When I “met” Bex Shapiro, the Managing Editor for Intrepid Travel on Twitter a little while back, I immediately got the sense that she’s an editor writers love – she was responsive, generous, funny and thoughtful. I love this Q&A with Bex because not only do you get an insight into pitching and writing for a travel company that is one of the most ethical in the business, but also how passionate, committed and talented Bex is in supporting freelance writers and bringing their unique travel stories to light.
How to become an Intrepid Travel freelance writer. Meet editor Bex Shapiro
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your career so far?
I’m a Brit, born and bred. I studied Politics in the UK, moved to China for a little while and now live in Canada, where I’ve been for the last three years. I spent much of my early career flitting between internships and freelancing, getting bylines in VICE, The Huffington Post, and ELLE Canada etc.
I’m a brunch enthusiast, passionate storyteller, travel enthusiast (obviously) and have been to 40 countries, ranging from Zimbabwe to Serbia to Colombia.
What prompted you to move from being a freelance writer to an editor?
I’m all about expanding my skillset – especially in today’s media climate – so when a job came up a few years ago to work as an editor at a start-up, I thought it would challenge me and grow my digital skillset. I was correct.
A year after that, and two years ago, I moved to Intrepid Travel. Best decision of my life.
I loved freelance writing – and still write, on occasion. But I’m very social and also very analytical, so I find that connecting with writers and innovating our editorial is what really gets me going. I’m passionate about telling stories, but find with both budget and creativity, I can do that more effectively as an editor than writer.
I also love the challenge of content marketing. There’s no reason why, just because we are marketing a product (the best product!), that our content can’t be as visual and impactful as that of Conde Nast Traveler or Travel + Leisure.
In fact, I see a shift happening whereby brands are becoming the new publishers. Because, increasingly, it’s brands and not publishers, that have the budget and vision to really take their editorial to new levels. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, as it’s all change.
[To read more about how brands and tourism bodies are using freelance writers to create content read: Want to go on a press trip to Queensland? You need to meet Shelley Winkel.]
How has that transition been for you? I’m wondering if you have any insights you want to share about editors that freelance writers may not know because they haven’t been on ‘the other side’.
For me, the transition made complete sense.
I love networking and seeking out new writers and angles! I also love working with people who haven’t written before, which, in many cases, means helping them work up the courage to bring their stories to life. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
The thing I struggle with is not being able to say yes to every pitch!
As a freelancer, it’s easy to take pitch rejections personally, and to dwell on why an editor hasn’t replied yet. But you realise as an editor that there are so many competing priorities that if you keep on top of your inbox, you don’t get enough actual editing done!
So, it’s worth knowing that late replies from an editor are very rarely personal.
In terms of other insights, it’s useful for writers to clearly communicate the types of articles they’re best at writing and want to write! And I’d always rather a writer checks in while writing (with a proposed article structure or with questions), than staying unsure and submitting a first draft.
Can you tell me a little bit about Intrepid Travel, what makes it so special in the travel space and your current role there?
Intrepid Travel is the world’s largest small group adventure travel company. We offer trips in over 100 countries (yes, all seven continents!) and ensure every trip is a culturally-immersive, sustainable, local-led adventure. You’ll tour with an average of 10 like-minded travellers and see both the highlights as well as the hidden gems of a destination.
We have a trip style of every sort of traveller – from cycling to sailing, food to family trips. We also have a range of small ship Adventure Cruises, where you cruise with up to 50 people, stop at small ports, and basically have an off-the-beaten-path experience that other cruises can’t offer. These cruises and trips are all carbon offset.
In my opinion, Intrepid Travel is so special because it walks the walk as well as talking the talk.
Every person who works for the company believes in travel as a force for good. The company is serious about sustainability, and it impacts everything we do. We were the first global tour operator to ban elephant rides, and last year we became a certified B Corp, making us the largest one in the travel industry.
In my role as Managing Editor for North America, I commission, edit and publish blogs relevant to our North American audience. I also work with fellow editors in our offices in London and Melbourne on larger storytelling projects, and focus on editorial innovation, distributing our content, and growing an engaged Intrepid Travel writer community.
If a story inspires you to get up, get out of your comfort zone and see the world, it doesn’t really matter how it’s presented. We do have the regular types of articles you’d expect (“what to do in *insert destination*, why to visit *insert destination*), but we’re particularly interested in firsthand narratives from real travellers. We’ve found that these tend to resonate most with our travel community and aid with the ‘inspiration’ element of trip planning.
Example of some of these firsthand pieces include a 50-something woman writing about her trip to Nepal and how adventure travel isn’t just for the young (here) and a solo traveller turned group tour convert, who went trekking in Jordan on one of our trips (here). We’re passionate about ensuring all sorts of contributors are welcome, whether you’re a solo mum, illustrator or teenager!
