Guest Post: How to Write Travel Memoirs by Gordon Cope – Part 3

Gordon Cope was previously featured on Reading Recommendations and offered to write this new 3-part series about writing travel memoirs.

How to Write Travel Memoirs

I recently attended the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference, held each February. In addition to fantastic speakers (Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Scott Turow this year), the conference runs over 50 seminars on everything from ePublishing to poetry. When an instructor asks for a raise-of-hands to show who is working on what genre, the memoir always wins.

The memoir genre is not held in high regard; I once heard it described as the bastard son of non-fiction. But for aspiring writers, it is an enjoyable, accessible vehicle; the travel memoir, especially, inspires nascent authors to grasp their digital mice and let their imaginations flow.

Having read many travel memoirs (and written three), I recently sat down and pondered exactly what makes a travel memoir a success, which I measure by the ability of the author to include me as a companion in their exploration of fascinating and exotic lands.

As part of the Tenth Anniversary of the publishing of A Paris Moment, I offer some tips and advice on how to write a travel memoir.

Moraine Lake Alberta



Now that you have finished your travel memoir, it is time for the public to enjoy it.

Traditionally, authors approach publishers with query letters. If you wish to go this route, find a number of publishers that have put out books similar to your work, outline the highlights of your manuscript and ask if they would like to consider it for publication.

I should note that, in almost 30 years of writing and sending query letters, I have never had a positive response. Publishers receive thousands of unsolicited queries every year, and unless you are a celebrity or prominent expert, they will not seriously consider your work. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but they are exceedingly rare.

How, then, do you interest a publisher? I have had three travel memoirs and one mystery thriller published by four different houses. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1. Make friends with published authors. When I had completed A Paris Moment, I approached an old friend, Brian Brennan, who had several books of non-fiction published. I asked if he would recommend me to his publisher, and he agreed. Charlene Dobmeier, head of Fifth House in Calgary, read my work and agreed to publish it in hard cover. Once you are an established author, publishers are much more willing to consider your work.

Step 2. Don’t know any authors? Join a guild, and you will soon meet some. Most provinces and states have some form of writer’s guild. The Writer’s Guild of Alberta, for instance, offers unpublished authors the opportunity to join; for a very modest annual fee, you will be invited to social events, readings, conferences and workshops where you will be rubbing shoulders with aspiring writers and veterans.

Authors, even very famous ones, are generally very approachable and pleased when you show interest in their work. I recently had the opportunity to ask Lawrence Hill to sign my copy of The Book of Negroes, and he was as happy as a kid in a candy store to do so. Writing is a solitary occupation, and authors appreciate the opportunity to socialize and meet new people. Simply asking for advice or opinions is an excellent way to start building rapport.

As you make friends and learn more about the profession of writing, you will eventually reach the point where asking for help in seeking a publisher will be a natural extension of your relationships. Most publishers will gladly give serious attention to a manuscript from an unknown writer if an author in their stable gives a recommendation. sphynx in Egypt


Self-publishing has become a viable alternative to traditional publishing. In fact, if you do not currently have a track record in traditional publishing, I recommend you devote time and effort to learning more about the nuts and bolts of being your own publisher. It’s not easy, and you can waste a lot of money, but if done right, you can have the reward of seeing your own name in print.

Learn as much as you can. Every year, I attend the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference in Mexico. It’s a lot of fun, and there are many workshops devoted to self-publishing. I also have the opportunity to talk to authors who have already gone down that route, and they are a wealth of information.

Come up with a plan. As an author, you are responsible for creating the manuscript, but as a publisher, you are responsible for editing the manuscript, creating a cover and layout, producing the book, marketing, distributing and collecting payment. Each step is unique and necessary in order to be successful. You have to decide what parts you are going to do, and when it will be necessary to hire a professional. If you don’t sort that out, you can waste a lot of time and/or money. Once again, learn everything you can before you begin.

