Craps, Baffert’s Gin, Santa Damiana cigars, exotic destinations like Montreal, Morocco, Costa Rica, St. Kitt. Micro-micro small batch beers and Watanabe-tailored suits. Cigarette boats.
All of these are vice-related article ideas that have appeared or appear regularly in the pages of magazines like Esquire, Cigar Aficionado, All About Beer, Wine Spectator, and the whole host of poker and gambling related magazines that you can find at any large newsstand. And if you like the things I’ve just spoken of, you can write about them too.
Writing about “intelligent vice” requires a certain writing style. It needs to be tight but also deeply descriptive and luxurious. Words like “rich”, “buttery”, and, “soft” are good ways to describe an expensive pair of leather shoes, and, “smoky”, “dark”, “woody” and “overtones” are a good way to describe cigars. The best way to learn the style is to read the magazine, but essentially you want the reader to say to himself, “My gosh, if I had one of those! It sounds so good! And so exclusive!” (That’s cynical but it is the truth!)
Article ideas must be carefully written and researched in the query; this means you must name and list your sources, and those sources should include one or two that nobody else has access to. This may require some ingenuity on your part; for a recent article on Sajuuro Watanabe tailored Yakuza suits in Japan, author David Samuels got an introduction to one of the Japanese gangsters through a friend, came up with the money to purchase the same suit the “boss” wore, and wrote about the experience of being fitted and purchasing, as well as some background on the Yakuza and why their suits were important.
For an article about a particular ultra-high end brand of Scotch or cigar, visit that distillery or the factory. Talk to well known people who drink or smoke it. Drink or smoke it yourself, with the owner of the factory or distillery. The style is very “gonzo” and not at all academic. You write what you know about because it’s what you’ve actually done and experienced. To write for magazines like Esquire or Men’s Vogue, you have to be willing to go to that level. The pay, however, would stun you; you can make upwards of $5000 per article plus expenses.
Here’s the trick that most people ignore: Start small and start well. Build your clip file. If you want to write an article on, say, a particular kind of cigar or a particular kind of luggage or handbag (for instance, Men’s Vogue recently ran an article on vintage Hermes bags), start by writing, say, short reviews of leather goods for a local newspaper or magazine, or cover something similar for a local newspaper, even a town newspaper, or a smaller magazine. This will help you to get the “feel” for vice writing, and it will help you improve your style. Also, you will gradually make contacts that will help you later on. If you want to know about coffee, visit a local independent coffeehouse, or six. If you want to know about beer, visit upscale bars that carry microbrews, such as City Brewing Company in DC-which can be reached via Amtrak-or, closer to my home, Basil T’s. My point is that you can live in a small town and do this. You don’t need to live in a big city. You start from the ground up and you invest, at your own expense, in your career.
Gambling is always a good topic and these days, everyone has a casino within reach, even in the Deep South. You want to learn the finer points of the games and good strategy. If you are going to sell a strategy for a game, make sure you’ve worked out the mathematics of it and that you have more than anecdotal evidence. You want to remember that gambling is math and the games are weighted towards the house, always. “Gee whiz” stories about your super duper secret method that never fails of always betting black on the roulette wheel after five reds and a house number will not get you an assignment. It will get you peals of editorial laughter. Some mags now carry “poker advice” columns much like they used to carry bridge advice columns; you’ll need some experience playing poker and writing about it. Just lately, columns seem to run to the psychological; how to “read” an opponent, more than hard mathematical strategy.
Writing about vice can be incredibly fun if it’s what you’re into; especially after you start getting magazines to pay your expenses. But you have to remember that you don’t start out at Esquire or Men’s Vogue. You start at the small town, local newspaper writing articles of the type that those magazines want. It requires good salesmanship, excellent powers of description, an eye for a deep level of detail, an ability to persuade sources close to the story to talk, a willingness to experience things on your own dime (at first), and a willingness to put your nose to the grindstone. It is the next step for the writer who supplements his income but doesn’t write for “the big boys”. But the dividends it pays are worth it: Respect in the profession, money, and experiences that you’ll never forget
Paying Vice Markets:
Pays 0.50 to 1.00 per word
Wine X Magazine
Pays $50 to $250 per article, sometimes expenses
Pays whatever you can work out between yourself and the magazine, usually relatively huge
Pays $8 per column inch
Wine Press Northwest
Payment rates on pubs below aren’t published:
David Dehls, Managing Editor
All About Beer
(Sorry, All About Beer shut down in 2015 after 39 years in business.
David Berlin is a 31-year-old writer who lives on the Jersey Shore. He was paid the princely sum of $65 for his first piece when he was twenty, which kept him in breakfasts at the local Woolworth’s lunch counter, and has been writing for money ever since. He’ll travel anywhere and write anything for anyone if the price is right; he’s written for Antiqueweek, the Well Water Journal, Weatherwise, and a whole host of others. When not at his desk he can be found mooching around his adopted town; eating at the diner and keeping his ears open. You can find him on the web at http://www.groovydaveonline.com and you can look at his Starving Artist’s Survival Guide Blog and Starving Artist Tip Of The Day at .