Writing For Party Earth

Right, long time no blog! I’ve been meaning to post something for a while now about my experiences last summer writing for Party Earth, a US-based series of nightlife guidebooks to top European cities. As my first guidebook work it was a big learning experience… and not necessarily one I’m in a desperate hurry to repeat!

My Dad always says if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, but as I set out for Barcelona in search of fame and fortune the tagline ‘writers wanted – get paid to party in Barcelona’ was inevitably going to arouse my interest. I duly sent in my application form, along with my CV, which for once suited the bill perfectly (I’d spent the last 3.5 years writing about bars and clubs around East Europe and had my own nightlife column in the Krakow Post). I was genuinely raring to go on this one, my perfect job – and barring my lack of knowledge about Barcelona (at the time) and lack of Spanish (errr, still) – I felt I was the perfect candidate. Anyhow to my delight I got offered the job and was looking forward to a hedonistic summer in Spain living it up by night and then penning a few ditties on the beach late in the afternoon.

Then came the shock… my remuneration. The 3,000 USD touted in the job ad was for a guidebook created from scratch. My role was to update an existing Barcelona guide of 60 odd venue reviews and add a handful of new ones… I was to be paid a mere 8 USD for updating an old review and 16 USD for writing a new review. And I was to cover all my own expenses! It was obvious then that should I even buy one drink at a venue that I was visiting for an update then I would have imbibed all the money I earned from reviewing it (a bottle of beer in BCN costs from 3 to 6 euros)! Have two drinks and I would actually be making a loss out of all my hard work!

I thought long and hard about it and was close to refusing Party Earth’s offer. But in the end I felt that it should at least be fun, the opportunity might be more important than money and that I’d be able to visit most of the places without having a drink – just making some notes. I also figured I’d be going to some of these places anyway so if I could recuperate some of the costs of a night out by writing a review that couldn’t be a bad thing either. Finally I thought that the research I was doing for Party Earth would come in handy at least for other purposes (such as writing the Barcelona nightlife page of my fledgling website Barcelona Life). A travel writer survives on their knowledge after all, and one of the keys to being a successful travel writer is making your knowledge pay more than once!

The logic was sound… but unfortunately there were some factors I hadn’t predicted or considered. Firstly I had no idea just how exacting the Party Earth editors would be. My approach at first was to take what was already written in the existing guidebook reviews and just flesh it out with a sentence or two and check all the factual details were correct – easily enough to earn my 8 USD in my opinion! However these reviews would be sent back to me with a long list of required amendments… every review had to contain concrete details of the decor, layout, crowd, music, vibe and also had to include a top tip for making the most of the place. (So you really had to get to know the places well!). In fact I thought these guidelines were excellent, but they were also very demanding and inflexible, and doctoring the often poorly-written existing reviews to fit the criteria was very time-consuming. What with travelling to the venue, being in the venue, travelling from the venue, writing/updating the review, writing the amendments, I must have been spending several hours on each place! It’s very likely I was averaging 2 or at most 3 dollars an hour for this work (in the most efficient case). Nightclubs were worse than bars because they are harder to pop in and out, in more distant locations, and Party Earth don’t cover the cost of entry – insisting that we should be able to arrange a free visit for the coverage we’re giving them. Sound in theory, but you try telling a Spanish gorilla who doesn’t speak English that you are here to review the incredibly popular club he is barring your way to and you won’t get very far. Organising guestlists for all the clubs was another (time-consuming) headache, made a nightmare by my poor language skills.

The whole experience seemed to be an endless project, structured around my weekly Skype meetings, with my line manager Dan. Despite Dan being a very nice guy, talking to him about an infinite roll of amendments began to drag after this two month project had entered into it’s fourth and even fifth month. (I should point out I wasn’t working full time by any means, but a sizeable chunk of each week got taken up, esp. in the initial three months… later when the research had been done it was just the amendments that kept rolling in!).

One thing that I have to commend Party Earth for was that they kindly agreed to renegotiate my contract so that reviews which involved extensive rewriting were credited as new reviews – and remunerated by 16 not 8 dollars! This was a bit of life-saver as revising the existing reviews was often taking longer than writing the new reviews! Unfortunately some of this good work by them was later undone when I had to pay a 50 dollar fee via Paypal just to receive my total payment from them (which came to 1277 USD)… that was the equivalent of three new reviews wiped out just to get paid for the work that I had done! That really pissed me off, and I think if you are contracting foreign staff you should be willing to pay the bank fees.

Overall it was an exciting project to work on, and I think together we created a great nightlife guide to Barcelona… but from a travel writer’s perspective it was a hell of lot of work and hassle for not very much money. Nor was it anywhere near as fun as you might imagine. A night out in a club because you have to be there (often my mates were all somewhere else!), with no spending money is obviously a far cry from an all-expenses paid booze up… the realities of nightlife journalism, even for a major US publisher, are not glamorous it seems!

I think, despite my gripes, writing for Party Earth worked out for me in some strange way. It gave me a reason and focus to be here in Barcelona for a couple of crucial months, and (a lot later than I would have liked) it paid out a bit of money; whilst the knowledge I gained working for them is helping me in compiling various city guides, be it for my own projects, like Barcelona Life or Urban Travel Blog, or for Easyjet Magazine or whoever….

