Career as a Technical Writer or Travel Writer

Even experienced writers often get mixed up about the difference between a professional relationship and a career. Getting a job as a writer for a magazine, website or a Fortune 500 company is no different (in the career sense) than getting a job as a photographer, engineer or janitor for the same employer. Although you lengthen your resume, you don't build your own platform - that belongs to the entity you are writing for. Even if you get some name recognition, which is rarely the case if you work as a technical writer, it doesn't mean much unless you are one of the top dogs at a major publication. Being "John Doe" who writes for the New York Times or "Jane Doe" of Newsweek might help a little with a book proposal to a trade, but if the average person who reads those publications can't instantly place who you are, it's not career building material. If you leave that job for any reason, you're just another experienced writer with a resume standing in an unemployment line.

The career spectrum for writers extends from technical writing to travel writing. There are technical writers who author books (and not just on technical subjects) and there are technical writers who spend their careers essentially translating bad engineering English into bad technical English. It's not a glamorous career, but many writers have found they can earn a comfortable living at it and pursue other types of writing in their spare time. I can't say I've ever met anybody whose goal in life was to become a technical writer, it's a career people often find themselves in when they grow up. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the travel writer. Travel writing is about as glamorous as writing gets, and one imagines the travel writer on an endless tour of exotic locations, 5 star restaurants and nightclubs. My own mental image of the travel writer is somebody who faces an IRS audit every year to justify all the write-offs for being permanently on vacation:-)

The common threads in technical and travel writing are that both work very well on the Internet and for self publishing. A few pages about being a tourist in Jerusalem on this site draw well enough to justify my self publishing a book on the subject, if I ever get motivated. The problem is, while I travel to Jerusalem every year for a few months, I don't particularly enjoy being a tourist, and the handful of restaurants and cafes I do go to wouldn't make for a very meaty guide. Travel pages are one of the best matches for photo content, and if you're going to be a travel writer, you better learn how to take your own photographs.

From the self publisher's point of view, the wonderful thing travel books and technical books have in common is a tight focus. It may be hard to get to the top of a database search for "Travel to Europe" but even with 1852 titles in print, Lonely Planet doesn't have a monopoly on all the possible travel destinations and themes. How-to books can likewise be focused down to the point where there's no direct competition, it's just a question of your doing the market research to make sure you haven't narrowed the audience down to the point where you'd be lucky to sell a hundred books a year.

Building a career as a writer that isn't dependent on the whims of a single employer requires diversification, just like a stock portfolio. Whether you work as a freelance writer for multiple employers, become a self publisher, or choose some combination of the two, the goal should always be building your own platform and name recognition. If you mix in authoring books for trade publishers, you may be able to establish a baseline of income that will cover the bills while you pursue the work that really interests you.

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