Wednesday, 29 February 2012

French Press Event. And a Giveaway?

I've written here about the blurring of the lines between pro and non-pro travel writers, so I won't repeat it. (The photo shows S. writing up his trip to Disneyland, by the way - he definitely intends to be a writer.)

In a way, making travel writing more democratic is good - it opens up the field and allows fresh insights. But one way in which it's bad, is that more travel writing is now about plugging a particular product - a hotel, a resort - instead of giving a genuine impression of how you found a place or making recommendations you actually want to make. Sort of like McWriting

(photo credit: McD)

It suits most PRs and travel companies to support this, because their aim has always been, naturally, to get the publicity. But it's not that good for readers, or for writers who don't want to write advertorial.

Still, serious and "professional" travel writing carries on, and the reason is numbers. Even a local newspaper might offer 30,000 weekly readers - targeted readers, who will buy local travel products. Nationals, of course, can offer many more. So far, I don't know any blogs that can match that. So PRs and travel suppliers find it worth cultivating professional writers who can get material into reputable print media editorial.

Some of them are very good at it. Earlier this week I went to a French media roadshow and met a colleague who said he'd got seven commissions for a recent three week trip to Australia. That's professionalism.

Anyway, I thought that I'd share this French press event with you, as it's pretty typical and it's a glimpse into the world of travel writing as a business. The aim is to answer any questions journalists might have, tell them about everything new in French holidays, and also advise them about trips the French tourist board is planning.

The event was in a nice central London hotel, so as I clumped in with my cycle helmet and backpack, I admired the flowers in reception. Can't imagine what some hotels spend on flowers.


Then I paid a visit to the ladies room to fix the uncouth impression of "sweaty cyclist" ruining the ambience of their fancy hotel. Wash, comb hair and so on. I very much admired the little hand towels rolled up like sausage rolls and the l'Occitaine hand wash.

My next call was at the cloakroom where I hid away the coat, backpack and helmet, then I set off to meet the regional representatives of various parts of France. I found myself in a suite of rooms lined with desks behind which sat representative of various French regions, and also travel partners with a large business going to and from France. These include BMI, which has just begun a service to Nice, the ferry companies and Rail Europe, which specialises in European train tickets, Eurostar and Interrail.

And there were refreshments, coffee, orange juice, Bonne Maman galettes (this was a French event, after all) wine and dinky little canapes.

Those pointed things look like a mass rally of the Ku Klux Klan but they're actually fancy tea bags I had juice. I didn't feel like drinking wine at 10 AM, although some did. Perhaps they weren't planning to cycle home through London traffic afterwards.

The representatives told me about dozens of things I'd like to write about and see, some of them particularly "French." The exhibition of "Perfumes and Love" at the Grasse Perfume Museum near Nice is bound to be hopelessly glamorous. Some of the perfume factories, like Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard, also offer the chance to blend your own perfumes.

When K was eight, she and I went on a perfume-blending trip to Grasse. Her elegant fragrance (called "Aftershave for Daddy") was so nice that daddy used it all up and wished he had more. We still have the recipe, in case we ever return.

I was also interested in Utopix, in Lozere, a sort of sculpture park where you can make up games and explore the home of the artist-in-residence. The French seem to love attractions based on art for its own sake like this. Any other country, they'd feel obliged to instal electronic games or rides.

Then there's the Hotel le Corbusier in Marseilles... wouldn't mind staying in a real building by the architect whose ideas have blighted countless housing estates worldwide, but undoubtedly had something worthwhile to say..

And if you've ever enjoyed that famous dish, the cassoulet (pork and beans like never before)....

then visit the Fete of Cassoulets at Castelnaudary, in Languedoc-Roussillon.
(their photos)

At the end, people signed up for some of the many scheduled press trips. I don't have too much space in my diary but I did sign up for the chance to attend Lille's 3000th birthday party. just across the Channel on the Eurostar. I hope I get to go. Here is the press trip desk.

And then I put my helmet on again, and went home, with a backpack full of ideas. And, as always with these events, I felt totally inspired, as if I'd like to rush off and get the train to France immediately.

