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The August BATW meeting starring renowned travel writer and editor Don George took place in the Mandarin Oriental hotel’s lovely Silks restaurant. The topic of Don’s pre-lunch speech was “The Brave New Worlds of Travel Writing and Publishing.”
Don George is best known to most BATW members as the former Travel Editor of the San Francisco Examiner. He began his talk by telling us how he got started in travel writing more than 30 years ago. Ironically, it all began in 1980 when he was hired at the Examiner to fill in for Georgia Hesse as Travel Editor for a year. (Georgia enlivened the meeting with a few personal quips about meeting Don in the good old days.)
“That absolutely changed my life,” Don said of his first year at the paper. From that time to today, he has been continuously reinventing himself as a travel writer and travel editor—and, he has been doing it successfully.
When Don eventually became full-time Examiner Travel Editor, it was the web that lured him away. “I thought the future was online,” he said. That was 1995, and work with Salon.com and Lonely Planet followed.
In 2007, Don decided he wanted to strike out on his own as a full-time freelancer. The only way to survive in 2011, he said, is by diversifying and juggling a lot of balls. Instead of landing a few great-paying gigs, you have to accept lots of little checks in order to make it.
Some of Don’s hints for us as travel writers were to check out magazine racks for unusual suspects that might take travel stories. He emphasized the need to self-promote and network. As to online markets, he noted there are more opportunities now and fewer middlemen. That’s the good news: the bad news is the low pay.
Don’s suggested route to success is to find people who need what you love to do, who need your passion. They may not know they need it, so you have to spend time creating your own job. He also advised following the money, i.e. Google.
After a lively Q and A, we were treated to a superb luncheon at Silks.
Thanks go to Michelle Loane, director of sales for the Mandarin Oriental, for hosting lunch, and to Diane LeBow and Erin Caslavka for coordinating this outstanding meeting.