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A Conversation With Travel Author & Writer Candy Harrington Author of 101 Accessible Vacations .: Knowledge Base
Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honoured to have as our guest, Candy Harrington. Candy is the Editor of Emerging Horizons and has written several award-winning travel books, the most recent being 101 Accessible Vacations (Nov. 2007).
For the past 14 years Candy has concentrated on covering travel for people with disabilities or accessible travel. She has become known as an expert in the world of accessible travel and this has led her to many speaking engagements and participations in disability focused conventions, health fairs, trade shows and conferences.
Good day Candy and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in travel writing particularly one that focuses on travel for people with disabilities?
Well I've been a travel writer for over 30 years and about 17 years ago I got tired of writing what I considered "fluff.” I wanted to tackle something with more meat in it, and a friend who was a travel agent suggested accessible travel.
It sounded challenging, as nobody was doing anything remotely like that back then, so I spent several years just researching the laws, and learning the ropes before I even wrote my first accessible travel article.
Looking back on it, my first article was pretty pitiful, but since there was nothing to compare it to, it was received as a fresh approach. After that I jumped in feet first and started a magazine about accessible travel. And things kind of snowballed after that.
What motivated you to write your latest book, 101 Accessible Vacations?
The book evolved from a question that has been posed to me countless times over the years, "Where can I go on vacation?"
To be honest, I've often been at a loss at how to reply to that query, especially if I don't know anything about the person asking the question. Of course I could go on and on with a laundry list of things to do, places to stay and destinations to visit; but to be honest, that's such a hit and miss approach — especially if I don't even know what the person likes to do.
So I decided it was time to write a vacation idea book about accessible travel options. Now when people ask me that question, I can just tell them to browse through the book until they find something that tickles their fancy.
As a follow up, could you briefly tell our readers something about 101 Accessible Vacations?
Basically it's an accessible vacation idea book with substance. Unlike traditional travel books that are organized geographically, 101 Accessible Vacations is organized by area of interest.
It's divided up into 12 sections that include everything from "Road Trips" and "Family Friendly Fun" to "A Little Culture," "Cruisin'" and "Historic Haunts." That way you can focus on the sections that most match your travel style and area of interest.
For example, if you like museums and cultural attractions you might want to check out the "A Little Culture" section, while if you prefer nature and wildlife you'll probably want to look through "The Great Outdoors" section. It's organized so you can find an accessible vacation choice that suits your lifestyle, personality and travel tastes. And of course, as with all my work, access is described so readers can make appropriate choices.
Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?
Well, I'm pretty well known, so I get a lot of feedback and ideas -- from my fellow journalists, PR folks, people in the hospitality industry and of course readers.
I don't think that a day goes by when someone doesn't send me a resource. It may only be an attraction or a restaurant or a hotel, but sometimes that resource sparks an idea and I research the destination further. If it pans out, then I make a site visit and check things out in person, and then I cover it. Sometimes I just look for interesting places -- like the Crooked Road in Virginia -- and then scout out the access. The research is pretty time consuming, but in the end it's worth it.
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
Well the first challenge was how to organize it, but once I figured that out I had the whole outline done in about an hour. But the biggest challenge was actually doing the site visits. It took a lot of legwork and we put in some pretty long days.
And sometimes we'd get to a property or an attraction that the owner claimed was accessible, only to find an access obstacle, like a flight of stairs up to the front porch. That was disappointing, but we just kind of moved on. My husband, who illustrates all of my work, and I travel together and we both have a good sense of humor, so we kind of kept each other going.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
The biggest reward is self satisfaction -- I truly love what I do. I just couldn't do it if I didn't because it takes a lot of energy. I feel I'm making a contribution to society, which in the end is very important to me.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
It's a very competitive field these days, so I'd say try and find a staff position, learn the ropes and build up your network before you jump in to freelancing. You have to have a hook, a voice or a niche these days. You can't just write about a place, but you have to write about a place in a particular way, to a specific audience or in a unique voice.
Do you recommend other writers find a niche or specialty? What have been the rewards for you?
Absolutely. The only way to be successful in this business is to build your platform by establishing yourself as an expert in a particular niche. I worked on that from day one, and now when an editor wants to cover accessible travel, they know who to call.
I also write a number of regular columns, craft web content, do a radio show and freelance for other magazines, and all of this work comes to me because I'm known as the expert on accessible travel.
I think you also have to have a pretty strong platform to get a book deal these days too. Writing is really the easy part; branding yourself, defining your niche and building your platform is the foundation for success.
How do you approach the work of writing?
