Every travel writer wants to tell his story; of the narrow escapes from the cops in Colombia, or the wild beach party in Thailand. The more subtle writers want to tell other people’s stories; about the struggling farmer they met in India, or the street kids in Istanbul.
The first thing to really grasp and accept is that what may have been a life-changing experience for you may only be mildly interesting for someone else. Appreciating the needs and desires of your audience is equivalent to the infant’s struggle to understand that it’s not only that he wants that counts.
For a publisher to take the chance of investing money in your travelogue they must really believe that you have something original to say and that the market is right. Your memoirs of traveling in Egypt are likely to be commercially worthless if Cairo Nights has already been through the bookstores in the past year.
Generally speaking, publishers look for travel books that fulfill at least one of the following criteria:
1. Where the author has completed some amazing voyage by unconventional means e.g. Tony Parks’ Around Ireland with a Fridge.
2. Where a writer knows and breathes the place they’re writing about with humour and authority e.g. Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands.
3. Where a writer has a quirky, idiosyncratic style and is preferably already famous e.g.. P.J O’Rourke in Holidays from Hell.
The publishing process itself is talked about on a million and one internet travel sites and so we’ll give only a brief rundown here. Most publishing houses won’t even look at your manuscript if you send it to them. They have piles and piles of firelighter submissions coming in every day and hire cynical school leavers to flick through them before returning them in the post.
The crux is that you need an agent to represent your travelogue. How do you get an agent? Well, it helps to be published first… This catch 22 is likely to cost you a fortune in printing and mailing query letters and sample chapters in your persistent attempts to get anyone to notice you.
Agents make their money only on commission of the sales they generate so they’re not going to waste time on writers whose work won’t sell. It’s an incredibly conservative, risk-conscious industry and no one wants to take any chances. A rejection letter isn’t necessarily a comment on the quality of your book, it just reflects the realities of commerce.
Any agent that asks for reading fees or charges for editing is a scammer profiting from your dreams of becoming a travel writers. Send them a harvest of baby cockroaches in your next submission.
So what do you do? Well, you keep trying, make sure you submit with all the double spacing, synopsis and the other specifications the agent asks for, always include return postage and maybe accept the idea that just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean it’s going to be published.
Short of that you could always try mooning your bare ass in front of the Vatican and getting famous that way. At least you’d have a name for yourself that might make your book sellable.
Lastly, don’t kid yourself that because you’ve seen some real crap in print that it means you have a chance. Real crap can make millions. Look at Bridget Jone’s Diary. The average reader is pretty mediocre and so mediocre work can do very well. It just needs to appeal to the lowest common denominator.