Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Interview: 

Absolutely Jenna Glatzer

Interviewed By Julie Anne Eason
2005,
Julie Anne Eason


Jenna Glatzer is a full-time freelance writer; the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write, a writer's resource website http://www.absolutewrite.com/; and the author of Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, Outwitting Writer's Block, Words You Thought You Knew, and many other books.  You can read more about her books at http://www.jennaglatzer.com/.  Jenna graciously took the time to answer a few questions for this issue of Vision.

 

Vision: How did you get started with freelance writing?  

I was fresh out of college, and I decided to follow the advice "write what you know." I had three friends still in college who had started up an interesting business, so I pitched a profile of them to a magazine that targeted college students. I got paid 50 cents a word and thought, "Hey, this isn't hard at all!"  Call it beginner's luck. It took me about two years before I was earning a full-time living from it. 

 

Vision: Many writers complain that they can't make a living from their words.  They are discouraged by low-paying publications and the lengthy publishing process.  So what is the secret to being a successful full-time writer? 

Persistence and research. You really have to know how to study a magazine so you can figure out where your writing might fit. I used to come up with ideas and work on them, then try to find a magazine it might fit. I usually do it in reverse now; I study the magazine's formats in depth, and I try to come up with ideas to match. I began getting much better assignments once I learned how to target this way. 

You also need to have a few important skills or traits:  

1. You must meet your deadlines every time -- no excuses.

2. You must know how to find obscure information and experts. If the editor says, "Find me a mother in her late 30s who will talk about her daughter's obsessive-compulsive disorder," you have to be able to do that. 

3. You must be detail-oriented: excellent grammar and spelling, careful fact-checking notes.

4. You must be a clear communicator.  Magazine writing is typically on a 6th or 7th grade reading level, and it needs to be straightforward and well-organized.

5. Your writing must be flavorful and interesting. Know how to grab a reader's attention from the first sentence and keep it all the way through!

 

Vision: Do you think that anyone with basic grammar and spelling skills can make it as a writer? 

Not necessarily. I think anyone who wants to should write -- but I don't think everyone is cut out for writing professionally. Writing is a craft, and I think everyone can improve and learn, but there does have to be a base level of talent first.  And there's the personality aspect of it, too; if you fall apart at the sight of a rejection letter, this probably isn't the best business for you.  It'll make you miserable. 

 

Vision: How long did it take before you felt like you were a successful writer?  How do you define success? 

I felt successful right away, just seeing my words in print for the first time. I've never really had a single "defining moment" that made me believe I had made it, but lots of little achievements along the way made me feel I was on the right track. The first time I broke into a national women's magazine, the first time I made $1/word, the first time I made $2/word, my first fan letter, the first book contract, the first celebrity book contract...  

Success, for me, is partly about the money, and partly about the satisfaction. I know right now that I can pick and choose my assignments. I can choose to write only things that genuinely interest me, and I get paid well to do it. That feels great!  It also feels great that editors and agents appreciate me and treat me so well, and that I get so many wonderful letters from readers who tell me I've helped them get published or take a big step forward in their careers. All of that makes me very happy to do what I'm doing.

 

Vision: What is a typical writing day like for you? 

I'm generally working on several projects at once. I wake up and immediately hit the computer to read e-mails and see if anything urgent has come up. Today I proofread about 100 pages of my next book, scheduled an interview, began brainstorming for a greeting card assignment I got yesterday, checked in on the Absolute Write message boards, and wrote half an essay.  The day's not even half over yet. Later, I'll do research on another book I'm about to start.

 

Vision: You recently published a book called Outwitting Writer's Block.  What strategies do you suggest for getting "unstuck"? 

So much of what we call "writer's block" is just plain fear.  Fear that the words won't be good enough.  It's so important to put away that inner critic while working (especially on a first draft) and just allow ourselves to get something -- anything -- down on paper.  If you're really in a rut, I suggest changing atmospheres (try writing in the park, or at a coffee shop, or in your back yard), changing media (if you normally write on the computer, switch to a pen and notebook, or vice versa), changing the setting or sex of your main character, or offering yourself a reward for making it to a goal (you can go out for ice cream if you write 1000 words, for example).

 

Vision: Can writers strike a balance when writing fiction and nonfiction simultaneously?  Or should they focus on one or the other? 

Oh, I think it's great to do both!  The skills you use in one will benefit the other, too.  If you get used to writing nonfiction all the time, you may not keep that creativity sharpened, and your writing can get dry.  If you write fiction all the time, you may never develop confidence in your research skills, and may not realize that you could enjoy (and make a good living) writing for magazines or nonfiction books. 

I concentrate mostly on nonfiction, but it's a delight for me to take breaks and work on children's picture books and occasional short stories and poems. I make more money with nonfiction, but fiction satisfies my imagination. 

 

Vision: Do you think the Internet will ever replace traditional print publishing?  Is there any well-paying work available on the Internet? 

No, I don't think the Internet will replace print publishing.  I think I'd be miserable without my bookshelves overflowing with books and magazines that I can feel and smell, and I know a lot of readers agree.  But the Internet is great because it's created even more opportunities for writers -- this is a great time to be a writer!   

There is, indeed, well-paying work online, and it's easier to develop ongoing relationships with online markets that publish daily or weekly, as opposed to monthly print magazines. I've written for MSN, Match.com, and AOL, all of which paid well, and a few health sites. Salon.com is a great place to publish, though the pay rate is marginal. The NWU has a list of publications that pay at least $1/word here, including some online markets, though the list is a bit out-of-date:
http://www.nwu.org/journ/dollarwd.pdf.

 

Vision: How essential is a college writing degree if you want to be a successful writer? 

Not essential. No one ever asks. My degree is in advertising. The writing courses I took in college were terrific, and the professors were so encouraging -- I still get e-mails and letters from some of them who've followed my career -- but that doesn't mean that everyone needs college to become a writer. Certainly there are a number of high school dropouts who've made major contributions to literature. 

What I think is essential is an ongoing desire to learn and improve, no matter how you do it.

 

Vision: What's your favorite piece of writing advice? 

Know your worth. Too many writers are so excited that an editor has said "yes" that they fail to negotiate or examine contract terms. Editors need you or there wouldn't be any books or magazines. Take your time and find the right homes for your work, with editors who appreciate it.

 

Be sure to check out Jenna  Glatzer's websites.  They're filled with wonderful tips and help!

http://www.absolutewrite.com/
(Be sure to look at this issue's review of the site!)

http://www.jennaglatzer.com/