I'm kind of a strange writer, as I don't have this set-in-stone process that many writers have. I just sit down and do it. Sure, for major pieces I have outlines, and of course I take copious notes while doing my editorial research; but a lot of times the only structure I have is a few words scribbled together in a loose outline, under headings that only I would understand.
As long as I have it in my head, it's as good as down on paper to me. In fact, I pretty much consider a piece almost finished when it's hashed out in my head. Getting it down on paper at that point is merely a mechanical exercise. And then of course there's the fact-checking, which is essential in my niche. That sometimes takes up a chunk of time, as I'm a stickler for accuracy. And if I'm ever stuck for an idea, I take a shower -- really, I get some of my best ideas in the shower.
Can you tell us how you found representation for your books? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
I never had an agent, but that doesn't mean that I don't think that's a good route to take. I just never really needed one. In short, I was at the right place at the right time.
I had a very loose deal with a major publisher for my first book (Barrier Free Travels; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers) and when I was nearly finished with the manuscript, things went south real fast.
I won't bore you will all the gory details but they basically wanted to take all of my rights with very little compensation. So I walked, because I knew those rights would be worth more to me in the long run. So there I was with a book almost done and no publisher. Worse yet, the material in the book was time sensitive and if it wasn't published then, it would have to be rewritten by the time I inked a deal with a new publisher. POD was just starting to come on the scene then, so I decided to go that route. It ended up being one of the top sellers for the house, I retained all of my rights and I was happy.
Then my current publisher (not a POD, but a traditional publisher) approached me after reading the book. She knew that I had retained my copyright, so she asked me if I wanted to publish a second edition with them. We hashed out a contract and I figured it was a good step as POD books can be a bear to promote and I wanted a little more support on the marketing end of things. It's been a match made in heaven as I've done three titles for them and have a few more on the horizon. They are very easy to work with, so it all turned out well in the end.
In the last year or so have you seen any changes in the way publishers publish and/or distribute books? Are there any emerging trends developing?
Well thanks to technology the turn-around time is getting quicker, which is great for authors as books can be on the shelf faster. E-books may see a resurgence due to the new Amazon Kindle device, but I think we have to wait and see if that takes off.
Some folks still prefer having a good old fashioned book in their hands, so I think there will always be a market for them. And of course POD has grown and even expanded to offer some marketing services. It's really an evolving industry, with technology playing a major role in it. The next ten years will be especially interesting, I think.
How have you used the Internet to boost your writing career?
Well, I've always used the internet to promote myself, but as technology evolves I keep evolving too.
My Barrier Free Travels blog is pretty popular, and I love the whole concept of blogging, so that has really strengthened my platform. I write for a number of websites and of course have my own website, my book websites, and the Emerging Horizons website, so that brings a lot of traffic my way.
I'm also very active in message boards and I even have my radio show archived on my blog. I've done Linkedin, Amazon Connect, MySpace -- you name it, if it's free I use it to promote my work. A lot of editors find me through my blog or internet searches or Google alerts, which is great.
What is Emerging Horizons all about?
Emerging Horizons is a magazine devoted to accessible travel -- travel for people with mobility disabilities, from slow walkers to wheelchair-users. We cover travel just like any other travel magazine, except we also include access information so our readers can make appropriate choices.
We are unique in that we don't accept any advertising -- we are entirely subscriber supported. We do that in order to present an unbiased view of accessible travel options. In short, we are very consumer oriented. We're published quarterly and we cover foreign and domestic destinations, recreation, cruises, lodging options, travel news and include lots of accessible travel resources. All that for a very affordable $16.95 per year! We just celebrated our tenth birthday this year, so we're thrilled about that.
How can our readers find out more about you?
Well they can visit my website at www.CandyHarrington.com or my blog at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com or the Emerging Horizons website at www.EmergingHorizons.com.
And if they want to find out more about my new book, 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, they can surf on over to www.101AccessibleVacations.com. Of course they can always just Google me -- I'm pretty easy to find.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered and what is next for Candy Harrington?
Well, it's been a pretty busy year, so I think I'm just going to relax and enjoy the holiday season. We have a cabin in the Sierras where we spend the bulk of our time and I just like to hibernate up there every now and then.
My next big projects will be the third edition of Barrier Free Travels: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers and a second edition of There is Room at the Inn: Inns and B&Bs for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. The latter is going to be very research intensive with lots of site visits, so I have a very busy travel schedule next year. And of course I'm going to keep doing what I have been doing for the past 14 years -- covering accessible travel. I always seem to find new projects, especially with the growing popularity of my niche. It definitely keeps me busy!
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
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