One of the biggest takeaways from the Gadling NoFF happy hour last week was an idea of how many indie travel blogs there are out on the web at large. It’s a great way to get visibility and practice as a travel writer, whether one is just starting to get into the industry or is an experienced, global contributor. In some cases, a personal travel blog can be a place to collect all of your work, where potential clients or employers can get a good idea of what you’ve produced. Heather Poole, our resident flight attendant and social butterfly keeps up a great blog where she dishes on some of the daily flight attendant buzz and links around to her book, Gadling and the community.
Travel blogs can therefore be a resume of sorts, and many editors (including myself) like looking over the personal websites of potential writers to gauge writing ability, technical prowess and general voice. Often times, we peruse sites daily irrespective of pitches to find a good fit for our sites. That’s how we found adventure blogger extraordinaire Kraig Becker. His work with The Adventure Blog is unparalleled in its market — and was a perfect fit for Gadling when we brought him onboard.
That’s why one of our biggest tips when we talk to new or aspiring writers is to start a travel blog. It’s a good way to get practice in the writing world, get nestled within the community and start building up product. As David Landsel, editor of the New York Post travel section puts it:
I like to see that they’re speaking like an actual human being — a lot of bloggers are afraid to be authentic because they don’t want to get blacklisted by the places they want to cover. Fearlessness is one of my favorite qualities in a writer.
Naturally, every editor has his or her own ideal style, but there are certain aspects about every blog that need to be buttoned down to give us the best impression. Here are some of the things that you can focus on:
- Formatting and typos. Obviously. But this is huge. If I’m flipping through a page of blog entries and there’s an easy grammar error in one spot or a misaligned picture in another then it’s a sign that the blogger isn’t paying attention. And if the blogger can’t get his or her blog right, then the trust can’t carry over to a public blog.
- Voice. The blog medium is intrinsically opinionated, and how you direct this voice can make or break your site. Frommer’s Senior Online Editor Jason Clampet elucidates:
“I like a blog with both an expert voice and personality. Blogs like Cranky Flier and Chris Elliott’s are a great example of this. They give you information you can act on, as well as personalities that make them open to their readers.
The line between personality and self-absorption is pretty thin and few travel bloggers end up on the right side of it. I have no need for the ‘I did this then this then this’ and ‘I’m flying on an around the world ticket during my year off’ blogs. Might as well make that blog private between you and your poor parents. There are very few amateurs who can pull it off; most anyone who’s successful has a background in either the travel industry or as a reporter. I love a good hotel insider blog written by an anonymous manager or a solid tourism blog written by a tourism & marketing corporation minion. Ex-USA Today editor Chris Faust falls into the reformed reporter camp. She’s really smart about the blogging platform, but her content is so good she could get away with a Blogger.com account.”
- Blogger v. Tumblr v. WordPress v. Custom. The level of intimacy that you have with your html is a reflection of your tech savviness. If the best blogging technology that you can use is Twitter then you have a lower chance of figuring out how to embed customized text or graphics in a corporate Content Management System (CMS). Conversely, if you’ve hand coded some wicked music robots into Tumblr then you have a good chance of being able to master even the slightest, dark corner of blog technology.
- Dynamic embedding. These days, most CMSs have marginally strong means for embedding customized photos or video. But what about that random video from National Geographic that doesn’t directly link into WordPress? What about that audio file from NPR with a custom width that won’t properly fit into your page frame? Showing that you have the ability to manipulate your main vertical with a broad range of multimedia components is a strong step towards expert blogging.
- A broad range of content. We get it. You work for the sexiest gear provider in the west and 80% of your posts, despite your independence, are sourced from that spot. That’s not a big deal. But you need to demonstrate your ability to cover your content from different angles. There’s narrative posts. There’s links to other sites. There’s reviews. There’s discussion posts. Changing angles is a good way to keep your content fresh and your readers interested. The ability to do this as a blogger is important.
- Experience. Again, David Landsel:
“Like any topic, the more you cover it, the better you get. I want a writer to have been traveling extensively for at least a few years before I start taking them seriously. It’s not their fault they’re green — it’s just that their opinions are less interesting when they have less to base them on. Just put in the work and learn all you can, as fast as you can. When I think of some of the sweeping statements / hearty endorsements I made early on as a travel writer, I laugh (and also cringe.)
- Social media presence. It’s great to have links to your content out on Twitter and Facebook — to a degree. If you’ve got a good modest presence in social media and you aren’t spamming your identical content out on feeds every 45 minutes, we know that you understand the value of community engagement and can apply your skills on a corporate level. And as social media takes the front seat in much of the traffic generation on the web, that skill is more and more important each day that passes.
Have we adequately convinced you of the OCD nature of travel editors? Great news. Now get that travel blog rolling!