If you’re thinking of accepting an assignment to write for Party Earth hopefully this advice will help you… you can always contact me if you need some more info! Meanwhile I’d definitely be interested in hearing about other writers’ experiences working for other travel guidebooks etc (you might find this amusing book by the now infamous Thomas Kohnstamm instructive too… an expose of life as a Lonely Planet guidebook writer! Very droll, I’ll get a review up one of these days!).

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12 Responses to “Writing For Party Earth”

  1. d0rmr Says:

    hilarious! i actually interviewed with these guys today for a web developer position. i wish i had read your post before going in to get a better idea of how these guys treat their employees.

    after the interview, i learned a lot more about the company and felt that they probably wouldn’t make it too far with their current strategy. but after reading your post, i’m almost doubly sure that they won’t make it with their current strategy and the way that they treat their writers. thanks for putting this post up!

    • drtravelwriter Says:

      No problems thanks for the feedback, I only just saw this! Well I wish them well of course and they do deliver a good product. How you’d get on as a web developer for them I guess we’ll never know! Best of luck anyhow…

  2. brien Says:

    duncan, glad you got something out of it, though a pity they didn’t value their own content enough to put any money in it. maybe viewed as a paid internship it’s not all bad since you learned a lot. but the axiom of great travel writing seems to be A) travel with rich backers and write about things most people can’t do, or B) have an incredibly unlucky time of it in some exotic location and write about that … once those gambits pay off you can finance the daily travel writing from your own stash up front. anyway, they were lucky to get you and not some schmuck who just made it all up.

    • drtravelwriter Says:

      thanks Brien. Well unfortunately writing is still seen as cheap unskilled labour… perhaps because a bad writer can still produce a text. I have some sympathy with PE as any start up company needs to keep costs down and there were employing writers all over Europe… plus I myself have asked people for free contributions to Urbantravelblog.com! Haha guess I’m a hypocrit;) But now I’m paying writers a bit at least!

      Powodzenie for now:)

  3. Sophie Says:

    Duncan I’m so glad I found your site! I was about to fill out the application on Party Earth.com to write about Paris. I got a little suspicious though when I was prompted to write a sample review. I thought that might be how they get all their reviews on the site, by just using applicant’s writing samples. Anyway it sounds like they do in fact hire writers. I’m impressed with your stamina! 5 months in Barcelona’s nightlife must be exhausting!

    • drtravelwriter Says:

      Haha yeah Barcelona is quite a full on city and the nights out often go on until 6am or later/earlier! Re: Party Earth, you should find them completely ethical, however you just have to consider whether their rates are enough for the work they ask you to do… they’ve improved their website a lot since I was working with them I noticed so if they are doing well they may have upped their offers. There are certainly a lot of other travel sites who ask for content for free so I don’t consider them the bad guys at all… it just depends what the experience is worth to you. For a beginner travel writer looking for experience, with another source of income, it’s not a bad gig. Btw I’m also looking for contributors for another project of mine…. http://www.urbantravelblog.com After a year of asking for people to volunteer pieces I can now afford to pay people a little! If you have an article idea which fits the site (think urban trends, experiences, contemporary culture, nightlife adventures) then let me know. Come to think of it we don’t have a Paris City Guide yet so if you know the city really well that might be an option… you can drop me a line at duncan {at} urbantravelblog.com and we can discuss.

  4. peteratsal Says:

    Wow thanks for the straightforward rundown on PE…I am currently studying abroad in Cyprus in the Mediterranean, unable to get a job over here. I just might take a swing; fortunately I don’t need to fully support myself with the gig.

    I was a little unclear though–they tell you where to visit and review every week? Or do you pick/propose assignments yourself?

    Thanks, great blog,
    Zach

    • drtravelwriter Says:

      Sorry Zach, only just saw this. For new destinations you’d be expected to source the best places… for existing ones it would be a mix of mainly revisiting places already reviewed and hitting up new ones. It was 2009 I was working for them though so things may have changed a little since then!

  5. Josh Worsfold Says:

    Hello Duncan,
    My sister is currently signing a contract to work as a photographer for Party Earth, they are promising 250$ per venue (51 venues) in Barcelona. Can we trust them or are they going to breach the contract and rip her off. Have you heard about the photography position?
    Thanks
    Josh

    • drtravelwriter Says:

      Hi Josh, well those are good rates. How’s it working out? Sorry I only just saw this comment.

  6. Paul Feinstein Says:

    Zach and any others interested in Party Earth,

    I wanted to introduce myself – my name is Paul Feinstein and I’m the Content Manager at Party Earth. I’d like to invite any and all questions that anyone may have about the writing job since an incredible amount has changed since Duncan wrote for us.

    Feel free to email me at pfeinstein@partyearth.com

    Duncan, we would still love to have your profile on our Get Paid to Party Page – http://www.partyearth.com/get-paid-to-party/meet-the-partiers – let me know if I can send you a form to fill out.

    All the best,

    -Paul

  7. ebe Says:

    Thanks for the feedback about this work – it is always interesting to see how the ads for travel writing stack up the particulars. Very helpful!

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