Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Book Review:
Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer

Reviewed By Julie Anne Eason
2005,
Julie Anne Eason


The worlds of the beginning fiction and non-fiction writers could not be more different.  If you write fiction, you write and write and polish and then work out a query letter to agents or publishers, hoping to interest them in your finished product.  The non-fiction writer polishes query letters until they sparkle and tries to sell ideas to editors before there is a finished product.  Most writers are happy to stay on one side of the fence, but I have a confession: I write both.  I love the challenge of finishing a full-length novel.  I also love the relatively quick feedback, not to mention paychecks, of writing for the magazine world. 

When I first read this book, I was shocked.  The information inside can be summed up in 3 little words: break the rules!  Years ago, I tried freelance writing and had some small successes.  I was published in a dozen magazines and made a few hundred dollars per article.  But, I followed the rules and never cracked the really big markets.  Those elusive glossies taunted me with their $1-$2 per word contracts.  I yearned to be able to tell my friends they could pick up my latest work at the grocery store.  But it did not happen.  I played by the rules: no e-queries, no simultaneous submissions, do not get too friendly if an editor deigns to talk to you.  That was how the game was played, right?  Not according to Jenna Glatzer. 

In this book, Glatzer starts by laying out the grim facts about freelancing.  "According to a 1995 National Writer's Union survey, the median income for freelance writers was only $4,000 a year.  Just 16% of freelance writers pulled in more than $30,000 a year."  So, why do people still dream of freelancing full-time?  It is the lure of being able to make money with words while sitting in your pajamas.  (In my case, I am writing this review at the park with my six-year-old son.)  Glatzer herself is a well-known name in the freelance world, with bylines in Woman's World, Prevention, Contemporary Bride, Writer's Digest, and hundreds of other titles.  She also runs Absolute Write, a resource website and forum for all writers from greeting card poets to freelancers to novelists.  She is definitely in that top 16%, so I decided to see what she had to say. 

The book starts out by explaining how to generate ideas and slant those ideas to fit different markets.  It demonstrates how to dig deep to find a unique angle for a ho-hum story.  Once you have the ideas, you need to find markets for them; so chapters 3, 4, and 5 are devoted to how to find and study markets.  Chapters 6 through 10 are devoted to query letters and how to sell your ideas to editors.  Chapter 11 is all about contracts, kill fees and how to get the most money for your work.  Chapter 12 covers interviews: how to find sources and how to conduct a thorough interview.  Chapters 13 and 14 talk about the care and feeding of editors: how close to get and how to become an editor's favorite freelancer. 

The remainder of the chapters deal with the business side of writing, taxes, and some secrets that the big glossies do not really want you to know.  For example, that they will reject the most amazing story if the subject is fat or will not photograph well, and how some will change quotes outright and rewrite your story until it is unrecognizable as your own.  She also teaches you how to figure out an editor's personal email address by using the publication's "formula."  And if that is not enough, she throws in her own list of email formulas for nearly 100 top magazines. 

I was impressed with the practical content of this book right away.  Glatzer is fun to read, and you feel as if you are really getting the inside scoop on the industry.  After each chapter, there is an assignment worksheet to fill out.  If you fill them all out, you will have several finished queries ready to go by the end of the book.  However, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  I bought this book in late February and decided to test out the advice myself before writing this review. 

Here is what I did: 

* I ignored the no emails rule and sent every single query letter by email to a specific editor. 

* I ignored the no simultaneous submissions rule and sent each idea to at least three publications. 

* I ignored the "put your editor on a pedestal and do not speak unless spoken to" rule.  If an editor sent me a friendly rejection note, I emailed right back with "thanks for considering the idea; maybe you can use this one instead..." 

* After receiving some encouraging rejections, I flat out asked a few editors at the big glossies what they were in need of at the moment.  A few wrote back immediately and actually told me what they needed and who to pitch it to. 

* I mailed out approximately 40 queries between the end of February and the end of May. 

Here is what happened: 

* I had about a 70% response rate to the e-queries, much higher than I ever had sending snail mail with SASE. 

* I am on a first-name basis with several glossy editors whom I correspond with regularly now.  None of them has given me an assignment yet, but they are all encouraging me to submit new ideas. 

* In May, I received my first assignment from a magazine I can pick up at the grocery store. 

* In June, I received my first ever $1/word feature assignment which quickly turned into 3 assignments from the same publication. 

I am more than happy to recommend this book.  The techniques really work! 

I am not in that top 16% yet, but for the first time, I have some confidence that I will get there.  Oh, and I will keep writing fiction in hopes of publishing best-selling novels.  But, in the meantime, the freelancing keeps my spirits up and my checkbook happy. 

Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer:

How to Win Top Writing Assignments 

By Jenna Glatzer 

Nomad Press 

ISBN:  0-9722026-5-x