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Backstory of my National Geographic Traveler “Best Places of 2013” Article

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Julie Schwietert Collazo
One of the things I love to do on this blog–and readers tend to love it, too–is tell you about the backstories of queries I’ve sent, research I’ve conducted for articles, work I’ve had published, and pieces that ended up never seeing the light of day.

I think you’ll find this one interesting since it’s an article for a publication so many people love:

National Geographic Traveler's Best of the World 2013 Issue

National Geographic Traveler’s Best of the World 2013 Issue

So how did I land an assignment for one of the 20 “best” places in the world issue, what was the editing process like, and what was the timeline of this piece from pitch to publication? Let’s take a look.

How did I land an assignment for one of the 20 “best” places in the world issue?
There are at least four factors that likely influenced the editors’ acceptance of my pitch. First, I had a previous byline with the magazine. My front-of-book article about boutique hotels in Mexico City had been published in the September 2011 issue, so the editors were more familiar with my work than a writer who was cold pitching them.

Second, I happened to be “on the list.” Though I’d worked with an editor on the previous assignment, another editor I’d met while traveling included me in an email that invited writers to submit ideas for the “Best Places of 2013” issue. I don’t know how many people were on the receiving end of that email, nor do I know if/how many other editors reached out to writers they’d worked with previously to issue similar invitations, but this direct invitation to submit an idea for the “best” issue definitely gave me a leg up. The take-away: it’s important to get away from your desk, meet colleagues regularly, and establish relationships with them. Schedule those meet-ups if you have to.

Third, I offered two options in my pitch. This isn’t something I normally do; I rarely send editors more than one idea/pitch in an email (in fact, I can’t remember any other instance where I’ve done that this year). But after having taken a look at the 2012 “best” picks, I saw a good mix of domestic US and international destinations, and I wanted to offer a possibility for each category.

Fourth, I nailed the “Why now?” question. Editors almost always ask “Why now?” when they review queries and pitches: Why is your story relevant right now? This question is even more pressing for National Geographic Traveler’s “Best Places” list; why is 2013 the year to visit these 20 destinations? I made sure I anticipated that question and addressed it in my pitch.

What was the editing process like?
I am rarely anxious, but I was riddled with worry once I attached the first draft of my article to an email and hit “Send.” Even when you’ve gotten the green light to write a story, there are plenty of reasons why it might never make it to the printed page. I really, really wanted this story to make it.

The first draft was bounced back to me with this feedback: “In general, this totally works as a front of book service piece–it’s got the detail, reporting, and timeliness–but I’m looking for a little more celebratory tone for these Best of the World pieces. Also I’d love it if a little more of your ‘voice’ and personality came through.”

Cue the second wave of anxiety. Could I pull off what the editor was asking… and in just 400 words? Thankfully, I did, and then the piece went into the hands of Nat Geo Traveler’s fact-checking researchers.

What was the timeline of this piece from pitch to publication?
I received the email inviting me to submit a pitch in mid-March.

I submitted my pitch at the end of March.

I received a response from the editor, with her acceptance and the assignment specs, in early May.

The deadline was just four weeks later.

I received the editor’s request for revisions in late June and had the revised piece in by mid-July.

The article appears in the December-January issue.

Do you find the “backstory” posts helpful? What else would you like to know about the pitch to publication process? Feel free to ask your questions in the comments section below.


6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Best Places of the World, 2013 | Collazo Projects

  2. Congratulations! Also, great article. I guess one just has got to take it easy, right? What was your process of selection like to narrow down your places (or was there already a set list for you to write about?)

    • Julie Schwietert Collazo

      Hi, Alejandra-

      Thank you. And your question is a great one. Here’s the answer…

      As I mentioned in the post, I knew from reading the previous year’s NGT “Best Places” list that there was a mix of domestic US and international locations, so I knew that I wanted to submit one idea for each category. How I chose my particular spots was based on a few factors: (a) Whether I thought the places actually really merited the “best” label (which is admittedly subjective); (b) Whether they were places that tended to be overlooked (ie: if it was a destination that had been covered by NGT in the preceding year, especially as a feature, it wasn’t going to be likely to make the cut); and (c) whether it met several criteria that NGT had established for its best of list, including that “Why now?” question (Why 2013 as opposed to any other year? Is there something particularly timely or noteworthy occurring in 2013?) and meeting certain standards of cultural, historical, and environmental value.

      There are plenty of places I love that are my personal bests but that didn’t fit the criteria in one way or another or they’d already been written about, so they got eliminated from my own consideration before I submitted.

  3. This is great information! Do you have a backstory post on the initial FOB story you had with them? Congrats, and thanks for posting!

    • Julie Schwietert Collazo

      Hi, Jen-

      I don’t think I have a backstory post on the FOB piece, but I’ll tell it here. I’d received a previous rejection from NGT–your basic form letter (except it was on nice card stock) when I went through NGT’s suggested submission process (which is to send them a snail mail submission). About a year or so after that rejection, when I had a piece I wanted to pitch and thought was a good fit, I approached a colleague who had published an article with NGT and asked her if she thought I should pitch by email and, if so, if she’d recommend the editor with whom she had worked as the main contact. So this was yet another story–as so many stories are–about not just having the “right” idea and the right time, but also knowing someone who can help connect some dots for you that would be significantly harder to connect on your own.


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