By the way, for anyone who wants to get into the writing or travel writing business, there's a good blog called The Butterflyist written in association with the Guardian newspaper. The writer, Amanda Wren, wanted to create a popular, paying writing blog over six months, and the paper has been charting her progress. If you sign up for email alerts you get a free e-book about how to get your big writing break, the one that will push you into a different league. I haven't yet read my copy of it, but the blog is very engaging and Amanda herself is living proof that her advice works.

And finally, Amanda made me think that a giveaway's a good idea. I did a few for my book on Lewis Carroll and the publishers tell me that it helped sales. But I don't know what to give away. Does anyone have an idea of the kind of giveaway appropriate for this blog?

Don't say it! :)

I mean something practical.


  1. There is always another adventure down the road - what a fun profession you have chosen.

  2. Giveaway suggestion..Viewers choice of a photo in a pre-cut mat, but not framed, 8"x10" or 11"x14", which ever is best size to mail.

  3. The event you attended looks quite interesting, I'd have tea at that time of the morning tho.

    Giveaway? A copy of your book. Some small favorite travel item you find useful. A travel journal for the winners next trip. Those are the first things that come to mind.


  4. I can never decide what's best: travelling with a very specific purpose, or wandering wherever your mood takes you.

    The only giveaway I want from England is Marmite. I miss Marmite so much! Oh, I'm just kidding. :) Reading your blog is a good enough present for me.

    PS: My pet hate travel writer is the famous Tyler Brûlé. He's written mindboggling rubbish about Japan.

  5. I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this entry. The flowers are stunning as is the ladies room. But the most entertaining was the description you gave of the entire process. I learned so much! Thank you for this look into a part of your world.

  6. Can't help with the giveaway, I'm afraid, but the press event you describe here sounds like the kind of event I love. And the "Perfume & Love" trip!! The sheer idea of it makes me want to book it instantly.

  7. I love to read about you and your travels. I could picture you in the "ladies room" freshening up for the day of browsing and info. I had a brief smile/laugh at the KKK treats . . . the hotel must have been smashing beautiful. Visualizing you taking off on your scooter through London traffic . . . oh my. I have see that traffic and for the life of me, I can't imagine how it is possible to weave in, out and between!

    As I said . . . I find you totally readable/enjoyable and something new and different.

  8. Hurrah for the independent travel writer, or independent anything for that matter. I've been musing on this topic re my blog too, and have been asked to take paid adverts and sponsorships. I'm not there yet and just relish the ability to say what I want when I want to say it. I love your travel blog for the same reason -- it's about real impressions, delightfully written up!

    I recognize the pyramidal tea bags since I went to a fancy chocolatier one time and that's the one they carried. And the French and wine at any time don't surprise me. I recall visiting the Paris McDonald's long ago and they carried it as one of their beverages. I don't remember if they served it in disposable cups though!

    Giveaways sound great -- are you into giving free trips? ;-)

  9. How fun! Loved reading this post, actually all of your posts. You're a joy, a wee vacation spot in a dark day of winter.

  10. You know I am going to say a copy of your book for a giveaway, of course!

  11. Enjoying your blog very much, and whatever you choose to give, someone will be glad to have it.

  12. I have no hesitation in agreeing with the picture give-away suggestion. In particular the shot of the couple in the square in Spain or one of the nighttime London shots on your cellphone a little while ago.

    Your insight into a world of travel writing is interesting as confirmation of the sadness that is the reality of so much journalism now. If it doesn't sell it doesn't get considered.

    I suppose 'twas ever thus but it's still sad.

  13. What an interesting post!It's great to discover more about your fabulous job. I also like the way you take time to picture the place you have to go, even the ladies room!As i'm living near Grasse, I know the place and hope to meet you if ever you come here one day.
    A giveaway?as long as you said "no" for the swimmingpool..a guide book of your favorite city in the world?..

  14. My father in law was a publisher and he would have told you that no matter the content, the key is the marketing, invest in making your product known and desirable.

  15. Some interesting comments here, and I'm really touched by the very nice ones from Lynne, Jill and Rosaria.
    Yes, DeeBee, and one of the things that I discovered was that getting a good spot in a bookstore is partly to do with the amount of money a publisher is inclined to lay out. My last book (the biography of Lewis Carroll) got some really good spots in bookstores and this was a big help. It usually needs some kind of a celebrity hook. In my case, Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are both celebs in their own ways.
    Some good giveaway suggestions so far, and it's a balance between practicality and fun. Marmite - hm. It is one of the foods I miss most desperately when I'm away from the UK but I never met anyone who wasn't brought up with it who could stand it!

