Getting started as an expat writer

A man and woman using laptops on a train

A man and woman using laptops on a train. Photo: Marco Raaphorst / Flickr

Working as a writer abroad is like tackling two dreams at once: writing and travel. Tough to pull off, though especially if you want to earn a living.  Graham Holliday, an experienced journalist, laid out his strategies for success in this Slideshare presentation: Frontline Club – solo foreign correspondent.

My favorite advice was in slide #26:

Go somewhere cheap – especially if money is an issue – and go somewhere odd. If you’ve done your research and you’ve made contacts and you have fairly good inkling of what you’re going to be letting yourself in for – Just go.

Our very own Rolf Potts got his big break with Storming the Beach, when he was in Thailand. Matt Gross, the former Frugal Traveler columnist for The New York Times, got his start as a newspaper copy editor in Vietnam. Speaking from experience, my first opportunity in publishing was also serving as a copy editor, but in Taiwan.

It’s difficult to get that first assignment, though. When I applied for that job in Taiwan, there was a lot of competition from ESL English teachers who wanted to get out of teaching and into writing.  If you’re a relatively recent university graduate like I was at the time, don’t expect to snag a journalism job abroad straight away. Especially in Asia, it seems like almost everyone does a bit of English teaching in the beginning before moving on to other work.

Some tips:

-Start a blog. Write a lot: the more, the better.

-Write guest posts on other blogs. The more prominent the website, the better.

-Monitor the media jobs websites regularly to see new openings.

Lastly, but most important: network, network, network. You can never know too many people. I find that my best networking is in casual settings, rather than formal events.  I was once at someone’s house party in Shanghai, and nearly every person there was a foreign correspondent.  Collect business cards habitually, and always follow up with an e-mail the next day.

Another thing about networking: most of my best opportunities have come from acquaintances I didn’t know that well, compared to close friends. I think it’s because these people were more outside my circle and in industries I didn’t get exposed to as often.  Usually, my friends have similar backgrounds and careers as I did. Malcolm Gladwell talks about “the strength of weak ties” in his book The Tipping Point.

Do you work as a writer or journalist overseas? How did you get your job? Please share your stories and advice in the comments.

Posted by | Comments Off on Getting started as an expat writer  | July 22, 2011
Category: Expat Life, General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing

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