Our MD Jon discusses six ways to make money writing about the great outdoors (and one way not to)
If you’re going on your adventures to monetise them or are picking the ones that will make you look the best, then there’s no need to read on.
If, however, you are passionate about your adventures, feel you have something to say and think it’s worth something, then my experience of just that might be of interest.
I started my career writing articles for magazines and look where that has got me. There are plenty of ways to have a fulfilling career working in the outdoor adventure market and if you specifically enjoy writing, then there are a few ways in which you can be rewarded for your talent.
(1) Be an influencer
It isn’t about how big it is – it’s about how well you use it. Brands like Vertebrate need to get their message out and sell stuff, which leads to people buying products through credible, respected reviews and recommendations.
You might not be the long-distance walking version of Kim Kardashian, but you might have a few folk who value your experience, even if it is on just one trail. I’d rather listen to you telling me what tent to take than Romeo Beckham (he took a Vango I think). But be selective; work with brands and products that you genuinely believe in and always tell the truth. If you do that, you’ll build your influencer value.
Influencers make money in a number of ways, whether it be through paid posts or affiliate links. It’s also important to value your words; you might only write twenty words, but a well-crafted twenty words can be very effective.
(2) Write for the media
Traditional printed media don’t pay like they used to. This article is about ‘how to make money’, so please consider your worth before writing and how you can leverage that if the fee is less than you can earn flipping burgers or belaying me. Some online media do pay a more commercial rate and can easily see the contribution you make to their site, thus what you are worth. Of course, a good portfolio of articles is a prerequisite for writing.
(3) Where to books
Don’t start working on something before you’re commissioned. I personally wouldn’t even make a submission without talking to two or three relevant publishers to get a clear idea of what they are looking for. Guidebooks are good long-term sellers, are relatively easy to write and tap directly into your specific skill set. You can literally be the world expert on what your guide is about (for example, there is no one more respected to comment on the Sheffield Round Walk than me). Publishers will need reassurance that you know your subject, have writing experience (that’s where the magazine articles come in) and, more importantly, can deliver on time and on brief.
(4) How to books
If you can somehow write the ‘official’ instruction manual for your sport, then this is often a big seller as anyone coming into the sport – and there will be new people every week – will be drawn to buy your book. That’s not to say there isn’t space for more. Take any aspect of your expertise and there might just be a book in it. At this stage, you can really benefit from the kind of support a publisher can supply, whether it be editing, expert design, marketing or just that overall sense check on what you’re writing.
There are two routes here. The first option is that you can write your book and go to any one of several vanity publishers (they don’t call themselves that). If you plan to do this, be sure to take massive caution; you’re trying to make money here and if a traditional publisher won’t take your book on, then maybe you should think twice before paying another one to do it. That being said, if you do take this route, make sure you get a contract and are 100% clear on what everything in the contract means. It also helps to be really honest with yourself about your marketing expertise and reach because no one else has a vested interest in selling your book.
(6) Self, self-publish
This is the second self-publishing option. Amazon, for example, allows you to upload your book directly to its platform and sell them with only Amazon taking a cut. Many authors have done really well here, and it has brought them to the attention of festivals, larger publishers and even smaller publishers like me. There are lots of options here, such as testing the market with a lite version of your book before going ahead with the full trilogy.
(7) That book everyone tells you write
‘Everyone has a book inside them’, and for most of us, that is just where the book needs to stay. A lot of books have already been written: travel memoirs, climbing memoirs, running memoirs, etc. My childhood was fun and filled with lots of japes over in the Lake District, exploring Scotland, frights in the Alps and other exciting trips. But really, is anyone interested in that? My advice here is read and read some more. Read some Tilman (travel writing), read some Bonington (biography), read Waymaking (really, read this one – a ‘state of the art’ of modern adventure writing) and then ask yourself honestly whether you have something new to say, because if you don’t, then it will be really difficult to make money from your book.
At the beginning of all this you might find you don’t get paid. I think my first six months as a ‘writer’ netted me a new harness, a rucksack and a jacket from Lowe Alpine (my girlfriend quizzically asked whether I’d studied English at school). But work it through, keep it going and use the experience and indeed successes of one thing to value your next project. Build up your networks, editors, fellow writers, publications, publishers, brands and your social media presence.
And finally: writing is fun. It can be enormously rewarding for one’s mental health, so if in doubt, just go for it.