  16. Great post. I've yet to make any money at my writing but I haven't given up hope. Your blog offers encouragement.

  17. Long live the independent. Sadly the marketing approach to things applies in so many areas now that even reading a book review or a product review on Amazon one has at the back of one's mind - is someone being paid to say this! Or am I being overly cynical.

    Like Kay I think the giveaway should be your book, of course.

    Co-incidentally I have decided to do a give-away on my blog next week and am also stuck for a prize idea.

  18. I adore the description of yourself. I have no problem visualizing. It sound like a fun event. The giveaway? I have no clue. I truly enjoy reading your posts. Bonnie

  19. Good luck to S and his dream of being a writer! That's more than half the battle right! I just found your post so "fact-filled and fun-interesting" again! Good writing all aided by top of the line photos...bringing me right there. My friends and family tease me that I should write a book about the toilets I meet because I do discover every hidden and showy thing in them! The one you pictured here is wonderful...and hopefully the flowers are real.... I do understand what you mean about sell, sell and more sell. That's why lately I'd rather read a person's blog about where they tells me more about what I want to know ....especially if I've never been there!

  20. i think being a travel writer would be a lot of fun actually....glad you explained those fancy tea bags...i think the trip to see an artist would be very cool...i want to go to have me dreaming now...smiles.

  21. I had a month in the Dordogne region in 2010. Oh my god... the food, the castles, the wildlife.....

    Wish there was a train from Sydney to Paris. It's the flight that's the killer.

  22. Interesting thoughts on a very important topic. Equally interesting is the account of the event you attended. Do not at the moment have an idea for a give-away, but will give it some thought.

  23. I couldn’t find a single facecloth at any hotel I stayed at in Europe but I did find lots of hand towels, although not as prettily displayed as the ones you photographed. I like the give away idea someone else mentioned. Matted prints of select photos (uniquely yours) of a travel destination might be nice. My sister was a successful travel writer (she since passed away) who got many perks including all travel expenses paid. She was determined to be completely honest and fair in her commentary. These days opinions abound online and everyone is a travel writer expressing their experiences. As you well know, one need always be wary of hidden agendas when researching locations. :)

  24. Interesting post, Jenny and I'm off in a minute to read your other one on pro and non-pro travel writers. Thanks for the tip about the Guardian blogger, too. Lovedbthe way they had rolled those towels!

  25. I want your job.
    As for the give a way, doesn't matter to me, I'll enter for anything especially because it came from your side of the world!

  26. You must have such a fun job! I would love travel around like you do. Sadly, with school and having very little $, I don't think a trip will be in the cards any time soon. Boo!

  27. Oh Jenny, that sounds like great fun to me, and makes me want to visit France again, it's certainly been awhile. It's just such a very long way from California. I think I'd skip Marseilles and the cassoulet, though. Hope you find a fun French adventure that tempts you! ~Lorraine

  28. Hi Jenny, what a fascinating post, it's good to know that you travel writers have tools for motivation too! I love the ladies room and the gorgeous flower display.I loved the 'daddy' perfume sweet.
    As a giveaway, how about something from London to whet the appetites of future travellers to the city?
    Many thanks for your recent comments. I think I may have to store my marmalade in the fridge too, as I put less sugar in than the recipe said.

    Have a relaxing Sunday, and thankyou for the insight it was most informative and interesting. Love Linda x

  29. I enjoyed this post very much since I had no real idea about travel writing and all a writer has to do. Loved the pictures, especially the one of the swimming pool. It made me yearn for sunnier climes.

    Just trying to imagine what it would be like cycling through London traffic... I'm not sure I would even take a car there.

  30. I usually give away one of my various books... which generally makes for a few more sales.
    I think I have to get the Butterflyist's book. I need to go on paid vacations....maybe.
    Thanks for the tip.
    We are dithering about Egypt in the current political situation --maybe in the autumn.

    Loved the photo of your son the budding writer!

