At-Home IdeaFest Program

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Members of the At-Home IdeaFest Program: Please find the program forum here.

The more time I spend with freelance travel writers–whether those still waiting or trying to break in or those that have made the leap to full-time freelance and are now trying to crack the code of a solid income–the more my observations of what exactly that missing link is evolve.

When people first asked me if I would coaching them to get the same kind of response rates I was having from editors and travel content marketing clients,

But you have to ask, if the key is pitching, why isn’t everyone doing it?

There are several key reasons people don’t pitch, even if they know they should:

  1. They can’t find magazines that fit the stories they want to pitch. (This is why we set up the travel magazine database!)
  2. It takes them too long to write pitches, so they’re particularly upset when they don’t hear back and just can’t get out enough pitches to make the numbers work. (This is why we started offering the Pitchapalooza retreat!)
  3. They run out of ideas of what to pitch, so they don’t know what to send when editors ask them for other ideas or just reject the pitch they’ve sent. (This is why folks love our webinars about how to find ideas when you’re on the road and events like the Freelance Travel Writing Bootcamp!)

But as I’ve been a constant dealer of magazine markets open to freelancers and techniques for speeding up the process of writing pitches for the past two years, I’ve noticed that there is something else going on.

Something that people don’t notice as it’s happening, but they regularly feel the after effects of:

Pitches don’t fly with editors–no matter how well-written–if the idea being pitched just isn’t usable in the first place.

This sounds weird, right?

How can a pitch be written well if it is destined for failure?!

No matter how well I prepare you with scripts, critiques, and techniques for writing your pitches, they won’t get you anywhere with editors if they’re rotten at the core.

I hate to say it, but it’s true.

Writing ability–even “marketing” a.k.a. pitch writing ability–is completely separate from the ability to come up with a good “product” or offering. As freelance writers, the “products” that we offer editors are not articles.

Say it with me:

We, freelance travel writers, are not selling articles.

This is the intangible leap that separates the people who are out there getting assignments from editors they have no connection to from those that aren’t.

You need to understand that you are selling ideas.

And for that to work, you need to have a very firm grasp on what an idea really is. So while IdeaFest, at its core, in terms of output, is about coming up with 100 ideas matched to magazines, my aim is something much greater: to move you from someone who can’t tell something that isn’t an idea from something that is.

It’s not about bad ideas or good ideas.

It’s about things that just aren’t ideas and those that actually are–and once you learn to see things with your editor hat on, you’ll have no problem telling the difference.

What We’ll Cover in the At-Home IdeaFest Program

The new At-Home IdeaFest program will takes place over four weeks, with the same goal as our live program: generate your own personal list of 100 magazine ideas matched to specific sections of specific magazines.

In the live IdeaFest retreat, the material of our lessons is broken into six modules punctuated with one-on-ones and time to work on assignments:

  • Module 1: Resetting your view of what an “idea” is by breaking through your misconceptions, a highly interactive session
  • Module 2: Slicing and dicing and goldilocksing your ideas into shapes that fit real magazines
  • Module 3: 10 different methods for generating ideas and how to manage them once you have them
  • Module 4: How to approaches generating ideas for features and other narratives
  • Module 5: The spin cycle: taking one original “idea” and adapting it to 20 different markets
  • Send-off: Where do we go from here? Keeping it up at home and getting pitches out

For the home program, we’ve spread the same material out over four weeks with one email lesson each day (rather than me talking at you for an hour and a half for each!):

  • Week 1: Getting crystal clear on the three sides of the idea triangle–the conceptualizing approach that will insure you never have an idea that an editor doesn’t think fits her magazine again.
  • Week 2: The magazine-first approach to pitching in practice–learning how to let magazines give you dozens of ideas of what to pitch them, and getting comfortable enough with the magazine landscape that you never have to wonder what kind of magazine would be interested in a certain story again.
  • Week 3: Final checks and the spin cycle–the methods to not only ensure your ideas don’t bong with the magazines your pitching, but the see how those “outside the scope” concepts actually become dozens of new pitch ideas for other magazines.
  • Week 4: Pitching specialized articles–digging into the dreaded (or highly anticipated!) feature, essay, and long-form markets and learning to formulate ideas that cover thousands of words as well as thousands of miles or years while expressing everything in the succinct format of an idea that can be proven to sell.

What is the difference between the At-Home IdeaFest Program and the live IdeaFest retreat in the Catskills?

