’t take the leap into full-time freelancing just yet, not until you have a portfolio of clips and you are on a roll and the offers are coming in.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of opportunities in the digital feed, but unfortunately most simply don’t pay well enough, some pay well below the industry rate, and I don’t think anyone should be writing a thousand word story for $50!

10. What’s up next for you?

We’re in Mallorca now. I’m updating a book for AA Publishing and Terry has a huge photography contract, shooting pics for a few of AA’s Mallorca books. We’re hoping to take a couple of weeks off to spend in Barcelona and Madrid, two of our favorite cities in the world, and yet we’ve just realized we haven’t visited them in about six years!

Then we head to London for a few days, the Veneto for a few days, then Dubai, Syria for a magazine story and meetings about a book, then Thailand to do a book.

We’re currently developing a few books with a publisher on the UAE and Syria that we’re hoping will come off but it’s hard to get projects off the ground in this climate, so we’ll have to see where the work takes us next….

Well we can’t wait to follow you two.

Thanks so much for sharing such valuable information and insights with us, Lara!

Remember you can keep up with Lara on Twitter @laradunston and at her blog, Cool Travel Guide; Terry can be found @terencecarter on Twitter and at his blog  Wide angles, wine and wanderlust.

Be sure to leave your comment and tweet or post to Facebook to maximize your chances of winning a copy of Travellers Calabria! See contest details here. Ends tonight!

20 Beans of Wisdom to “Travellers Calabria Contest: Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston Part 5 of 5”
  1. Gil

    I bet that ‘Pepper Honey’ is really good!

  2. 07.10.2009

    My son is currently working in Peru. He’s been in S America for almost a year. He’s a very good writer and has a personal blog but I’m going to clue him in to your series here about travel writing. He may get some ideas!
    .-= Clayvessel´s last blog ..Get a Handle on It =-.

  3. 07.10.2009

    Lara — A question that may sound impolite but is absolutely NOT meant that way. How much of an advantage in winning contracts/assignments do you think you and Terry have because you are a seamless team? I realize that the publisher does NOT get two-for-the-price-of-one, but still, it has to add something to have you two working together rather than their hiring a writer and a photographer separately (fewer expenses as you two share accommodation/car rental if you’re renting, etc.). Just wondering, and like I said, I absolutely do NOT mean to imply that you two get the nod because of any price advantage, because your talents and hard work speak for themselves! But wondering if you think this has given you a leg up?
    .-= Kim B.´s last blog ..Et Voila — Curtains! =-.

  4. 07.10.2009

    I followed all the 5 days of interview with Lara and I really enjoyed the questions Michelle asked and the interesting insight that Lara gave. What a great idea ! Grazie mille!
    And even if Lara and Tery will not have a workfree weekend in Mallorca, still : happy weekend to all of you!
    .-= Suzie´s last blog ..Iron Furniture =-.

  5. 07.10.2009

    I have throughly enjoyed this 5 day interview….Thank you for sharing it all with us.

    I love the line about keeping “the reader in mind”…practical information is very important, but I like to be inspired. I like to read about a place and feel it..and with lots of photos too! I don’t think that you can get this from guide books without photos, well I cannot anyway.

    I also like an up-to-date book, which you know as been researched properly, it is no good buying a book if its not right.

    Thank you Micelle and Lara 🙂
    .-= anne´s last blog ..A Fun day out in Oxford….. =-.

  6. This has all been so fascinating. I can’t imagine living life the way you do, but I’m so glad you share it with others. Thanks!
    .-= Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side´s last blog ..What Rhymes With Garlic? =-.

  7. Victor Cina

    I could be a travel writer. All I have to do is practice up on the traveling part. I’ve got everything else. 🙂

  8. 07.10.2009

    Somewhere deep in me lives a dream to become a travel writer.
    I have loved these posts and would of course love to win the guidebook.
    .-= Britt-Arnhild´s last blog ..Time for chatting =-.

  9. 07.10.2009

    I’m a big fan of both Lara and Terry. And while it would be the proper thing for me to just purchase their book, I would love to try winning one first! 🙂
    .-= jen laceda´s last blog ..My First Persian is from Jerusalem =-.

  10. 07.10.2009

    Great Q and A series – many thanks Michelle and Lara. Some great insight here.

  11. 07.10.2009

    Good, sound advice. We are all travellers in our own respective lands. Some have the opportunity to travel or live in different parts of the world. And we all write since we blog. We might as well make it interesting, useful and beautiful.
    (P.S.I must see Calabria!)
    .-= Irene´s last blog ..A restaurant and two wet eyes =-.

  12. 07.11.2009

    It really is true – you either have time and no money or money and no time. But rarely does time and money come together. That is why having a career that you love can be so rewarding. The economic times are certainly grim, but it is still possible to dream and get the flavour of a place – that is where a well-written guide book makes all the difference. I love the boxed asides (I assume they are in the Calabria book) where you learn a little known but interesting fact, something that makes the scene you are looking at take on a new meaning. This happened to me in Paris, where as an aside I was told that this was the room that “Napoleon preferred to use” when in Malmaison. I looked at it with new interest and found myself noticing things like the proportion of the room, the view etc. That is what good travel writing can do for you!

