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I have been writing a regular monthly blog now for the past four years. It has been both challenging and rewarding. But it is also time-consuming, and as I so often protest, I am a tour operator, not a professional blogger. If my writings produce more business for my tour company, or drive more business toward a deserving attraction or destination, so much the better. But I’m obviously not in it for the money.

Not that it wouldn’t be nice to receive a little compensation for my time and effort. So recently I said to myself, Self, why not check out the possibility of sponsors for my monthly scratchings? Of course, I didn’t have a clue how to go about this, so I commenced an online search to get some ideas.

When am I going to learn? I’m sure that Google Searches can be very productive, but mostly they just depress me. One would expect that a Google Search for “travel blog” would bring up examples of – well, travel blogs. All I wanted to do was read some, see what kind of sponsorships they had and how many. You know, research. But instead, this search brought me hundreds of sites on how to write a travel blog and more importantly, how to attract advertisers – apparently defined as anybody with money to throw at you – the point being to cram as many of them on every post as physically possible.

I had been thinking one sponsor per month, at a modest fee, that might actually benefit from having their name associated with a travel blog, and more specifically, my travel blog.

Thus it came as somewhat of a shock to me, that the prevailing wisdom appears to be to attract so many advertisers (and please note that I am differentiating here between an ad and a sponsor) that you can’t find the article through the forest of ads. For all their trumpeting about how “content is king”, what Google, Facebook, and all the rest of them are really into is VOLUME! Not verbiage, (which is definitely in the minority on the sites I reviewed) but advertising revenue. The more ads, the more important this blogger must be! Wow! He goes to the top of the list!

I’ve seen this development on travel websites, of course – and also been appalled – so I’m not sure why finding this same phenomenon on travel blogs surprised me. Guess I’m a slow learner.

My vision of a classy, tastefully displayed sponsorship seemed to be hopelessly naive. It brought back memories of my years in the theatre – my idealistic formative years – when anybody who made money doing commercials or “went Hollywood” (defined as anybody who actually made a living as an actor) was derided by those of us still in school as “selling out”. To be a real actor you had to suffer for your craft, do only avant garde plays by unknown playwrights in church basements or off- off- off- off- off- off-Broadway for free while waiting for that “big break”.

So I wondered, is getting sponsorships selling out? Will I soon be writing infomercials, made to order for the designated sponsor instead of what I want to write about?

After years of trial and error, I have learned that I am much more productive when I write when the spirit moves me rather than under deadline. (In fact, a deadline comes close to paralyzing me!) I therefore have legal pads scattered all over the house and office: by the TV, in my briefcase, by my bedside, so when I get that brilliant idea I can write it down. It might be nothing more than a single sentence. But by the time I transfer that sentence to my computer, it has had time to percolate in my brain and I often develop two or three more paragraphs from that one kernel of an idea. Of course, it might sit for a few more weeks, or even months without further inspiration. But every once in awhile I revisit those unfinished blogs, and can often polish them off quickly.

In this way I have many, many partial blogs in the works at a time, but I also have completed Trail Talks lined up for months in advance, which not only takes the pressure off, but makes it easier to fit into my busy travel schedule. How would this creative process be affected by having sponsorships? What if I have a sponsor who wants me to write something specific, and I don’t have anything to say about it? What then? Can I write to order? Do I want to?

I’m actually still agonizing about it. But I have found a few sponsors willing to take a chance on me, who see the benefit of being associated with me no matter what the subject. We’ll see how it goes. I am determined to avoid having a blog that looks like it is all about making money (with ads – lots of them – in your face) instead of providing information, or at least provoke some new thoughts. The first Trail Talk of the New Year will be sponsored, and I’m sure you’ll let me know if I’ve made a colossal mistake or am behaving like a savvy businesswoman. Well, probably not. Nobody’s ever accused me of that!

Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. She is a frequent presenter at numerous history conferences and trade association meetings and is a regular contributor to ABA’s Insider online magazine. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.

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