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Book Review: The Travel Writer’s Handbook – How to Write and Sell Your Own Travel Experiences by Louise Purwin Zobel and Jacqueline Harmon Butler (Contributor)

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Louise Purwin Zobel's The Travel Writer’s Handbook: How to Write and Sell Your Own Travel Experiences is essentially a ‘how-to’ book that begins at the beginning. There is no end, because you’re always learning and relearning the tricks of the writing trade. But the best trick is they wrote it in an easy to read, easy to digest manner, which lays out all the necessary steps to make a successful career in the writing field.

Think it’s all peaches and cream? Think again. But it’s certainly not drudgery either, at least most of the time. And if it should become drudgery, you’re either doing something wrong, or you’re not doing something you should be doing. ‘Course, there’s always a third ‘should’: Maybe you shoulda gone to bed instead of staying up partying, or dancing, or buying that last bottle of champagne.

Judging from the Contents Listing alone, you’d wonder how many volumes The Travel Writer’s Handbook comprised. Looking at the original copyright date, you’d wonder why bother reprinting a book almost 30 years old. You’d probably wonder about a few other things, too, until you cracked the book and began reading it. This lady can write! The book is small in size and under 300 pages, but there’s a lifetime of learning packed into this slim volume.

The book begins more like a novel than a how-to textbook, gets better quickly, and stays there. Zobel draws you in from the first sentence, then painstakingly lays out the whats, whys, and wherefores of the travel writing field. She stresses research, which is, of course, at the bottom of any successful writing.

[A small aside: There’s a book originally due out later this month that rated a feature story in many newspapers around the globe in the last week or so. The book, entitled Madame De Maintenon: The Secret Wife of King Louis XIV, is by biographer Veronica Buckley. Buckley used quotes throughout her story from a book published in France in 1998. Buckley revealed the book was based on papers found only in 1997, some 282 years after this “secret diary” was written, “a packet of yellowed papers, wrapped in string and sealed with faded red wax.” It was found, she added, hidden “inside a heavy old chest in a Loire valley manor house.” She had read about the Sun King’s secret diary in a 1998 book published in France, and used the book as one of her prime sources. The only problem? The 1998 book was a work of fiction.]

The author goes on to stress that “being there is never enough.” You have to research before and after your trip, extensively. The Travel Writer’s Handbook teaches you the rudiments of marketing as well, since once you’ve written your story, or your book, you’ve got to sell it. Zobel covers the basics such as what to pack, and what to look for during your trip to your destination, because it’s sometimes as important as the destination itself. Pretend you’re a tourist, she advises.

Extensively covered is the how-to of writing itself. Not punctuation, spelling, or sentence and paragraph construction. That, you’re supposed to know beforehand. If you don’t, it’s five sharp cracks with a ruler across the knuckles for you! She also teaches you why you should learn to use a camera, and the very basics of photo composition. Patterns for travel articles are given, making it simpler for the rank amateur to write a decent travel story.

Zobel even goes into the financial side of things: what can you deduct as legitimate expenses and what backup to keep. Finally, she advises the reader of the inherent responsibility that goes with writing travel articles. Negative articles don’t sell, as a rule. But a story that ultimately induces a traveler to follow your advice, then leaves a sour taste in the traveler’s mouth, does nobody any good. Responsible travel writing is a must.

Which is, I’d guess, a valid rule for any type of writer.

If there were a Professor Emeritus of travel writing for English language writers, it would be Louise Purwin Zobel. Her book and her teachings have been cited by travel writers the planet over, by thousands of students, by the many universities, colleges and online learning centers who’ve used her teachings, and by librarians and conference organizers. Even professional travel writers unanimously promote her book. If you own only one book on travel writing, it should be The Travel Writer’s Handbook.

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About Lou Novacheck