Jenna Glatzer‘s book, Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments was the first book I read while contemplating my decision to seek higher-paying freelance writing opportunities. In fact, I credit Jenna’s book as giving me the inspiration and motivation to take a deep breath and begin querying markets beyond entry-level web writing opportunities.
I was thrilled to interact with Jenna several years ago when she was the owner of the Absolute Write Forum. Through that forum, and an active member – Meryl K. Evans – I even landed a gig with Jenna, finding the job leads for the Absolute Write Newsletter. Jenna has always been generous with advice and encouraging to writers of all levels. I’m so happy to present you with the FWJ Interview: Jenna Glatzer.
Jenna, tell us a little about you and how you got your start as a freelance writer.
I started on my path as a writer because I had a terrible panic disorder that left me housebound, and I needed to find a way to make a living from home. I thought screenwriting would be my path to fame and fortune, but soon found out… well, it wasn’t. A lot of close calls, but nothing was produced. So I went online and did a little research about what else I could do as a writer, and thought I’d try writing for magazines. I got a lucky hit on my first query– a short profile of friends of mine from college who had started their own company– and thought, “This is going to be easy!” It actually took a couple of years before I was earning any sort of regular income from it, and another couple of years before I was making a full-time living from it, even though I was working full-time hours the whole time.
Writers have so many options nowadays, it’s more than newspapers, magazines or copywriting. What is your favorite niche and why?
I like writing for magazines, but these days, I focus on ghostwriting books. I enjoy helping other people tell their stories.
Even though writers have many choices, thanks to the web, they also have to be careful they’re not taken advantage of. What are some of the areas in which new writers should proceed with caution?
There really are a lot of potholes on the road. I wrote a whole book about it, actually– The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World. The most egregious problems are probably vanity book publishers pretending to be anything BUT vanity book publishers (don’t be wooed… if anyone asks you for money or expects you to buy copies of your own book, that’s a vanity press– and they almost certainly will NOT help you get your book into bookstores or get it distributed to the general public). Writing contests (like at Poetry.com) where every work is accepted with praise and writers are invited to buy anthologies featuring their work, or plaques, or whatever… these are not legitimate contests and will do nothing for your career.
Watch out, also, for ANY type of payment arrangement other than “We will pay you $x on acceptance.” Avoid jobs that offer payment that’s based on their future profitability, or based on a number of click-throughs or portion of ad revenue, or anything resembling “Once we get some money, then we’ll start paying, and you’ll be so happy you got in on the ground floor.” It just doesn’t work. I can think of exactly one market in the past 12 years that actually lived up to their promise. Hone your skills until you’re capable of getting work from established markets, rather than taking risks on every bonehead with a modem who calls himself a publisher.
Pay attention to what kind of rights you’re selling, too. Understand that if you sell “all rights” or “work-for-hire rights,” then you’ve given the company the right to do anything they want with your work forever, and you can never resell it. Try to negotiate for “one-time rights” or “First North American serial rights,” or even creative variations that enable both of you to get what you need, like, “Exclusive online rights for 30 days, nonexclusive thereafter.”
At FWJ we respect writers’ choices, even those we might not agree with and we’re a little distressed by recent negativity – especially by writers who insult those who take on entry-level gigs. What are your thoughts regarding web content sites – and the choices writers make, as well as the bickering that is going on among freelance writers regarding the available opportunities and pay rates?
I totally agree with you and have never understood it. I’ve always thought “live and let live” is a good motto.
Writers who are willing to work for peanuts are NOT, in general, driving down the going rates for established writers. Real Simple magazine is paying $2/word. Joe Shmoe who wants search engine optimization articles for $1 apiece is never going to be in the market to hire a professional anyway.
The main point I try to convey to people who are taking on these low-paying gigs, though, is to try not to get stuck in that rut forever. The thing is, you can spend so much time doing these types of gigs that you don’t have the time to research your markets and find better work. And it’s not going to improve your writing skills much because you’re not working with a real editor and you’re not being challenged to craft great prose– just to churn out lots of words quickly. (Well, at least you might get practice working with deadlines.)
I took on many low-paying gigs when I began writing, though never the SEO types, which weren’t around when I started. I wrote for a disabilities website, a local bridal magazine, a couple of college magazines… I’m glad I did it, and some of those assignments did lead to better things down the line. I worked on them as if I were getting paid big bucks, and I was able to use the articles as clips to get work that actually DID pay big bucks.
What do you feel is the first thing someone who is contemplating a freelance writing career should do?
Totally self-serving, but I hope he or she would read Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer. Another excellent book on the subject is The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success . I think it’s important to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes, which both of those books provide.
What is a common mistake made by brand new freelance writers?
Diving into the 2010 Writer’s Market Deluxe (Writer’s Market Online) and sending out query letters in a frenzy without actually learning what each market needs and how to tailor a query to that market.
What is your number one tip for anyone looking to become a freelance writer?
Get a wealthy spouse. 😉 (DOH! should have asked Jenna about this one ten years ago. – Deb)
Also: be meticulous, be persistent, and be on time. If you keep at it, eventually someone will notice.
What do you feel is the key to freelance writing success?
Knowing how to study a market is probably the most important skill. That means paying attention to things like tone, word count, topics covered, the publication’s “voice” and target market, and noticing which types of articles are covered by freelancers and which are usually taken by staff writers and editors. After that, it’s a matter of not giving up, and of behaving in a professional manner– not missing deadlines, in particular. I was amazed when an editor at a national magazine told me that her biggest problem with new writers is that they so rarely met their deadlines. How could you blow a big chance like that?
What are you up to these days, Jenna. Feel free to tell us about your current projects.
My latest book came out last month: Unthinkable by Scott Rigsby (I’m the co-author). Scott is the first double-amputee to finish the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, and his story is amazing. I’ve been so thrilled to see the Amazon reviews, which are more positive than any of my other books… actually, at the moment, every review is five stars (now I’m jinxing myself. The 19th review will be the killer). See it at scottrigsby.com.
I just finished a book with Susan Markowitz, whose son’s murder was the basis of the movie Alpha Dog. The working title is Stolen Son, and it’s coming out in the spring from Berkley.
And I’m having a blast with my 2-year-old daughter, who recently informed me that she’d like to be a ghostwriter, too.
Thanks, Jenna. We hope you’ll come back and talk with us again!