Lastly, we want to ensure our content is genuinely useful for those looking to plan a trip, so you’ll also find packing guides, food guides, and our local leaders’ guides to a particular destination too.
Do you have a favourite story that you’ve edited so far?
There’s so many stories I love.. so I’ve picked five favourites. (Sorry, I don’t play by the rules!)
– The road to Machu Picchu starts at 385 lbs (I’ve read it a million times but never fail to tear up; we then sent Carla on a 41-day Cape Town to Zanzibar adventure, and she’s written more beautiful pieces since)
– Why I can be myself on group tours, according to one gay traveller (as funny as it is thought-provoking)
– Why the best travels of my life started after 50 (GORGEOUSLY written)
– How a fork in the road taught me to let go and show the world to my kids (incredibly raw and honest)
– Celebrating life after cancer on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India (the most uplifting piece you’ll read all week)
Are you looking for freelance writers to contribute to Intrepid? If so, do you have contributor guidelines/editorial calendar you can share?
We’re lucky enough to have a strong network of blog contributors already but are always on the lookout for more writers and stories!
We don’t tend to be too prescriptive in terms of guidelines – The Journal is as down-to-earth as the Intrepid Travel brand and our trips. Blogs tend to be around the 800-1000-word mark, pay depends on the piece and the writer, and the easiest way to get in touch is via this page: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/become-a-contributor.
Unsurprisingly, we won’t say yes to pitches about a country we don’t visit. We also don’t accept anything on luxurious travel (our style of travel is adventure travel). And no accommodation features either.
We do encourage writers to think beyond destination-specific listicles and guides, and get a little more creative, and maybe a little more personal. Come up with something that captures the life-changing nature of travel, the cultural immersion it can offer, and the connections with people it provides, and you’re probably onto a winner. And if you’re writing about an Intrepid Travel trip itself? All the better.
Lastly, we are very passionate about the fact that travel is for everyone. The more perspectives we have on our blog, the better. You do NOT have to be a blonde, 20-something Instagram influencer to travel or write about it. Whether you’re in your thirties or your seventies, our trips are for you. Likewise, whatever your background, being a blog contributor is open to you.
In your experience, what makes a good (or better, irresistible) pitch? What if writers don’t have much (or any) experience – are you still open to them writing for you?
The best pitches show a bit of personality. They’re also informal and show an awareness of our brand. I don’t think pitches ever need to be more than two paragraphs. You can get a sense for someone’s writing style – and their article angle – in a sentence or two. Also, authentic stories over clickbait listicles any day.
You don’t need experience to be a good writer. On the contrary, if I get the sense that I’m being pitched by someone who is jaded by decades in the industry, I find that to be an issue! Many first-time writers have contributed to The Journal.
Genuine human? Can write? Decent story? Good idea? Job done.
Strong, hi res imagery is also a plus! But the most important thing in a pitch is to get to the point, do your research and be yourself!
If people want to pitch you a story, what would your advice be?
Go for it! The Intrepid Travel editors are all super friendly love to hear from new writers and travel lovers. The extended Intrepid Travel community is also a supportive and open-minded group, so when your article is shared on our social channels, rest assured that they’re rooting for you.
There’s no point being too nervous about pitching; the worst response you’ll get is a “not this time, and here’s why”. And you might just get a yes!
Is there anything that is an absolute no-no when it comes to what freelance writers should never do when pitching to you or writing for you?
The most frustrating thing, for me, is when a writer hasn’t done a cursory glance at what is already published on the Intrepid blog and sends a pitch for an article we already have! It makes me question their attention to detail, which is never a good thing in the editorial world. Always check whether the article you’re pitching has been done or not! It takes one minute!
I’m friends on social media with a lot of the writers I work with. I don’t see any need for clinical editor-writer relationships. That said, if you haven’t heard back from me, don’t follow up via Instagram Story message or Facebook Chat. It’s too invasive! Give it a week and follow up via email, please.
Anything else you want to add – about transitioning from freelancing to being an editor, advice for freelancers or just general wisdom?!
Like with anything in life, freelance writing is all about confidence. If you’ve been published somewhere once, call yourself a freelance writer in your email signature. Even if you’re not sure about your pitch, make an effort to sound convincing (and be concise!). And when you send in a draft, don’t ramble on about how it’ll probably need loads of edits.
And make an effort to be friendly! Editors and their inboxes are super busy but will absolutely commission more from writers they genuinely like and trust.
Lastly, sharing your work on your own social channels is something I personally really appreciate. It signals to me that you’re proud of it, and it also helps get more eyes on the piece. There’s no point publishing beautiful stories unless they’re actually read!
Lastly Bex, how can people get in touch with you?
Rebecca.Shapiro@intrepidtravel.com! Also feel free to add me on Twitter or Instagram; my handle is @bexshapiro on both.
I love how Bex is just as passionate as the organisation she works for. Have you ever considered pitching to Intrepid?