finding new stories

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Pivot with Persistence

COVID-19 has changed travel writing dramatically, at least for the near term. Think a year or more. Finding new outlets for our stories, in fact finding new types of stories, is a necessity. It isn’t easy getting the attention of a new editor at a new publication, especially if your portfolio is just travel articles.

fred mays

In my own experience of seeking out local publications, it took three months of queries and doggedness to finally break through with a local magazine publisher. She always responded to my pitches, but never bit until last month. And then in a big way…four articles in the next two issues. And the expectation of more in the future.

As a former television news guy, I’m pretty good at spotting newsy stories. That training has helped me a lot as the travel writing markets dried up. In fact, I’ve been writing a number of non-travel stories for the past year. I developed interesting stories that were fun to work on.

Here are a few stories that have worked for me outside the travel field. Fitness for older adults…sold to a magazine that caters to boomers and the 50+ age group. Palm tree disease in Florida…sold to a nature magazine. A tour of the National Soccer Hall of Fame…sold to a Dallas lifestyle magazine. Budget woes of the U.S. Forest Service and the impact on users of our national forests…sold to Texas Highways magazine.

As writers we are storytellers. But more than that we are reporters and journalists. We have to condition ourselves to see micro stories that can get lost in the big picture. We have to find the stories beneath the daily headlines. We have to think about what readers may be asking for. The Forest Service story would have never happened if I hadn’t been planning a camping trip and found that some campgrounds and trails in the national forest were closed. Why? It took some digging to get to the budget story.

There are lots of stories out there that can lead you to new publications. Cast a reporter’s eye at your news feed, read the local papers online, look at what’s on the local nightly news, follow your instincts. What big national stories have local implications? Do your local nursing homes have masks and PPE gear? If not, why not? What about families with a loved one in a nursing home that they can’t visit because of COVID-19? How do they cope? There are lots of new stories out there. Finding them isn’t hard. Finding new outlets and publications is the tough part.

As a travel writer, look for local travel related stories with local or statewide outlets. Travel industry experts says the travel rebound is going to be slow, and local or regional focused. Look for publications that serve those markets.

Pitch to editors of general interest publications. And keep pitching until you get their attention. We all know no response is a frequent result. Keep making contact. It may take several attempts to get their attention. You’re new to them. They don’t know you or your work. As I mentioned, it took me three months to break through with the editor, and when the light came on she thanked me for my persistence.