I’m going to call it. This is one of my favourite Q&As with a freelance writer. You know when you interview someone and they are so passionate about their work that you want to do what they do? Well, after this Q&A with Benét Wilson, I actually started wondering if I too could write about aviation. And perhaps more astonishingly, this conversation with Benét almost (almost!) had me reconsidering my anti-niche stance.
Meet the Aviation Queen – Benét Wilson
Can you tell me about yourself and your path to becoming an aviation writer?
I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers.
I took my first flight when I was six years old.
This was a time when flying was for the wealthy and you dressed up. We flew a Pan Am Boeing 747. I got to go in the cockpit and the captain encouraged me to fly.
I fell in love and it was the start of my aviation journalist.
In 1992, my friend told me about a job that was hiring an aviation writer for actual pay and that’s how I got started.
What kinds of topics do you write about and what sorts of publications do you write for?
I’ve always been a trade journalist. We don’t write for the general public. Instead, we write for the businesses and people for a specific industry, like aviation.
Our job is harder because we have to tell knowledgable people things they don’t know.
You are a wonderful example of the benefit of having a strong niche. Do you think all freelance writers need a niche or specialty?
Think about niches like sports, beauty, travel or fashion. There are so many publications out there and they can pay what the market will bear. And since there are so many writers in that niche, it’s harder to stand out.
That means you’ll be paid less.
Not a lot of people can write about the topics I cover under commercial, business and general aviation.
So publications/brands are willing to pay for that expertise. For example, they can’t go to a general writer or a content mill to commission a story on the digitalisation of aircraft maintenance.
Did you purposefully choose aviation as a niche or was the process more ‘organic’?
I was SO lucky. I fell into writing about my childhood passion and people actually pay me well to do it!
What are the benefits of being a writer in the aviation space? And the drawbacks?
The benefits are I get to fly around the world — sometimes in business or first class — on someone else’s dime. I get to write about a topic that is fascinating. I’ve had the chance to meet aviation leaders I respect.
I wish I could give you a drawback, but I haven’t found one yet. And thanks to this job, I fell into doing travel writing since I was going places anyway.
Do you ever feel pigeonholed as “only” being able to write about aviation?
One of my sub-niches is airports. There’s a saying in that industry: “If you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.” In general, it means that aviation *always* has something going on.
I have never sat at my desk and said “I have nothing to write about.”
What’s your favourite kind of writing job and why?
The ones that pay!
Seriously, I write for the Runway Girl Network, founded by my former co-worker Mary Kirby. Mary has carved out her own space in the passenger experience niche and given a home to a bunch of great female (and male) aviation writers and has been a strong voice for more diversity in the industry.
I am one of the very few black women writing exclusively about aviation, so I appreciate her efforts.
Mary has a section called Lean Into Aviation where she profiles women doing kick-ass stuff in the still-white-male-dominated industry. I get to write those profiles and it’s such a joy because I get to meet amazing women. I also like writing about up-and-coming people in the aviation industry.
Do you have a favourite story (or two) that you’d like to share? What makes these pieces so special to you?
I did a profile of the only black female woman to run an airline. She was also the CEO of South African Airways. The actor Thandie Newton tweeted my story of this woman. I also interviewed Dr. Alfred Kahn, considered the Father of Airline Deregulation, and it was the only time I fan-girled out in an interview.
Because of my childhood experience, I love the 747 jumbo jet and I got to fly on United’s last flight, from San Francisco to Honolulu.
And seven months later, I got to go to Mississippi to visit the facility that is tearing down the plane for recycling. Those were great stories to write!!
Do you have a writing routine? What does ‘a regular week’ look like for you?
I have a separate office in my apartment.
I get up, make a cup of coffee and look at my Trello board for my assignment. There is no regular week. I could be writing about the new concessions at an airport one week and be in Portugal doing a piece about TAP Air Portugal and travel stories about that country’s Algarve region the next.
How do you tend to find your clients?
I’ve been in aviation since 1992.
I’ve been a journalist, but I also have worked for two airlines, an aircraft engine manufacturer and two aviation nonprofit organisations.
The industry gave me the name Aviation Queen.
I’m a black woman who wears colourful clothes and glasses. I stand out in the industry, and I’ve developed a fantastic network.
People find me and offer me work and jobs. I haven’t applied for a job since that first aviation job in 1992. And don’t forget, people who reach out to me are looking for specialised knowledge.
If a freelance writer wanted to break into writing about aviation, what do you think would be the best way to do that?
Learn about the industry.
For example, if you want to write about airports, go early on your next flight. See what’s going on. One of my sub-niches is writing about all the great restaurants and bars in airports.
I did a story about all those vending machines that sell everything from cosmetics to electronics. Read aviation stories and think about different angles. I did a series on the sommeliers who choose the inflight wines for airlines.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Look at industries with broad niches and sub-niches that can keep you paid. Get away from overcrowded, popular niches. Find ones that require some expertise.
Health care is a huge niche. Maternal mortality is a growing niche. Just find your space. I belong to some great Facebook groups that have been so helpful.
Thank you so much Benét, how can people get in touch with you?
I’m on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet.
I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram at aviationqueen (surprise, right?).
Did you enjoy this Q&A as much as I did? Did you know much about aviation writing before now?