  13. ann-marie

    i enjoyed these posts so much~thank you again for always spoiling us! ann~marie

    Thanks for reading Ann~Marie 🙂

  14. 07.11.2009

    I’ll jump in and answer Kim B’s questions as Lara in knee-deep in research material. It’s a good and relevant question and not impolite at all.

    Firstly we’re not a seamless team, if you look closely you can see that while we have been hand-stitched by Italian craftsmen (craftspeople?) occasionally a thread pops.

    Secondly, it honestly hasn’t made any difference with guidebooks and the money that the publisher pays us. Usually Lara or both of us are contracted to do the text first and then the photography is commissioned separately – usually by a different department and usually with a different timeframe. 95% of the time they don’t care that we are a team – for better or worse. Generally the photography is paid on a per-image basis that is a standard fee contract-to-contract for the number of images. The advantages the publisher really gets is synergy between Lara and myself as well as the ability to make adjustments to the shotlist while on the ground. For instance, if I have a restaurant on the shotlist (often written before Lara has had her input) and it’s a tourist trap, then we have the ability to take it out and photograph a better restaurant. On the ground in Mallorca we did this a lot. It does make for a better book, for sure.

    It does make more financial sense for us to have two contracts for the one destination for sure, so it’s a big thing for us, but we survived quite well when we were both just writing.

    When it comes to magazine work, however, there have been a couple of occasions where a publisher has tried to short-change us – where the fee looks great for the number of words but we’re throwing in the photos for free. We judge that on a case-by-case basis.

    On a more positive note, while I can’t give too much away, there are a lot more interesting projects coming up where we’ll be able to better utilise the synergy we have and the vision that we share that can’t really be fully brought to fruition with the usual guide book work. This is where we see ourselves headed.

  15. 07.11.2009

    Hi all

    Just wanted to say thanks for all your wonderful comments, and for reading this week. Glad you’ve enjoyed it.

    Feel free to drop by to our blogs at any time and ask follow-up questions, writing advice, or travel recommendations. Remind us that Michelle sent you and you’ll get the VIP treatment when it comes to travel tips! 🙂

    Hah, I know you’d give them the VIP treatment anyway…I don’t think you know another way!

    .-= lara dunston´s last blog ..Postcard from Mallorca: savouring sunsets =-.

  16. helena

    Do you make an adequate income out of this? Can you project your income for the next two years, for example?

    I’m assuming this is for Lara, so I’ll forward; as for me, adequate yes, predictable not really 😉

  17. I loved this series. Bravo Michelle, Lara and Terrence.

    Thank *you* for reading 🙂

    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..“The Sack Of Rome” by Alexander Stille, “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, “The House At Sugar Beach” by Helene Cooper. =-.

  18. 07.13.2009

    Thanks Terry! Interesting to hear more of how your team works together!

    We’ve got the guidebook at the bookstore where I work in Paris, and I’m still working on convincing my husband to take me to Diamante, where his family has a beach condo!! (We’ve known each other five years and I’ve been to Turin several times but never to Calabria! Bummer!)

    Maybe you’ll come down for the Peperoncino festival, Kim! 🙂

  19. 07.14.2009

    Entertaining, behind-the-scenes interview that goes to a litle more detail than most. The contrast with travelling as a vacation is quite striking.

    Glad you enjoyed, Mark!

    .-= Mark H´s last blog ..The Exotic Wonders of Turkey =-.

  20. 07.14.2009

    Do you make an adequate income out of this?
    Adequate? Yep. But Lara and I have both made more money as department managers in publishing and academia, but we can always go back to that when we’ve had enough. This is entirely hypothetical, but it’s also impossible to compare making US$50,000 at an office job compared to US$50,000 as a travel writer. I don’t have to keep office hours or work in an office which I would have problems ever doing again. I always worked harder than everyone in an office anyway and I’d rather work 14hrs plus a day to never have to do it again!

    Can you project your income for the next two years, for example?
    Well, we’re freelancers. We’re looking a few months to a year ahead but because we have so many projects at different stages of development it’s hard to tell. For instance a job I did a few weeks ago that took two weeks was the equivalent of two months pay at my last job. A couple of jobs potentially coming up will be six months duration each and pay very handsomely – and with creative control. If they don’t come off, that’s cool as well, we could sit in a room for six months, not travel anywhere and simply write up stories and edit photos. We actually wouldn’t mind that option if other projects fall through! And we have only dabbled in consulting, which is something we could pursue.

    I know some people find the thought that we don’t know how much money we’ll earn over the next couple of years scary, but you just need to say what the hell, this is how it goes when you’re self-employed. One thing that I just thought of, how many self-employed small business owners can call travelling to a new destination a business investment? Which is exactly what it is…

    Thanks so much Terry; great answer 🙂

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
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Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
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