  31. I'm alwlays up for a train ride to France! And how fun it would be to mix my own perfume for my little bottle. Such a lovely post. ~Marti

  32. Thanks for popping by my blog! I came by for a visit and wanted to mention that I was fascinated by your description of the travel writing industry. I am so removed from it that it felt like a completely different world to me! I had to chuckle with your transformation from cyclist to journalist in a posh London hotel. Brought back some memories to me too!

  33. Hi, Jenny,

    Much to love here! But first, thanks for coming over to The Marmelade Gypsy and visiting my posts on Detroit!

    I'm headed over to your side of the pond in April -- mostly Paris an Amsterdam (friends there; makes the lodging more accommodating!) but will have two nights and a full day in London. I've been looking down here to your various posts and plan on spending a lot of time splunking through your site! Hearing about the press gig was really fun! Cheers! How fun to discover someone new!

  34. Fascinating insight into your world Jenny. I love visiting France and have been to quite a few differetn areas-including Castelnaudary and, in fact, the cassoulet festival. We sat in a tent in the main square with, I would say, all locals. One of my friends is a vegetarian so could not eat anything on the menu apart from the lemon sorbet. None of us ate the foie gras-and all hid it in our napkins-very rude I should imagine, and I dread to think what the people near to us thought! I had a good go at the cassoulet, avoiding the more obscure pieces of meat in it and eating lot sof the beans. A couple of hours later these had a most unfortunate affect on my other friend and I-'tres explosiv' as our loacal friendly taxi driver Msr Largiste commented! A memorable evening.
    I like Castel Naudary-a small town but with enough to explore and other interesting places around. The canal is beautiful through there.

  35. Oh, these are lovely pics! I love the little rolled towels and the sweet brie assortment on the plates :) Thank you for commenting on my 365 project, I'm sorry you can't keep cats with you. I've browsed through your wonderful blog and now I'm a follower.

  36. hmmm as for France... never really been a fan i'm afraid... we had some French students at our University and they just refused to speak English or attempt Dutch... which was pretty sour.

    As for the giveaway... i don't know! I think it is absolutely fantastic to get anything so, it doesn't matter what you decide to give away... right?

  37. Fun reading! I love the image of you arriving at the hotel in your bike clothes -- I knew I'd love your writing as soon as I read that!

  38. Hotel le Corbusier looks awesome!

    I love reading professional travel reports too. On the other hand, I also love reading reports written by amateurs such as myself, by normal people who don't get paid to travel, because it's an inspiration for possible future trips... due to the fact that I don't have as much money to go on trips as the pros do.

  39. Let me add one more thing:
    When amateurs recommend activities, places to go, or accommodation, I might even be more likely to trust them than professional writers. Sometimes I feel like at least some of the pros, just like you said in the 2nd par., might not be unbiased when it comes to recommending the best or cheapest hotels, or restaurants, etc.

  40. Hi Jenny, I enjoyed your sojourn to the French press event (at first I thought the post would be about French press coffee!). I especially love thinking about you biking to and from - I love the pic of the London street scene. I've biked the Embarcadero in San Francisco and that's what the photo reminds me of. Good Luck on your next travel adventure!

  41. Enjoying your blog. There are so many corners of France that are lovely. I posted on one in Normandy here

  42. It's a lovely day you've had. It contained quite a variety of things; thank you for sharing with us.

  43. I like the tea bags. The French do have a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to style.

  44. This post has just about everything! Interesting information, great pictures and fascinating insight into your life and travels. I have two suggestions for a giveaway -- one is a little notebook with a pen or pencil where you can replenish the pad as it gets used up -- one that fits easily into a pocket or handbag. The other is a holder for business cards of hotels and restaurants -- I'm always collecting them and always misplacing them!

  45. Hey, I got the invite to that event! :) I don't do much travel writing these days, or I would have considered it. Looks like an interesting time!

  46. I loved your description of the French media roadshow - nothing better than getting an inside view! (The dinky canapes sounded appealing!!)

    Good luck to S for his future writing too - great to have a goal :D)

  47. Thanks for the further comments, all of them interesting. I'd like to spend hours replying to some of them. Maybe another post

    I've entered your giveaway, Scriptor Senex - excellent prizes! Karen S, you should go to Vienna, I can suggest some crazy toilets there - (wonder why Vienna ?!)