There’s two superficial answers here:

  1. You don’t have to leave home. Though people absolutely attend the lessons at the retreat house in their pajamas, so I can’t say that doing these exercises in your pajamas is exclusive to the at-home version 😉
  2. You take four weeks to get through the course material rather than two days. And this may seem like a blessing, but it is actually much harder to motivate yourself at home, over such a long period, to stick at it. At the live retreats we have the physical presence of other attendees, along with one-on-ones to redefine what you need to focus on and other pokes from me to keep you powering through. Plus there’s lots of Kona coffee and Nespresso on hand at all times.

But that’s not really what you’re asking.

After running more than ten events at the retreat house now and taking countless private or group business retreats myself over the years, I can tell you there is something magical about the focus that comes from that sort of confinement.

When you’re doing the at-home program, the onus is on you, and you alone, to make sure that you’re getting through your lessons and doing the associated exercises.

This is the biggest different between the live and at-home programs–focus and accountability.

We can do some things to help with the accountability side:

  • Send you daily emails (check!)
  • Give you a space to interact with other attendees and thrive on a group spirit (check!)
  • Include access to a dedicated teaching assistant and customer service person to make sure that your homework assignments are moving in the write direction (check!)

But we can’t do half-hour one-on-ones with everyone every day like we do at the live IdeaFest!

And honestly, it would feel a bit suffocating to have that injected into your daily routine as you work through the material from home.

So we drastically change the pace of the lessons in the at-home version so that they:

  • don’t feel like a huge weight on top of whatever else you have going on in your daily life, and
  • give you something small to learn (daily email lessons) and something to do (daily assignments) on a regular basis so it’s easy to get into a flow of making the program–and the new habits it will instill–a regular part of your day.

What we won’t do, however, is force you, nag you, or otherwise make you have feelings because you couldn’t get your assignment turned around right away. Because this just doesn’t work long distance.

There are those people who like to do everything right away, first thing in the morning, and excel at every assignment. But that isn’t everyone.

So, if you are able to work through your lessons *and* assignments the second they come out, great.

If you’re like me and you like to read things the second they land in your in-box and then do the replying/work of it in a big batch later in the day, totally cool.

Or if you have a non-travel-writing day job and a family and can’t sit down to do the work until your partner or mother takes the kids out to the park on the weekend, no problem.

In the unfortunate (but always happens to at least two people every time we run an online program) event that something very serious befalls you or a loved one when you have, with the best of intentions, signed up for the program, absolutely do not worry.

We have completely revamped how we run the assignments for our at-home versions of the IdeaFest and Pitchapalooza programs to make things accessible, inclusive, and productive for all participants, regardless of your approach to the program or personal situation.

We have set up an new learning-oriented website that allows participants to submit assignments directly through the program website as well as participate in dedicated program forums with the ability to easily search and organize threads by assignment and each participant’s submission.

As you work through your own lessons and assignments, you have a deep backlog of submissions from past IdeaFest participants to use as a resource to help you:

  • understand common pitfalls in approaching this work and learning curve and how to navigate them from dozens of different backgrounds and viewpoints so you’re sure to find something that makes sense to you
  • unearth even more magazines and sections to pitch by building on the work of your peers

How to Program Works

Every day, you’ll receive a concise email with the important learning points for the day, along with links to additional resources if you have time to dig in more.

At the end of the email, there will be a short assignment that you’ll either hold onto for a later step or you’ll finish and post in the forum.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What if I know I won’t be able to complete the assignments every day and will need to do them in chunks when I have time? In that case, if you aren’t sure if you’ll have time to do the assignments every day, no worries! The accountability and scheduling of when to complete the assignments are up to you.
  • How long will it take to complete the assignments? I typically recommend allotting anywhere from a half hour to two hours for each assignment, depending on your level of experience and how fast you write.
  • What if I already have a subscription to the Travel Magazine Database? If you already have a monthly subscription to the Travel Magazine Database, we’ll refund your June payment. If you have an annual subscription, we’ll push the expiration date out for another month.
  • What if I’m just not sure that writing for magazines is the right thing for me right now? I’ve got a blog and I do some other freelance writing that’s not travel-related, and I also do freelance catering and some other things. It sounds like you might be better off with someone one-on-one coaching to figure out what is the best path for you, but in the meantime, I recommend checking out this blog post on what kind of travel writing is best for you and this webinar on how to triple your travel writing income writing for magazines.


Ready to become an idea machine?