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Photo by Kim Grant for Hawaii: An Explorer’s Guide.

You’ve done the hard work to make your product exceptional. Now what can you do to package your stuff—and more importantly, yourself—so it sells like Volkswagen and Coca Cola (and/or so you get to do more of it)?

I come at this issue from two different sides of two different coins: as a 25-year veteran travel writer and as an Acquisitions Editor for a national print publisher and iPhone travel app company. Every day, in many ways, I massage my brand and am pitched by other writers who have (or have not) polished their image with varying degrees of efficacy.

1. Be clear, simple and consistent in your message.

Whether you are posting on Facebook, engaging with other bloggers, spreading snippets via Twitter (which I confess to not pursuing much), writing a guidebook or speaking informally to colleagues at a professional gathering, decide who you are and stick to the message. Are you a fun-loving raconteur with a lively nightlife? Are you a resort reviewer who knows the value of a $650 a night room at Amangiri? Both are fine, but it’s tough to convince the world that you do both well. I’ll probably hire both writers at some point, but these two hypothetical people are not right for the same job.

Now in its 8th Edition. Buy it here.

2. Narrow your scope of expertise.

Skimming the surface of many topics, while perhaps personally exciting, might brand you a dilettante in all those topics – which is fine if “dilettante” is your brand. I became an expert on Boston, New England and Cape Cod, and then I moved outward into regions I frequented and was passionate about: the Southwest, Hawaii and Florida. By spreading myself too thinly, though, I stopped having time to exploit my expertise in all those areas. By cutting back to a few areas, I created the space to pitch myself again.

3. Write a book and then parlay it.

Think of yourself as an entrepreneur rather than simply as a travel writer. It probably won’t pay well, but the book will brand you as an expert and provide a launching pad for better paying and (potentially) more prestigious work. You probably won’t be an expert before you write it (even though you will have to pitch yourself as one), but you will be afterwards. For about six months, you will be the expert on that topic. Exploit the heck out of that window of opportunity while it is open. It will open other doors and windows; keep leaping from one to another before they close.

4. Not every gig is a perfect fit.

The Universe abhors a vacuum, but don’t seize everything that falls into your lap. If you don’t leave time and space for the right project, it won’t appear. (I know, that’s a very “Northern California” concept, and you know what I mean because Northern California has a very strong brand.) Be like Northern California; be instantly known. There isn’t time for anything but an instant, strong impression.

5. Question yourself unrelentingly.

Who and what, professionally, are you? (Skip the metaphysical answers for this exercise.) Make and continually scrutinize a 12-month plan. Be patient and persistent. Assess which jobs are furthering your path and which are not.

Craft your brand icon.

6. Image matters.

Once you build it, guard your reputation. Of course I would say this: I’m also a photographer. But presentation matters: from design and font selection to paperweight and PDF headings; from associations with colleagues and organizations to your revolving weekly update on LinkedIn. It all matters; build it with care and attention. On Facebook, I belong to the Change This fan page but not The Soup. There’s nothing wrong with The Soup, but the signal it sends doesn’t fit my brand as a travel writer who works in new and social media.

7a. Don’t necessarily use every means of communication available.

Choose your weapon(s) wisely and push each to the hilt. Develop wide circles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media outlets. If you don’t have time to maintain them all, pick one or two. Post frequently to your own blog; keep your web site up to date with clippings, radio interviews and upcoming appearances. (Yes, this presumes you have those to begin with.) Build an author page on Amazon; get friends and colleagues to comment on your books and blog posts. Give them talking points to stay on message – your message.

7b. Don’t ignore low-tech methods.

Print and distribute thousands of postcards promoting your books and website(s). Wear out some proverbial shoe leather by going door-to-door – virtually or literally. Print a dramatic business card that clients will keep for one day instead of one hour.

We remember people who love what they do (and I hire them)


8. Be passionate about what you do.

People will notice when you are passionate, when your ideas almost sell themselves. How many people have you talked to today who absolutely love what they’re doing? We remember the ones who do (and I hire them). I love what I do, and I prefer to work with like-minded people. It’s a privilege to say this and mean it. It takes some luck – and more work – to get to this place.

9. Ultimately, you must produce a superior product.

No amount of branding will render you immune to what’s important: you must be an exceptional writer who knows how to research, organize and communicate your thoughts, provide value to your editor and reader, deliver on time and be pleasant to work with.

10. Use All the Great Resources You Can.

Here are a few to get you started:

a) TomPeters! – The Brand You
b) socialmediatoday, including “A Framework For Branding Through Social Media”
c) ChangeThis
d) Seth Godin’s Blog
e) SEO Traffic Spider
f) HubSpot Marketing Resources

Community Connection

For more notes on how to make it as a travel writer, check 6 Tips for Making the Most of a Writers’ Group, Video Portrait of a Travel Writer, Do Freebies Undermine Honesty in Travel Writing?, How are Writing Conferences Relevant to Travel Writers?, and The Importance of Connecting with Travel Writing though History.

