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Today I’m talking with Shannon Hurst Lane, a Louisiana based travel writer, and founder of GiftedTravel.com, an educational family travel site. She produces a monthly newsletter, Travel Writing Tips, and has written The Lane Method (The Definitive Guide to Travel Writing). Plus she has recently signed on as presenter and travel expert for The Around Town TV Show.
Hi, Shannon and welcome to My Year of Getting Published. Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts on travel writing.
1. Did you always want to be a writer ?
I don't know if I always aspired to be a writer, but I definitely had a strong interest in the Arts. As a child, I used to make up stories in my mind and illustrate those stories in my school notebook. The problem was, this usually happened in Math class. I did well in my language classes and creative writing, but my forte was music. I ended up majoring in Music Education at University, but found that career choice to be low-paying and took a job in the fire service to hold me over until I could decide what I wanted to do with my life. That was thirteen years ago.
2. How did you get started in writing ?
I've always been an avid reader and had this dream in the back of my mind of being a famous romance writer. Working in the fire service is a far cry from that profession. Fortunately, the internet has provided so much access to learn about the craft of writing. I mentioned my desire to write to my hairstylist one day and she revealed to me to plan she had for a local lifestyle magazine. We worked on this project for a few months, along with the help of the editor of the local weekly paper. He expressed a need for article assistance, as he had no freelance budget. The offer was made to teach me the newspaper business in exchange for articles. Of course, the magazine never went to print, but I gained a portfolio of clips from the newspaper.
3. What do you consider your first big 'break' as a travel writer?
When I started freelance writing, I had never really heard of a travel writing. I came across a few sites that introduced me to this genre, and suddenly, a whole new world opened up. Some people might consider their first "break" a writing gig. I consider mine my first press trip invitation. I had no idea that places sponsored writers in this area. I had heard of press junkets in the movies industry, but I thought it was contained to that industry. When I received an email asking if I would be interested in traveling to a Caribbean island to experience the culture and the renovations of a hotel, I thought it was a joke or a timeshare sell. I called the contact number and asked, "How much is this going to cost me?" When the contact replied, "Just gratuties and incidentals. Airfare, meals, and lodging are all included," I almost peed in my pants. I honestly didn't think it was real until my air tickets and itinerary were overnighted to me. I learned so much on that trip from the other writers that were in attendance, and also from the PR rep that put the trip together. I've placed storied about that particular destination over and over.
4. As a traveler and writer, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?
I don't know if my challenges are actually on the road. I've already mastered packing light and making sure I have all the equipment I need. I make sure I have extra memory card for my camera and small little notepads to take notes. I keep a separate journal for each trip I embark on. When I am able to, I bring my laptop. This helps me keep in touch with people while on the road.
My biggest challenge I face as a traveler and a writer is actually at home. I'm a wife, and a mother of two, plus I still have a full time position with the fire service. I am fortunate that my husband is a big help with the responsibility of kids. I try to give each child, and the hubby, plenty of attention before I leave for a trip. There is also that "mother guilt" I feel when I am planning the trips. However, as soon as I am dropped at the airport, I get those butterflies of excitement in my stomache. I'm a travel junkie.
5. . You've recently set up a travel site, GiftedTravel.com, that focuses on educational travel with kids. Tell us about Gifted Travel and how it came about.
I spend so much time away from my family when I travel, that I wanted to work on a project that would include my children. My son is in the Gifted Program at his school, so in doing some market research, I found that there isn't a whole lot out there in regards to educational travel for kids. I submitted a book proposal for "Traveling with your Gifted Child" to various publishing companies, one of which took an interest. They kept leading me on for about six months, asking for chapter after chapter. After all that time, they declined, stating that the book ws a very good idea, the book needed almost NO editing, but that they didn't want to publish a travel book which would require updating after a few years. It was not cost-effective for them. So, I took the concept to the internet. I expanded the destinations to include worldwide places of interest instead of limiting the site to the US.
Freelance writing can be a thankless career, so I took out a small loan to provide a small payment to writers who submit to the site. It is proving to be quite an expense for me, so I hope that ad sales start coming in. However, with all the fantastic writing that is being submitted, I have high hopes that the site will be able to continue to offer free information to consumers.
6. What advice can you give aspiring travel writers ?
Don't quit you day job. The restrictions of a a full time job can put a damper on your travel writing career, but it can sometimes take months to get payment from publications. You will have alot less stress if you know you have money to pay your bills. You can't query publications if your electricity is cut off.
Start with your own back yard. Write about where you live before you begin traveling the world. It will help you establish yourself in this industry and it will be easier on your pocketbook in the beginning.
Be honest in your assesment of a place. Yes, I do accept comps and press trips. I am not independently wealthy, and as most publications these days do not cover expenses, it makes business sense to save money where you can. However, accepting a press trip or comp does not mean you are required to write about the sponsor or even write favorably about the sponsor.
Buy my book, "The Definitive Guide to Travel Writing." (shameless plug) Seriously, I have listed everything I learned about travel writing in this book.
Network. I have made so many friends and contacts in this business by networking. There is nothing wrong with making new friends.
Most of all, HAVE FUN. If you can't enjoy what you are doing, then you need to be doing something else. It doesn't mean every moment will be exciting, but your overall experience is one you enjoy, then go for it.
7. Finally, what is your favorite place and why?
Liz, it doesn't matter where I go in the world, my favorite place is always home. Like Dorothy says, "There's no place like home."
Previous interviews: Wendy Perrin, David Whitley
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
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