Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Writer's Life: 2010 Edition

Above: Wine tasting of Chianti Collio Fiorentini in Florence, September 2010.

Yesterday I received a PDF of an article of mine, "Emilia Romagna Rising," that has just been published in the December 15 edition of Sommelier Journal, my first assignment for that magazine. From a writer's standpoint, the article has all the elements that give satisfaction to being a member of the craft and the culmination of a process that began when I visited the region for the first time in February earlier this year. In the months since that visit, I have written about segments of the trip for other publications. But working with my editor at Sommelier Journal was an experience of being a magazine correspondent at its best - plenty of space to write both descriptive passages to give the reader a feel of the place while also providing the nuts and bolts of the grape varieties, types of wines and the interlocking appellations. I was also able to call in samples from various importers and distributors to write detailed tasting notes.

My editor was adroit in getting the most out of me as a writer - occasional fact-checking questions, the "can you give me two more sentences of explanation here?" queries, a request for another sidebar, contact information for photo sources and a very light editing pencil. Not a single thing on her part that didn't make the article better. And yesterday, the gratifying result - 7 pages filled with photos (some mine), beautifully laid out, an article that I believe will be interesting and informative to readers. Moreover, the PDF is something that I can send to my sources - a non-fiction writer's greatest strength - and say, "Thank you; this is what I had in mind when we talked in February or some time in between, and I hope you understand that you were an important part of it."

Fortunately, I have at least another 10 or so other editors who are delightful professionals for whom I love to write. Some of us barely talk or trade e-mails once the assignment is made, a sign that I take as a positive one, until I submit the article, usually a few days early. Then, something like, "The piece looks good, I'll edit it later, send me an invoice. Do you have photos?" And then it's published a few weeks or a couple of months later. Of course, other editors prefer a more collaborative process. With one editor, I know that I need to write fast before the assignment is yet again modified. I enjoy their diversity.

I tell people that while what I do is hard work (it's difficult to get sympathy as a traveling wine writer), but it really is what I wanted to do in my 20s - either be on a magazine staff or be an in-demand freelancer. Instead, I decided to take the more lucrative route of working in corporation marketing, which wasn't a bad life. Now, for the past dozen years, I have gradually built a life as a writer-at-large at the same time I have consulted in the healthcare area. Of course, I had written an article here, an article there since college - including stints some years ago as wine columnist for the late Washington Star and for the startup USA Today - but I got back into writing seriously in 1998 as a wine columnist for The NewsJournal in Wilmington, Delaware. Then, in 2000, I wrote my first article for Colman Andrews at Saveur, and things gradually grew from there.

The year 2010 has been another solid one. First, there were the 10 or so wine trips - a great source of ideas and content: three to California, two to Bordeaux, one each to Emilia Romagna, the Loire Valley, Greece, Florence and Portugal. Two or three times a month, I catch an Amtrak to New York City for an interview or a tasting, ocassionally three in the same day. I also value the input of 15 or so public relations executives who provide ideas, information, insider updates on what is happening where, contacts and often very good advice.

This year has also been a good one for hooking up with new editors and new publications. I have had first assignments, some already published, some waiting for 2011, from Sommelier Journal, Writer's Digest, USA Today magazines, Book Page, Sante' and iSante', Plaisirs de Vivre in Canada, Delaware Today and Bentley in the UK. And I continue writing for, and pitching new ideas to, such reliable publications as Wine Enthusiast and, Beverage Media, Robb Report, Intermezzo, Drinks Business (UK) and Drinks (US), Sommelier News, PA Wine & Spirits Quarterly, The Hunt, Signature Brandywine, Caviar Affair and others. Unfortunately, a couple of publications have ceased publication this year, and I quit writing a regular column for The NewsJournal after a dozen years due to another sign of the times, the shrinking "editorial hole."

During 2010, by my count, I had 67 magazine articles published in print or online, sometimes both. Among the highlights, in addition to the Emilia Romagna piece, have been a 10-page spread on "A Day in the Life of a Chateau" and a one-page Q&A with Michel Rolland for Wine Enthusiast; a Champagne "cheat sheet" for; "Greece is the Word" for iSante' and a profile of the hardest restaurant table in the U.S. - Talula's Table - for Sante'; profiles of Riccardo Illy for Drinks Business, the Antinori sisters for La Vie Claire, and sporting car driver and wine glass master Maximilian Riedel for Bentley; pieces on sweet wines makeover and American sparkling wines among others for Beverage Media; monthly contributions to Sommelier News, including a fun piece on Chateau Palmer night at Christie's; an assortment of regional, mainly non-wine articles for The Hunt and Signature Brandywine, and a review of Bourdain's latest kitchen-tell tome for Book Page.

2011? It's starting our very well - 40 assignments, 26 of them already written. And to be successful in this business, you have to love pitching article ideas to current and future editors. I have three or four out there getting a full look from exciting new (for me) magazines. My fingers are crossed, which may have accounted for some of the typos and errors above.

So thanks to everyone - sources, PR folks, importers and distributors and especially to the winemakers and winery owners who love to tell me about what they do - and let me taste some of it.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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