Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The reality of being a travel writer

I have a little story in today's Herald about doing a 4WD safari into Tahiti's interior. A propos of that, here are some facts of the travel writer's life for you, should you be thinking of joining our esteemed fellowship:
  • I went there in 2006, but had never been able to fit that particular excursion into any of the stories I wrote back then. My trusty 3B1 notebook, diligently filled each night with the day's details, and my photos, were enough to refresh my memory to write about it with sufficiently vivid detail 7 years later. (I did check, of course, that everything I described still applies today.)
  • The editor asked me if I could supply a short Tahiti story for him as he had a space coming up and needed it quickly. So I dropped everything, wrote it and sent it in straight away. That was in June 2013...
  • Even though the photos were taken on the first ever Canon Powershot, with the stunning (-ly low) resolution of 3.5 megapixels, they were still acceptable for the newspaper's use.
  • I wasn't paid for the story on submission (that's very rare) - I have had to wait for publication, and will receive the payment probably in a month's time, since the editor has to authorise it first and he's usually a bit tardy at that, which means I'll miss this month's pay round.
  • Hampered by a restrictive budget, he (apologetically) dictates that the total payment for a 600-word story including photos will be around NZ$250, maybe a bit more, probably a bit less, which after tax amounts to roughly $180. The days of 40c/word payments seem pretty much over.
Still interested in a career as a travel writer? Then note too that I'm still chasing up payment from last year from two overseas publications, with no sign yet of filthy lucre - one for a story of over 1000 newly-minted words for the measly sum of US$115 and the other a re-run for C$250, which is rather better, though they did syndicate it to four associated provincial papers for no extra cash.

You don't do this job for the comfortable living it affords you. You do it for the lifestyle. And, speaking of that, I'm coincidentally in the middle of arranging a new trip to Tahiti in April, the focus of which to publicise that it's more than the expensive flop-and-drop destination of popular perception. So instead of the luxury over-water, French cuisine, spa-type experience in Bora Bora that I rather fancied, I'm going to be crawling through lava tubes and staying in little pensions and buying my own food from caravans. I was also going to be throwing myself out of a plane for my first ever sky-diving experience, but that's been canned because the tourism people have decided it's "too risky" so instead I'll be walking on the sea-bed wearing a diving helmet and getting up close with sharks and manta rays. It's all excellent story material, and it will be fun, but I'll probably end up out-of-pocket for this trip too. Ho hum.

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