Friday, April 17, 2009
Spotlight Interview from the Archives: Jenna Glatzer/Part 4 of 4
(An oldie but goodie from the archives)
Jenna Glatzer, Writer/Editor/Author
Jenna Glatzer is an award-winning writer who has authored several books, including Celine Dion’s authorized biography, a Marilyn Monroe bio, and exclusively for writers Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen; Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer; and The Street-Smart Writer.
She’s also written for countless magazines and online publications and is a contributing editor at Writer's Digest, as well as the founder and former editor in chief of the infinitely respected writers’ resource site, Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com/).
To learn more about Ms. Glatzer, please go to her site at:
The following is the final part of the exclusive interview I conducted with Jenna several years ago:
Mike: Absolutewrite.com is such a wonderful site for writers. I applaud you. How did that come about?
Glatzer: Well, in 1998, I started up this tiny little Web site just for myself and my screenplays. I wrote screenplays early in my career. In fact, I was more focused on writing screenplays than anything else. So I had pitches for each of my scripts, some of which had been optioned. I had my agent’s name and all his info. And for some reason, I don’t know why, this little teeny free site got so much traffic. Not from producers (which is what I was aiming for) but from fellow writers. I got a ton of questions from them. Like: How did you option your scripts? How did you get an agent? At the time, it felt funny for me to be answering these, because I really wasn’t an experienced screenwriter. I was new at this also.
The thing is, screenwriting is such a difficult field, and I was having some minor successes. So I wrote up what little I did know, of how I achieved these successes. I figured this would stop people from asking questions. Instead, I got more questions.
So I figured there was a need for this, not just for screenwriters but writers of all kinds.
It began as a geocities page called “Jenna’s Screenwriting Spot.” I was participating in a lot of message boards and so it got around through word of mouth.
I didn’t want it to be only screenwriting. My focus had changed and broadened. I quickly moved on to magazines, greeting cards, books, copywriting. I’m the Jill of all trades, you could say. I’ve done just about every form of writing you can do.
Then I bought a domain name. I knew I wanted the word “write” in the title somewhere, for search optimization. A lot of search listings are alphabetical, so I wanted an “a” word. I thought of amazing, at first. But then I went to the first letters in the alphabet—a-b—then the came up with the word absolute, then absolutewrite. I said to myself, “God, that’s perfect!”
Mike: How did this type of initiative play into your freelance writing career?
Glatzer: I definitely put in a lot more work into my query letters in the beginning than a lot of people do, to show the editor I could handle the story.
I’d write the first three paragraphs of story. I’d include the relevant stats and facts. I’d include the people I’d be interviewing. I wanted to give the editor the assurance that he or she wouldn’t have to hold my hand, trust me with more complicated assignments.
I completely broke the rule that says, “Don’t go beyond one page.” I think you have to do more to prove yourself when you’re starting out.
Also, I learned to crawl before I walked. Before I broke into the big magazines, I had a lot of small-time credits.
I was persistent and creative. I didn’t just look through all the help wanted ads or job sites, where so many people were competing for those jobs and the sheer number would overwhelm editors. I was applying to places that weren’t advertising for writers. I didn’t hit a lot. Out of every 10 that I contacted, nine I never heard back from. But for every hit, I was constantly casting out my net. Doing that a lot early on has put me in a position now to not have to cast out that net anymore. I now have editors who call on me. I don’t send out proposals, or query letters anymore. It’s a terrific place to be. It allows me to only work on things that I have a genuine interest in.
Mike: What’s your biggest trade secret for being a good freelancer?
Glatzer: Diversifying. The market for freelance writers, no doubt, is very difficult. Anybody who says it’s easy to make a living is lying. It’s tough—but doable.
One of the challenges is that there are so many magazines that fold or change directions. Or hire a new editor and kill all the previous editor’s articles and pay very low kills fees. It’s a field where the rug could be yanked out from under you very easily. So building relationships with many editors in many different markets is the way to go. And never stop. Keep diversifying. Keep trying to land assignments. Have backup plans. Don’t be just a magazine writer, or newspaper writer… consider even things like greeting cards as an option. I made a quarter of my income from greeting cards one year. It’s a fun field to be in, and it’s very, very short-term work. You can make $100 sometimes for an idea that popped into your head watching TV.
Mike: How about dealing with editors?
Glatzer: Occasionally you’ll run into a writer-friendly editor, and that makes it easy. But your mindset should be: I’m here to provide a service. What can I do to make your job easier? What do you need that I can provide?
I didn’t start out my career thinking that way. But once I started, it seemed like the writer-editor relationship was much more of an equal one, rather than seeming like some desperate writer begging to appear in this publication.
Mike: How do you develop good relationships with editors?
Glatzer: There’s nothing really hard about it. You need to network with them, but not to make it feel like networking. You can’t just pop up and call saying right out of the blue, “Hi, how are you? How’s the dog and family?” It has to feel natural to both you and the editor. It’s a fine line between fake and too chatty and being genuinely interested in working for that editor. When you hear about a person getting a promotion or getting married, that’s a great opportunity to call them. Or in an email or letter, compliment an editor on a good issue they put out. Editors really appreciate that.
Also, if I’m happy with the end result of a story I wrote for a magazine, I’ll write a thank you note to the editor who worked with me.
I’ve had some great editors along the way. You need someone who’s going to challenge you. It’s important to your growth as a writer.
Mike: Where do you get your ideas and how much research do you do?
Glatzer: I’m a big, big researcher! The ideas come from all over—conversations with strangers, public relations people who send me stories about their clients, things I read in other publications that I can then spin off and pitch to other markets, television, web searches. I specialize in a few areas, like health and nutrition. So I keep on top of current research and keep my eye out for potential stories in those areas. I pride myself on my research skills, and I think that’s helped me to earn the respect of many editors. I always “over-research,” meaning that I do far more than will ever fit into an article.
Mike: How did you get the Celine Dion book and what was Celine like to work with?
Glatzer: She was a doll to work with. I didn’t know what to expect from her, but she was a total sweetheart.
How I came to do the book is a funny story. I didn’t get it through an agent. What happened is that I sent samples of my work to a book packager two years before that, and they kept it on file. So an editor there, after going through old files, emailed me out of the blue one day to ask me if I’d be interested. It was thrilling. Serendipity? Whatever it was it felt like a big reward for all the hard work I’ve ever done as a writer
Mike: What’s your five best pieces of advice for writers?
1. Stay open to all possibilities. Don't label yourself as a sci-fi writer, a poet, a tech writer. Keep learning and be ready to apply yourself to whatever challenge arises.
2. If you can stick to your deadlines, you're already ahead of about half the writers out there. This is a business where days and hours count; never make an editor sweat it out at the last minute.
3. Share your crayons. Make friends with other writers. When you find an opportunity that you can't take, pass it along to someone who might want it. Share your contact information and leads; don't hoard it for yourself because you're afraid of the competition. Karma. It'll come back to you.
4. Don't be afraid to negotiate. Contracts are negotiable, and are usually not written with a writer's best interest in mind. Editors expect you to negotiate. Do so with fervor, and don't settle for a contract that disappoints you.
5. Stay away from anyone who seeks to separate you from your money. Legitimate agents don't charge fees until after the sale. Legitimate publishers pay you, not the other way around . . . and they don't rely on having you hound your friends and family to buy your books. Seek publishers with established channels of distribution and watch out for hyped-up claims. Publishers who are advertising for writers all over are likely not legit - real publishers (and agents) don't need to campaign for writers—they get plenty of submissions as it is!