Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spotlight Interview from the Archives: Jenna Glatzer/Part 3

(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 (

To learn more about Ms. Glatzer, please go to her site at:

The following is an exclusive interview I conducted with Jenna several years ago:

Mike: What’s been your strategy for successful freelancing?

Glatzer: I don’t look at how much I’m getting per word, as much as how much total time it takes me from start to finish with a story, including the editing process. In other words, if I was getting $1.50 or $2 a word for a story, but it was being edited by a committee of editors and they wanted a bunch of rewrites and were essentially being a pain in the butt, it’s not worth it to me. It’s too time consuming, and for a freelancer time is money.

I like things that I can bang out in two hours, rather than two weeks, and have fun. I also like things that I can sell again and again.

I sold one essay 18 times to various magazines around the country. It was about a 10-year-old boy playing one of those crane machine games, trying to win a little a stuffed monkey. He kept putting in quarter after quarter, and ultimately won the toy and gave it to his sister.

So when I do essays now, I think of universal topics that I know can land them in a lot of places.

Mike: What are some of your favorite writing books, especially ones that made a difference?

Glatzer: 1) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s totally about the life of a writer, and was so much fun to read, because it was someone else who understands how I feel.

2) Championship Writing by Paula LaRoque. She’s terrific at teaching how to make your writing effective.

3) Story by Robert McKee. This is a book every writer should read, whether they’re a screenwriter or not.

4) The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman.

5) Journalution by Sandy Grason. It has some juicy prompts that open up new avenues of thought—even if it’s a little abstract at times.

And I’m going to add one about the ugly underbelly of scams in the writing business:
Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell, written by a former FBI agent named Jim Fisher and about how writers are taken advantage of by fake literary agents.

Mike: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Glatzer: “Kill your darlings.” Which means you should think about cutting the pieces of your writing you think are the most brilliant. It hurts so much to do it. Often those are the lines that you’re so proud of. But if you’re not furthering the message of the piece and keeping the readers’ attention, they need to go.

Communicate clearly, not with flowery prose. I had to learn that, to use more nouns and verbs to get my point across.

Mike: What’s your best advice for the beginning freelancer to break in and make it as a pro?

Glatzer: Get those first clips any which way you can. Even if it means writing for free or for something like $10—but only do that in the beginning.

Build your skills, as if you were taking an apprenticeship. Get some professional experience. Learn how to meet a deadline. After you get your first five good clips, which should take around six months, stop writing for free or little money and go after the bigger markets.

On that point, let me say that it breaks my heart to see people writing a ton of articles for online sites that pay $5 a story or by the click. I know writers get worn down sending query letters all over the place and not getting anywhere, receiving rejection letter after rejection letter. And I know that these low-paying sites offer easy acceptance and can build your ego. I understand that, I really do. It feels nice to be accepted. But please, please don’t get so comfortable at these low-standards markets that you forget to look beyond them. Otherwise, you’ll get complacent and into bad habits, like getting too used to not being edited. You will start thinking that this is what writing is all about. You won’t learn, grow.

Writing is a real craft. For you to become an effective, well-paid writer, you will need to have some good editors along the way, people who’ll be tough on you and whip you into shape. It may be hard the first few times. It might crush your ego into a million bits when you get back your articles full of red pen. But it’s valuable and it’s training. You’ll finally see your weaknesses.

Write a few articles for these low-level places if you want, then pat yourself on the back and feel good about it when they appear, but quickly move on.

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