Not every traveler is a storyteller, but every storyteller takes readers on a trip, whether it’s down memory lane or far afield, in far-flung places which may or may not be on their respective bucket lists. Writes J.E. Leigh, we all of us crave the feeling of being special, of reaching beyond our boundaries to seize on something grand and greater than ourselves, whether for a fleeting moment or the length of a book. Says Leigh, “This simple yearning is in us all, hardly recognizable, often only the merest hint that there is something more to us. This is why we seek out new places … we want to remember a somewhere that gave us the space to expand ourselves, to become a little more of who we truly are.” And rather than revealing the smallness of our stay-at-home lives, reading a travel book is often where we are most ourselves, our boundaries most vulnerable to being smashed. We remake our lives in reliving the travels of others, and we do so without breaking the bank.
But how does one write a good travel book? And how does one write a good travel book in the digital age, when one not only has other writers but bloggers, Instagrammers, and vloggers as competition? We propose that there are three simple keys to a successful travel book which will set you apart.
ONE: Figure out what holds your experiences together. When you’re traveling, often it’s enough simply to be on the move; everything feels like it holds together and makes sense together simply because it’s happening in sequence and to you. But when you sit down to write your book, whether you’re drawing on memory or your travel journals or your Instagram account, you’ll quickly realize that the story doesn’t fit perfectly together afterward … unless of course there’s some singular and deeply traumatic or life-changing event which takes place while abroad. The recent spate of tsunami and natural disaster memoirs falls into this category, but most people don’t live through tsunamis, and people want to read all sorts of travel narratives, including ones without that sort of defining event. So how do you keep all the various fiddly bits from flying to pieces? You figure out a narrative architecture, just as you would with fiction! Who are your characters, and what are we meant to learn about them? Will you keep your book linear in time and place or will you let themes and life lessons be your chapter anchors? Diagram your various ideas and pick the one that feels right to you … and the most together. The architecture matters, and travel books which adhere to a linear timeline aren’t the only ones worth reading.
TWO: Craft the perfect name. After all, you’re self-publishing, and no one else gets to tell you what to name your book! And consider all the great titles to all of the equally great travel-related books you’ve read recently. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild comes to mind–short and sweet–but so too does Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, less short but no less evocative. There’s Stephan Braxton’s An American Nomad, which tells you everything you need to know, and Kay Peterson’s Chasing Rainbows, which raises images of light-drenched asphalt and lush hillsides rushing by, doesn’t it? A good title is more than just a sales point later on; it’s the anchor for your book, and central to how you conceive of your experience. Don’t wait to come up with a title. The moment you find your title is the moment you find the heart of your travel narrative.
THREE: Be authentic. You’ve heard it before, elsewhere, and often. But it can never be said too often that the most reliable key to success as a travel writer is to be true to yourself, and to your experience, and to your own voice. What do you have that an Instagram picture doesn’t? You have nuance. And what about the blogger? You have time and many, many more blank pages to unfold the nuances of your experience without the forced completion of the short post. Vloggers, too, rely on brief and to-the-point videos to highlight the visual impact of a place, but you get all of the beautiful intricacies of narrative, and characterization, and atmosphere … all without the pixilation of a cell phone camera getting in the way. These other forms of travel records are wonderful in and of themselves, and once you’re published they make for fantastic marketing tools, but whoever said a picture was worth a thousand words was not living in the digital age, saturated with millions of pictures of Pisa and millions more of the Great Barrier Reef, The Hague, the National Mall, and the Ozark Mountains. Now, the weight of proof has become a burden, and no picture can make you feel what a powerfully atmospheric sentence can. Be authentic and bring your readers into your experience with all the power that words can muster!
Travel often brings out the best, or the worst, or at the very least the most interesting parts of us. We hope you’ll take this opportunity to further hone your craft and bring the world to your readers in new and fresh ways! Still not sure what you need to get started publishing your next travel book? Visit us online at www.outskirtspress.com to chat with a Publishing Consultant or call us at 1-888-672-6657 to find out how to finish your manuscript and get it ready for publication.
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