Other branding ideas? Comments? Give us a shout below.

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About The Author

Kim Grant

Kim [] has written over 47 guidebooks for Countryman Press, Lonely Planet, Chronicle Books, Frommers, Fodors, Berlitz and Insight/Discovery. She is the Hawaii and Cape Cod authority for, and writes about luxury, romantic and beachside resorts for She has acquired, developed and shepherded over 140 titles for Countryman Press, and in the first two months of working with Sutro Media has signed 89 iPhone travel apps. (Another 317 titles and prospective authors await confirmation on a spread sheet.) Kim is also the Publisher at Good Karma Publishing and teaches T'ai Chi Chih, a moving meditation.

  • Abbie

    Thanks Kim, great advice!

  • Katie

    As Abbie said, really useful advice! Especially 7a, its too tempting when you’re starting out to sign up for everything, then never have time to manage them!

  • Kathleen

    This article is brilliant.

  • Teresa

    Very helpful, Kim! It inspired me to add a few extra things to my to do list!

  • Conner

    Top-notch advice and do I ever need it! I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right (tips 2-5 I have down more or less), and I’ve passion to spare. But deciding *what* types of social media and marketing is right for me – just wading through all the options and not getting caught up in the “new, new thing” is a bear – is challenging. Your article is a tremendous help and I’ve already discovered a treasure trove of useful info on ChangeThis. Now onto the next links!

    I wonder about OVER specializing? I work in very narrow geographic areas (Guatemala, Cuba, Hawaii) and I feel like the competition is killer, even though I have certain competitive advantages.

    Thanks again for the terrific article.

  • Jeff Counts

    Kim: Great advice in a nutshell, especially for my brand, a shy, Midwestern rustic with southern roots who is afraid to talk about himself. I’m reading a book on all this, Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk, a young wine guy who built up the family liqour store into an online wine giant. His advice is to use a blog as your plantform and work up from there. I’ve done that with some success. I post a blog and then use Facebook to distribute it on a Fan Page for my guide book, Michigan: An Explorer’s Guide. It helped me get a radio interview and I’ll be doing two blogs a month for the Pure Michigan Facebook page, which has 21,000 fans. I don’t bother with Twitter, I don’t think it would work for my stuff. I’ve built up my face Facebook page for the book to about 165 people.

  • Candice

    Damn this is one freakishly awesome article. Fantastic tips, Kim. I always stress the passion point.

  • TimR

    What an inspiring post! Especially #3, which is of course not a new thought, but the “why” of it is. Sebastian Junger instantly came to mind–a guy who was trimming trees, wrote a book, and bam, he’s an instant brand big time. It’s not so much that HE became famous, but his brand did.

    I also checked out Seth Godin’s blog, which I’ve read before I think, but now see it in a different light. Buried deep in his older posts, I found a link to a website and planned book ( all about Chai Wallahs and making tea in India. Such a simple yet deep idea that seems to embody all of the branding concepts.

    I’m starting to think maybe I could do something like that…

  • Drea

    Kim, these are the most useful branding tips I’ve read. As I continue to work on my own brand, I realize that the process isn’t as intuitive as it seems at the outset. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Catherine

    Ok, I’m motivated! Time to gear up and scale down in the branding category. Clearly you’ve sifted through many of the thousands of books and articles on this topic and then experimented to find exactly what works for you – and can for the rest of us. Wise words. Thanks.

  • Ryukyu Mike

    Excellent, most informative post I’ve seen in awhile. Thanks for sharing!

  • Adam

    Really great article Kim, very smart and a lot of great points!

  • Nancy

    Amazing advice! These tips have motivated me.

  • Nancy D. Brown

    Very nice, dialed down post, Kim.

    When I changed my Twitter handle to I made a decision to brand myself. (There are a lot of Nancy Brown’s out there!)

    I begrudgingly agree with your comment about writing a book within my travel niche. I’ve launched a new blog, and am playing around with the idea of a book.

    What’s holding me back? Time! 47 guidebooks. I bow down to you. One of my passions is getting more than a few hours of sleep. How do you do it?

  • Kim Grant

    Hey all,

    Remember, this is over 25 years, so 47 books over that time period is doable ;-)

    I do it with the help of T’ai Chi Chih, a moving meditation practiced daily that gives me lots of energy, intuition and creativity. Check it out at

    I bet there are a dozen good ideas from the folks who’ve commented here. Using your middle name to distinguish yourself makes TONS of sense: think David Meerman Scott as opposed to David Scott.

    Great links/tips about Chai Wallah and Crush It. And Conner, you ARE in a narrow markets BUT they’re popular markets. No offense to the midwest, but at least you’re not specializing in Nebraska City (which is gorgeous, by the way.)

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