Some Nuts & Bolts Advice. The publishing rights for A Paris Moment recently reverted to me after the publisher stopped printing it. In order to learn more about self-publishing, I decided to launch the 10th anniversary edition in eBook form as a test case. I had the benefit of already having a manuscript that had been professionally edited and a cover that had been professionally designed.

I hired Human Powered Design (HPD), a Calgary-based eBook company, to convert my manuscript to the proper eBook files. It cost me around $200, but the money was well spent, as they created files for Kindle and Apple readers that looks very professional. You can do it yourself, of course, but if you have ever purchased a book where there are missing pages, changes in type settings, etc., you know how annoying it is to a reader.

HPD also obtained my ISBN, distributed my files to Amazon and the Apple store, and aggregates my royalties for a monthly payment. Note that I went with the eBook version only. If you wish to publish hard or soft cover, you have to create a PDF file and either print off a set amount, like 1000 copies, or do print-on-demand.

Keeping Costs Down. You can spend thousands of dollars having your manuscript turned into a book at sites like CreateSpace, Amazon’s online book publishing service. Depending on what package you purchase, they edit and format your manuscript and devise a cover, then distribute it and collect royalties. The downside is that you don’t really learn much about how it’s all done, and you have to sell a lot of books to recoup your losses. You can produce an eBook or have hard copies printed out.

My advice is to stick to the eBook format for your first project. Spend money to have a professional edit your book, and a professional to design your cover (check around on the internet to find specialists). These two steps will cost around $500 each, but they will catapult your work over most of the competition.

Build Your Marketing Platform. Go to WordPress and purchase a website template. They look very professional and are easy to manage. Learn to link Facebook, Twitter and other social media to your website. Start your own blog, and contribute to others. Build an email list of friends and acquaintances who will be interested in hearing that your book is available in eBook form.

As a final reminder, the best way to learn is to find other authors who have blazed a trail before you. As I mentioned earlier, joining guilds, taking courses and attending conferences are excellent ways of meeting people and discovering resources. You are about to set out on a journey that is going to take several years to complete; enjoy every step of the way!

One last excerpt from A Paris Moment:

They are performing Mozart at Sainte-Chapelle tonight. The 12th century church, built by Saint-Louis, has to be one of my favorite buildings in the world. Nestled into the courtyard of the Palais du Justice on the Ile de la Cité, the church is appealing not only for its architectural splendor, but also for its story. In 1239, Beaudoin, Emperor of Constantinople, needed money for a military venture, and hocked the crown of thorns to the Venetians. When Beaudoin couldn’t repay the debt, the Venetians contacted the King of France. Louis knew a celestial bargain when he saw one and redeemed the crown, along with a few handy sacred nails and slivers of wood that had been thrown in to sweeten the bargain.

Naturally, Louis needed a suitable space to house the holy relics, and he commissioned Pierre of Montreuil to build the chapel, which the architect knocked out in three years, the exterior walls being composed solely of stained glass and delicate, almost ethereal stone columns.

Henley on Thames bluebells The effect is truly amazing. Sitting in the main chapel, my eyes follow colorful biblical scenes as they ascend the walls to the immense roof, which is painted blue and covered with gold fleurs-de-lys that sparkle like stars in the night sky. The notes from the string quartet float through the air and fill this magical place with perfect music, no doubt pleasing the spirits of Jesus, Saint-Louis and Mozart.

Curiously, the earthly whereabouts of all three men share a similar dispersal; Christ, of course, got up and left the tomb for points celestial under his own steam; the remnants of Saint-Louis were exhumed from their resting spot in Saint-Denis during the Revolution and scattered to the four winds; and Mozart, who ended up in a pauper’s grave, had his bones dispersed by scavenging dogs. May they all rest peacefully tonight in Sainte-Chapelle.

Part One
Part Two

Gordon Cope was also a guest blogger of a 3-part series about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Here’s Part One. As well, he also contributed a 3-part series on the Femmes Fatales of Paris. Here’s Part One of that.

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