…a conversation with Travel Writer/Photographer Fred Mays
Interviewed by Mary Charlebois/Photos by Fred Mays
Grab a cup of coffee and dig into our interview with Florida-based travel writer, Fred Mays. Fred has been in media for years; he had a long career as an on-air newscaster.
I got to know Fred when he pitched his first travel story and photos to me at Travel Post Monthly a couple of years ago. He found, wrote, and pitched his story about the bats of Austin, Texas, while attending an Ultimate Travel Writers Workshop. I was impressed and published the article the following month.
Since the Austin story, Fred has been remarkably busy. He not only writes and photographs travel stories, but he also covers Florida’s recovering habitats, wetlands, and shorelines.
TPM~ Is travel writing your full-time job?
FM~ I fully retired from a “real job” in March 2019, and now divide my time between writing, photography, and volunteer media work for an environmental group in Florida.
TPM~ How long have you been writing?
FM~ I first started freelance writing over 20-years ago, writing articles for newspapers and a Florida-based website. It was an edgy venture at the time. My first actual writing gig was at 5—6 years old when I wrote up a newspaper with a pencil and gave it to my grandmother. She said right then that I was going to be a reporter.
TPM~ What and where was your first byline?
FM~ My first print byline was in the St Petersburg Times, an article about a Florida State Park beach being named as the best beach in the country. We had just come home from the park when the beach was voted #1. I knew the editor at the Times and called him, and he said to go for it. I had lots of good pictures to go with the story. The editor was very happy. The paper didn’t have a website back then, but the story is on my website, St Joseph Peninsula State Park, #1 Beach for 2002.
TPM~ What and where was your last byline?
FM~ My most recent article is about Florida palm tree diseases for Woods Reader Magazine. I discovered the story after relocating from Texas to Florida last year. I noticed some unhealthy palms in my new neighborhood. That led to a Google search, which connected me with the University of Florida research on palm diseases. Woods Reader doesn’t publish articles online, but you can read the article on my blog – Threats to Florida Palms.
TPM~ Where have you been published Print? Web?
FM~ Print: St Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Toronto Globe and Mail, Texas Highways Magazine, Tribeza Magazine (Austin, TX), FYI50+ Magazine, Florida Audubon Magazine, Woods Reader Magazine.
Websites: GoNomad, Texas Lifestyle, Itchy Travel Feet, IC Florida, Savvy Retiree, Right Way To Travel, International Living, and others.
TPM~ What destinations are on your ‘must-see’ list? Why?
FM~ Nepal, the Patagonia region of Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, an extensive road trip around the southwest and the northwest U.S. I’m attracted to mountains and beaches, anywhere you can hike in nature.
TPM~ Do you take photos or videos of your travels? If so, do you include them with stories?
FM~ Yes, my camera is always with me. I take lots of pictures and submit them with articles.
TPM~ Are you an ITWPA member? Have you used your Journalist badge or other ITWPA perks?
FM~ Since I retired, I have cut back on my memberships to save money. I was an ITWPA member until last year. I may rejoin if the writing business picks up after the pandemic.
TPM~ What writer groups, associations, or networks do you belong to?
FM~ GEP Travel Writer’s Cafe, National Press Photographers Association, The American Writers & Artists Inc.
TPM~ What advice would you give a new writer when it comes to queries?
FM~ I’ve never had much luck with “cold” queries. I’d say I get about a 5% response rate. Mostly I try to work with editors that I’ve established a relationship with. Editors I’ve met in person and pitched face-to-face.
I keep my email pitches short, usually no more than 3-paragraphs. I try to have a strong headline in the email subject line. The first paragraph is the lede, what makes this story special. The second paragraph lays out how and when I can deliver the article. And the third paragraph is about me, and why I’m a good choice to write the article for the publication.
After picking up bylines to establish my credentials, I have stopped sending queries to publications that don’t pay or pay very little. Value your work and your time. Don’t work for peanuts.
About Fred Mays—Fred spent nearly 40-years in television news. Along the way, he was fortunate to win a Peabody, several Emmys, and a Dallas Press Club award. His freelance career began in the late ’90s. He didn’t write for several years but picked up again after attending a GEP Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Austin, 2018. He met Noreen Kompanik. She was very inspiring and encouraging. He left the conference with three bylines in the stream and a lot of enthusiasm. See Fred’s work on Florida Unplugged and Fred Mays. Follow him on social media Facebook, Instagram ~TPM