    I think life is a bit easier for vegetarians in France these days Sarah, although not THAT much easier! well unless you eat fish..

    Talli, I might see you at some other event. I go to ones that seem relevant to me, so not that many, but let me know next time and maybe we can meet.

    Impartiality, well, some blogs are more impartial than travel articles in papers. Some print publications run advertorial without admitting it. They see press trips as staff "perks" that don't cost them anything to give.

    Freebies are always contentious. I think that in terms of understanding the travel product (as it is known in the trade - the hotel, destination, etc) freebies can be helpful because then emotions don't get involved like they do when you're paying your own money. If I pay my own cash for some expensive lousy place I might gloss it over because I saved for a year and so it HAS to be good. Or hate and loathe the place because I saved for a year and then I got food poisoning. If it is free, no worries. Just look at what they are doing, and how they're doing it, what's going on and then report back in an interesting and objective way. It is business after all (I'm sure that is how your sister felt, akaPenelope, from what you said.)

    It's all different with personal trips but then I prefer not to do those for work. I pay for them myself and then I can do what I want.

    For me, best travel writing is about well researched pieces that are exciting and interesting. It's really true that hardly anyone now makes an adequate income out of travel writing,(including me) but I am grateful I've had the chance to do it.

    And I'm glad that there are so many exciting and interesting blogs out there. Jeannie your posts about Detroit were an eye opener for me.

    Thanks for the giveaway suggestions. They're all going into the magic thinking hat

  48. Thank you for dropping by my blog...from the look's of thing's you are a very busy girl with all those comment's....thank's again for dropping by.
    P.S. thank you for the nice comment about my chair's.

  49. Interesting post, as always. Great to get a peek into your world! And you obviously love what you write about - it shows :)


  50. I know someone who did it for a living for several years, but eventually got tired of living out of a suitcase. To me, on one hand it seems like a dream come true, and on the other, kind of depressing. There are definitely tons of places I want to see before I die that I unfortunately won't.

  51. I enjoyed reading about your experience and the pictures that went with it. I would never have guessed those were tea bags and thought they were cheese. Giveaways? How about little things you picked up along the way from your travels.

  52. Hi Jenny, is there any chance you could enable subscription to threaded comments? Thanks, Daffodil

  53. Funnily enough GB just said this. So today I have tried enabling threaded comments (it can only be done via the new blogger interface) but it doesn't appear to have made any difference to the comments that I can see. I see no way of subscribing by email to threaded comments. So I hope it's made a difference to those of you who know. Let me know if there is still a problem.

    Yes, Elliot, it can get tiring and depressing to always be on the move, because you don't have time for your real life. You also lose your edge unless you specialise in one particular country because things start to blur together. I downgraded to being an Associate of the British Guild of Travel Writers a few years ago, because I don't travel enough now to meet their criteria any more (12 published articles per year minimum.) Writing a travel guidebook would get me back into full membership. Or a full length travel memoir, but right now I'd only be qualified to write that about London/England and they're maxed out on travel books

  54. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for your comment on my photos. Glad you like them, you should see the next post I will publish today. Took lovely photos up in the mountains.
    I really love your blog, it is such a relaxing read! :-)

    Take care!

    Greetings from sunny Vancouver :)

  55. Great post and photos. As for a giveaway...your book and photos. No brainer :)

  56. The pictures are fantastic. What a great way to get to know you! I'm a new follower, and I can honestly say I look forward to following your blog.

  57. Those tea bags are so neat! And huge. How big were the cups??

    I didn't know about the missing portion of Carroll's diary. Very interesting mystery, indeed.

    Thank you for the glance into the travel writing world. I've sort of been considering doing small time travel writing, just writing up interesting experiences, family "field trips" where kids are involved, that sort of thing.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  58. well i think, this phenomenon is everywhere, the donor agency skews the results in their favour, and sure it affects professionalism and opinion which otherwise may differ considerably...but in these times of financial constraints, very few people would afford to travel on their own expenses...

  59. I am amazed that you can have so much fun in your chosen career. Actually, I am a bit jealous!


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