Please sir, may I publish more?

September 8, 2008

Palmerston North

Palmerston North

Let me start this post by starting that I do not know Ursula Maxwell (even though we both belong to TMAC — the Travel Media Association of Canada), but I’m sure she is a very nice person.

I only mention Ursula because we are both travel writers, although she possesses the longer CV in this area.

As the founding editor of the Langley Times’ Travel section (put into place when The Times added a Sunday edition), I was in a position every writer dreams of: I could publish my own stories. These included the first visit Viking Woman and I made to Rarotonga, Cook Islands, before we moved there, as well as a number of articles about Las Vegas, which has, over the years, become a popular holiday destination for my family.

One such story involved grading Sin City’s roller coasters on a scale of one to five screams (Viking Woman did the actual riding. I, um, observed). On another occasion we walked – WALKED! – from Freemont Street to New York New York (that’s SEVEN FREAKIN’ miles, people!) as we conducted research for a story about Las Vegas weddings.

Later, when I was a features writer at the Calgary Herald, Travel was one of the sections I worked on. Once again, I had an insider’s advantage when it came to being published.

Now that I’m living in Napier, New Zealand, I’m in the same boat as any other freelance travel writer: a million destinations beckon, but who is going to publish the stories?

I’ve lucked out with my first effort – a famil to Tahiti in October – because I’ve already tracked down three markets. This is crucial because, again based on my experience with newspapers, everyone who can type for some reason also thinks they can write. Big difference, Dear Reader, big difference.

The result is a shitload of story pitches and, usually, a whole lot of shit stories.

I ran into a similar situation years ago when I worked for a movie promotion company in Vancouver. Every kid pounding keys for a raggedy-ass school newspaper was suddenly a “movie reviewer” and therefore felt entitled to a free ticket to screenings. We weeded out pretenders by the size of their reading audience. These days, what with people setting up their own websites and blogs, those same wannabe “movie reviewers” could very well claim their deathless prose is now available to millions. And maybe it is. But that doesn’t make them a good writer.

Now I’m seeing the same thing with travel writing – those in charge of doling out freebies being inundated by people with more cheekiness than talent, crowing that they are legit “travel writers” and should be accorded equal treatment as those who write for major publications.

Reduced budgets mean newspapers and magazines are publishing less freelance work, with the result that, even if you wanted to write about your own city – no free trips, nothing comped, just you exploring your backyard – there’s a very good chance your story might never be printed. (And let’s face it, people, anyone can place any old load of gibberish on a blog – just look at this mess – but the true measure of one’s writing worth is still lies in seeing your byline in print.)

Which brings us back to Ursula Maxwell. Again, I do not know this woman, or anything about her, but when I see that she is the publisher/managing editor/travel editor of something called Cloverdale Reporter & Traveling Times, my eyebrows tend to twitch ever so slightly.

I know Cloverdale, B.C. My children once lived there. I wrote sports stories out of Cloverdale. News-wise, it’s a coverage area shared by the Surrey Leader and the Langley Times. Because, let’s face it, folks, other than counting down the days to the next rodeo, not much happens in Cloverdale. A racetrack for standardbreds and a casino filled with the elderly spending their pension pennies, and we’re done. See ya. Thanks for coming.

So I can’t imagine Ursula is kept too busy with the Reporter side of things. But I can imagine someone with some cash and balls and gumption starting their own travel publication (and calling it, oh I dunno, the Traveling Times?) and thus being able to say to tourism reps, “Hey, send me to Maui for a week and I guarantee the story will be published.”

That way, you can also provide an actual tear sheet from an actual publication which, in the eyes of those tourism people doling out free trips/stays as judiciously as Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets, are worth their weight in, well, I guess it’s platinum these days.

So, yeah, I don’t know Ursula Maxwell. But I love what she’s done.


One Response to “Please sir, may I publish more?”

  1. Despite having no idea who you are, I happened to come across this note.

    Some background FYI.

    Black Press Group (the chain which owns the Surrey North Delta Leader, The Langley Times, and over 100 other respected community newspapers) purchased the Cloverdale Reporter from me in March 2008.

    I earned my stripes the tough way, beginning as a journalist with Amalgamated Press South Africa over 35 years ago as a general news ( and travel!) writer. I have earned my living – and been respected by my peers for doing so – covering an assortment of beats, including ‘Travel’ in the various countries in which I have lived.

    By the way – I also sold the very popular Heritage Christmas Magazine (which I also established), but retained the rights the Travelling Times which currenntly continues as a regular paid column in the Cloverdale Reporter and Today’s Senior (for which I have been a paid Travel Columnist & photographer for 18 years).

    Yes, I am considered to be a “nice” (a rather pathetic choice of words) woman by those I have worked with, and who have worked for me.
    Should you wish to actually talk to me, you can contact me at (I sold the website too, by the way), as well as,, and an assortment of professional writing and business organisations.

    What publications have you successfully established and sold? And why on earth has your vitriol been directed at me? I don’t even know you.

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