Earlier on this year, I won my first commission for a travel article in a national newspaper – a piece about taking my father’s ashes to India, for the Daily Telegraph. I asked Telegraph Deputy Travel Editor Michael Kerr, who commissioned my piece, “What makes a good pitch proposal for a travel article?” He directed me towards this article that he wrote, which suggests that topical relevance will help make a piece more appealing to a newspaper commissioner. I’ve summarised some of the key points below.
These points are most relevant for newspapers, who like to maintain an element of current affairs in everything they produce. Travel magazines are less tied to events and news, but the idea of a connecting narrative or story is important. Essentially, it’s understanding why someone would be interested in the writer’s journey.
N is for News or Novelty
Journalists still get excited by news. So if you are writing about somewhere that is relevant to current affairs, that is a point in your favour. If you are writing about something that has not been covered in travel writing before, it is novel – a piece about visiting the Roman ruins of Rome will be less favourable because it has been done a thousand times before and it’s hard to say anything new. But riding on horseback across the Andes has much more opportunity for new insights, ideas and stories. N is the strongest factor in winning a commission
A is for Anniversary
If your piece touches on a place connected with a significant date coming up, then it is more relevant: the story of The Titanic brings Nigel Richardson to Southampton in the centenary year of the ship’s launch and sinking; or Sophie Campbell’s retrospective of The Queen’s tours and travels in the year of her Diamond Jubilee.
P is for Peg
An event or story to hang your piece on. For me it was taking my father’s ashes to India. This helps to develop a good narrative for the piece. This can also make a timeless piece topical – writing a piece about a Coastal Path in Wales is suddenly relevant if new rules about access have been granted.
NAP will help make a piece relevant or topical. But remember that unique content, good writing and a good story will be your strongest factors in winning a commission.