For the last two years, I’ve published these end-of-year reviews as episodes on the Travel Writing World podcast, but as that podcast and my work continue to evolve, I find it no longer fitting to publish them there. These reflections will now appear on my personal homepage and as a component of my new membership program, ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL, which I’ll write more about below. I’ll also discuss the growth of Travel Writing World, reflect on what we made in 2021, and offer some notes on where we’re heading in 2022.
Travel Writing World traffic and growth
As you know, Travel Writing World is my main “platform,” if you can call it that.
The Travel Writing World website in 2021 has experienced a 5x increase in unique visitors when compared to 2020, a year which itself saw nearly a 6x increase when compared to 2019. Comparing 2019 to 2021, that’s a 30x increase in unique visitors. To put it another way, we’ve already had more website visitors in 2022 than we’ve had in the entire year of 2019. These are just website visitors, not podcast metrics.
For the podcast, we had 2x as many downloads in 2021 as we had in 2020, a year which had 5x as many downloads as 2019.
Anyway, these numbers just delight me. As you know, Travel Writing World has been a labor of love. It is just me, calling all of the shots in my free time, in my messy studio at home, while juggling a full time job and requisite domestic obligations. I didn’t know who out there would be interested in a podcast about travel writing. It was a shot in the dark and I’m just thrilled that so many people tune in and are interested in this fairly narrow world of travel literature.
And, with listeners in over 120 countries, this is truly a Travel Writing World.
Thank you to everyone who has tuned in.
What we made in 2021
Last year was another year mostly shut-in. And, because of that, we were able to get a lot of work done. Below is an overview of what we made.
Travel Writing World podcast
My main entanglement has been podcasting. We published around 1,150 minutes of interviews over 29 episodes of the Travel Writing World podcast.
On the Travel Writing World website, we have been also publishing Author Profiles, text-based interviews with travel writers about their careers, writing practices, and insights on the first of each month. We published 12 profiles last year.
This year we also began publishing Book Excerpts on the Travel Writing World website to help authors share and promote their new work. I’m not too rigorous in seeking new excerpts or in scheduling them, but I do consider these as they roll in. On the other hand, we’ve depreciated the written “Book Q&As,” because I’ve found there to be some redundancy with the questions I ask there, in the Author Profiles, and on the podcast.
I’ve also published a few articles on the Travel Writing World website, mostly related to craft and business questions like developing author platforms and travel book sub-genres. I don’t have a regular schedule for articles on the site, but I do write them as I am inspired.
On my personal website, the one you’re on now, I started writing articles inconsistently under a few categories: for a project I’m working on: articles about mountains under the Axis Mundi category, and articles about books, publishing, and everything else under the Fieldnotes category. Again, I don’t have a schedule for these and write as I am inspired.
Beginning January 2021, I started writing a monthly newsletter — hosted on my personal website. I call this one Genius Loci. At first, it included just some brief personal notes and updates. But, mid-year, I changed the format to include a round-up of interesting links and news related to travel writing, nature writing, and place writing. Of course I still include a personal update in those newsletters, but they’re now more robust, filled with interesting news and links related to place, travel writing, nature writing, books, publishing, photography, and ideas. This was a good move as subscriptions increased after that.
In late August 2021, I started sending a second newsletter. It is called Postcards, and every Monday morning I send out a photograph from my travels with a brief note. We’ll see where this goes, but my main motivation with this newsletter is to create a practice of taking photographs, editing photographs, looking at photographs, and commenting on photographs. Of course, I also want to have a place to share my photos off of the social media platforms.
They’re both free to join, and you can subscribe or unsubscribe to them independently. If you’re interested in joining the hundreds of other subscribers in receiving Travel Writing World updates, news involving travel/place/nature writing, and weekly images, sign up here.
Adventures in Ideas journal
Before the pandemic, I had the hair-brained idea of launching a literary journal: Adventures in Ideas. I issued a call-for-papers, selected articles and edited them, paid the contributors, and published the articles in a soft launch. I should say here that Tim Hannigan helped me edit the first batch of essays and his help has been essential.
The goal was to publish twice a year, but I had underestimated the amount of work that would go into it. It could just be that playing literary journal editor isn’t my superpower. But, I’m putting this on pause for the moment until I can develop a system that works for me and helps with the workload.
I am interested in resuscitating this, and paying contributors fair wages, as the world needs more independent long-form literary travel journals, but the current system needs some tweaking for the journal to continue under my watch.
General 2021 observations
Last year I’ve had conversations with Joanna Penn on her The Creative Penn podcast about travel writing, and I recorded a similar talk for Self-Pub Con about travel writing sub-genres.1 Podcast and website traffic increased after those conversations. The takeaway is that media outreach, cross pollination, and speaking with others on their platforms, helps with visibility and growth.
We saw a spike of downloads and newsletter signups around those events. So, giving talks and participating in other public-facing and visible “conversion events,” to use the yucky parlance of marketeers, helps.
Another observation is that persistence and consistency pays off. During the pandemic, I’ve seen quite a few podcast projects start up. But no sooner had international borders began opening up than the new projects faded. I love talking to people and learning from them in the podcast format, so we’re going to stick around for a while.
Plans and announcements for 2022
The big news is that I’m launching ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL, a membership program designed to create and support work related to creative exploration. I’ve written a post on starting a paid membership program, which details the reasons and aims of the program. But you can also visit the main ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL page for more details.
As it did for everyone else, the pandemic had thrown a wrench in my plans. In 2020, I had planned to visit a few countries to do work related to my mountain project that I’ve been consumed by. Those plans were jettisoned. And, in the second half of 2021, I had planned on going on sabbatical to China, Tibet, Nepal, and India. Because of the pandemic, my employer offered to let me defer my sabbatical for a year. I obviously took that deal. But fall 2022 is fast approaching and I will not be able to defer my sabbatical again. This is all to say that 2022 is the year I need to do the work I’ve been postponing.
My plan is to go on a few solo trips around the world to collect stories and photographs for a series of projects I’ve been working on related to mountains. I had originally hoped to go to China in 2020, but that has been off limits since the pandemic and there are no indications it will work out in 2022 with enough time for me to plan. I’ll reveal my schedule in a few months, but I’m eyeing Central and South America.
As Craig Mod does in his work, I will likely start a few pop-up newsletters during my travels as a forcing function to be productive. In addition to contributing to my Axis Mundi work, the trips I take on my sabbatical will be the seeds of a few special edition book projects to be published by ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL in 2023 and beyond.
Of course, I’ll continue to do all the work I have been doing. Travel Writing World will continue, though it might take a pause while I’m on the road. And the newsletters will go on as well, as that work can be done from anywhere.
Anyway, this is all to say that I plan on having a productive 2022. If you have any questions please drop me a line.
And please join ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL.
- ARTIFACT INTERNATIONAL members can get free access to the talk in the Members Zone