Travel writing is a popular but challenging market segment. You’ve moved to France and want to tell people about it? Unless you’ve got magical writing gifts, you’re almost certain to find that ground has already been overcultivated, and a literary agent is likely to reject your manuscript on that basis alone.
Any exotic location or (really) any genuinely original way of exploring those locations will stand out from the pack. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is one great example, as is Along the Enchanted Way by William Blackler.
Novelty and comedy can also work: pogoing round Ireland, or riding a goat to Kandahar are all hooks on which to tell a tale. Even a simple bus journey can make a riveting read. It’s how you write about it that matters.
1. Do your research – pre-travel research enriches the whole experience; post-travel research adds depth and accuracy to what you write. While travelling keep notes or you will forget. Take photographs to illustrate your words.
2. Be curious – about everything and everybody. What makes many travel books enjoyable is the people encountered along the way. Talk to everyone and never stop asking questions. Listen with a sympathetic ear. Look behind the glossy exterior, delve beneath the surface.
3. Have a sense of wonder – Colours seemed so much brighter when we were children. Try to see the world with that same freshness of vision.
4. Use all your senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Develop a feeling for the culture and history of a place. And a sense of humour allied to keen observation can make the most ordinary of experiences entertaining.
5. Don’t neglect your inner journey – Many of the most successful travel books are as much about the emotional journey the author makes as they are about the physical journey. The resolution of a personal issue or a change in attitude adds interest and brings the reader closer to the author.
6. Write with passion – To fully engage the reader (or indeed, a literary agent) your book must have something in it that you care about strongly. An issue, a cause, the pursuit of a lifelong ambition. Without this, your writing is in danger of seeming flat.
7. Be an open door, be receptive. Travel with open eyes, ears, mind and heart.