Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Claire Walter

Today we talk with Colorado based travel writer and blogger Claire Walter. A prolific writer, Claire’s writing can be found in many national magazines and newpapers such as Sunset, Budget Travel, Hemispheres, and American Way.

She's the author of over a dozen books on topics as diverse as travel, skiing, fitness, and vacation home buying.

Claire has also been bitten with the blogging bug and currently maintains three great blogs - Travel Babel, Culinary Colorado, and Nordic Walking USA.

Hi Claire and welcome to My Year of Getting Published. Thanks for taking time to talk with us.

1. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started in writing?

I was a government major, with ill-formed ambitions to join the Foreign Service for the opportunity to see the world. Then I learned that in order to take the Foreign Service exam, I would need a master's in intl relations. I was really tired of being in school, so I settled on a B.A. and went to NY. My first job was for a now-defunct, brink-of-bankruptcy photographic magazine. Pay was miserable, but promotions and opportunities to edit a lot and write a little came fast. I liked the field and stuck with it on an editing/writing continuum.

2. What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer?

My last magazine job was as managing editor of SKI magazine. Every editor got the opportunity to write one or two travel features a year. I then worked for a public relations agency handling ski accounts and was subsequently hired by one of my clients (an international airline) as a sales promotion writer. By the time I started freelancing, I had a decent writing portfolio.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into travel writing?

At this time, I would think about it very carefully. It sounds a lot better, more lucrative and more fun that it is. At this time, I would say: "If you have a strong narrative voice (AND can find editors who wish to use your work), the future can be bright. For the rest of us, travel writing has become a grind. Everyone who has ever taken a vacation seems to think that s/he can be a travel writer or photographer -- and many give their work away or write for a pittance for marginal markets, just so they can travel. That makes freelancing very difficult for the rest of us."

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

The first person I knew who earned $1/word for magazine pieces was John Jerome back in the 1970s. Then, when myself I started freelancing, many features ran 2,500 words. Now, 1,800 or 1,500 words (sometimes less) is common. Many publications are still paying $1/word. Same per-word rate but fewer words (in most magazines) means that many freelancers now work harder for fewer dollars than a generation ago.

The newspaper travel market used to be decent, especially if a writer cold resell the same story to several non-competing papers. That is no longer the case, as papers fold or at least use more wire service or syndicated material than ever.

Writers' rights have also eroded severely. Many publications now insist on Work for Hire contracts, which force writers to turn over ownership of the creative efforts and intellectual properties to (often) huge corporations. Print journalism is not encouraging.

The future, I believe, lies with new media -- a field that is still evolving. Currently, writing for pay is impacted by all the citizen journalism and writing for free out in the cyberworld, but that will shake out in time as well. My toehold in that realm is blogging. I have three, including a well-received travel blog

5. Which travel writers and/or travel books have influenced you?

Since I didn't set out to become a travel writer, I can't really answer that directly. I was inspired to travel out of plain curiosity and probably by books (fiction or not) set elsewhere and by magazines (Life, National Geographic) that covered a wider world. Traveling, whether seeing new places or revisiting familiar ones, is tonic to me. I want to share my travels and encourage other people to travel as well. One of the hopes for the future of the world lies in seeing how others live, and hopefully, understanding one another too. Writing about it seems natural.

6. As a writer and traveler, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

I don't get paid to travel, only to write, so balancing those is difficult. I now always travel with a laptop and spend at least 2 hours a day on writing and E-mails so as not to get too far behind.

7. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

Where? Wherever I happen to be at the moment. In October, it was England, the Isle of Man, Portugal and Spain. Last weekend, it was Whistler, BC, and this weekend it will be Colorado's Vail Valley. Why? Because I prefer to live in the moment rather than dwell on the past are look too far ahead into the future.

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Rob said...

I love reading your travel writer interviews. Sometimes, though, they just get me down!

The whole thing seems so hard to break into, and even if you do, it sounds like it never gets easier. On the other hand, there must be a reason that freelance writers stick with it. And I guess, if it was easy then everyone would be doing it!

Regardless, thanks for providing the interviews.


ClaireWalter said...

Rob - I didn't intend to be discouraging, but wanted to present a reality check. It IS hard to break into. It NEVER gets easier. Well-paying markets are shrinking and the pool of competitors for assignments keeps growing.

IMO, the reason that many people want to become freelance travel writers is that they perceive of it as glamorous. The reason that many stay with it is because the get hooked and travel and are willing to trade a decent income for it. Earning a living as a freelance travel writer is immensely challenging. - Claire


Hi Rob, thanks for stopping by. The travel writer interviews are great because they provide insight into the world of travel writing... not the glamor and the travel but the hard work and the effort involved in becoming and remaining a travel writer.

Don't get discouraged...perservance pays off.



Hi Claire,
thanks for doing the's great to get the perspective of people who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.


Pam said...

Clare puts it really nicely - we get hooked on the travel (or are already) and writing is a good way for us to offset the expenses of our travel. I'll consider myself really lucky if I break even on my current project and I'm going back to day job work as soon as I'm done writing my book.

There's a quote somewhere that say that the only reason for writing is because you can't help it. I'd say that's doubly true for travel writers. We can't help it.

Rob said...

Thanks for the encouragements! And I'm sorry if I sounded like I thought your interview was discouraging, Claire. I meant more that the whole writing as a career can sometimes feel daunting. Sorry about that.

And you guys are also right- it's much better to get a realistic if tough picture of a career than the rosy ones I've seen for some writing courses (including a travel writing course, believe it or not).

Pam, what's your book about?



Hey Rob, you should check out Pam's blog Nedr's Eye View - she's been writing about her experiences as a travel writer researching a guidebook on Hawaii. Interesting and informative.


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