Many Steps Closer – interview with Jenna Glatzer (1 October 2006)

Introduction

My first contact with Jenna Glatzer and her site, Absolute Write was from a piece I wrote entitled, What An Adventure. It has been almost 3 years since that piece was published and I’ve watched from afar how her website’s just grown. It is a rare writer who has not heard of Absolute Write and the Forums, Absolute Write Water Cooler. For a long time, I have wanted to interview Jenna but things at my end just got in the way. In the end, I asked her. I was quite prepared for a ‘No’ but was pleasantly surprised with a prompt reply saying ‘Yes’. I’ve enjoyed interviewing her and without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you Jenna Glatzer …


Aneeta: Well Jenna, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Jenna: Thanks for asking!

Aneeta: Let’s start with some personal information. Please tell me a little about you and your family. Where you were brought up? Where do you live now and really, anything you wish the world to know about you?

Jenna: Although I never would have predicted this one, I live five minutes away from where I grew up. Ten minutes from the hospital where I was born (I’ll now have my first baby in the same hospital). I live on Long Island, NY. Never thought I’d stay here, because I hate winter! I tried living in South Carolina—beautiful weather—but I just didn’t fit in there. So I moved to Boston (loved it), then near Albany (it snowed in October), then back to Long Island. Although I still wish I lived in a warm climate, I’m a family girl at heart and am glad to live so close to my parents and brother.

Aneeta: How did you get into this publishing industry?

Jenna: I was a stage actress first, but I got a terrible panic disorder and wound up housebound for several years. I needed to find a way to make a living from home, so I hopped online and started reading websites for writers, to see if I could find a way to make myself useful. I always loved reading, and my college professors had strongly encouraged me to write. It also thrilled my mom, who was an English teacher and had not-so-secretly hoped that I’d one day become a writer (although I think she was hoping for a novelist. One day, maybe).

My first foray into the writing world was screenwriting. I wrote several screenplays (10 or 11, I think). Had many close calls, but nothing was produced, and I made a grand total of $9 on my first option (it was a $10 option, and my agent took her $1). However, the check bounced because I took so long to try to deposit it.

I had simultaneously been working on breaking into the magazine industry. I sold a couple of articles right away to magazines for college students, but then hit a dry spell. I took on many, many low-paying assignments before I was finally able to command better rates and make a living from my writing.

Aneeta: I’m aware that you do a lot of writing in terms of articles for magazines, online publications and so on. Do tell me, what kind of articles do you enjoy writing most and which are your three favourite ones?

Jenna: The ones I enjoy most are the ones that require the least research! I love writing personal essays and humor essays. Unfortunately, those rarely pay as well as the other sorts of articles I write—heavily researched articles about health, disabilities, and a variety of other topics. I write pretty much whatever editors will pay me well for. I recently wrote an automotive article… not even vaguely an area of interest for me, but they paid about $1.50/word and I knew I didn’t have to spend too much time on it.

If I had to pick three favorite pieces, they’d probably be …

  1. An article for Salon.com about how people with Down syndrome very rarely are able to get organ transplants, even though convicted felons can.
  2. An essay about a brother and sister I watched at a local Friendly’s restaurant. The brother was playing on a crane machine, trying to win a stuffed animal. It turned out that he was trying to win it for his little sister the whole time, and it brought tears to my eyes to see his “victory.” I wound up selling that little essay about 20 times, to different regional parenting magazines. It’s my bestselling article.
  3. An article about the book packaging industry that I wrote for Writer’s Digest. It really sparked my interest, because it’s such a little-known avenue for writers, and it significantly affected my career. I wound up working for one of the packagers I interviewed for the article—writing Celine Dion’s biography.

Aneeta: Now, you’re also the author of several books. First, I understand that you’ve written three books for writers. Can you describe these books, please?

Jenna:

Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen (The Lyons Press, 2003) is a lighthearted guide to breaking through writer’s block, securities about writing, and lack of motivation. Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (Nomad Press, 2004) is a tailed guide for writers who want to write for magazines. It includes interviews with several top magazine editors and writers. The Street-Smart Writer (Nomad Press, 2006) teaches writers how to avoid publishing scams, fake agents, bad contracts, and useless contests; and how to collect money from a deadbeat publication.

You can find all of them at my site, www.jennaglatzer.com.

Aneeta: Then, there are the books for people with anxiety disorders:

Jenna: Fear Is No Longer My Reality (McGraw-Hill, 2005) is the memoir of Jamie Blyth, a contestant on the first Bachelorette show. It’s the story of how he overcame social anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Conquering Panic and Anxiety Disorders (Hunter House, 2002) is an anthology of success stories from people who’ve overcome all sorts of anxiety disorders, plus a psychologist’s commentary on each story.

Aneeta: And now, the one that people all over must be talking about, the authorized biography of Celine Dion, Celine Dion: For Keeps. First, what’s the book about and second, what was it like working with her? What’s she really like in person?

Jenna: It’s a biography that concentrates more on her life than on her career—I wanted to try to let her fans know more about what she really dreams about, thinks about, wants from life.

What it was like… it was amazing. Seriously. One of the best experiences of my life. Celine is extraordinarily nice and humble and nothing like you’d expect from a famous “diva.” She met my whole family, and made all of us feel special. She’s genuinely interested in talking to people. I wound up going back several times and getting to spend a lot more time with her than I expected, and it was a sheer joy.

Aneeta: There’s the one entitled Hattie, Get a Haircut! What an interesting title. Do tell us a little about this book, please.

Jenna: That’s a picture book about a girl who says she will “never, no way, not at all” let anyone cut her hair… until it grows around the block, kids jump rope with it, grandmas knit it, and squirrels nest in it. She finally finds a good reason to sit in the hairdresser’s chair, and to do a good deed in the process.

Aneeta: Now, on to your very successful website Absolute Write and indeed forum, Absolute Write Water Cooler. Tell me how you got started with this website. Indeed, did you think it was going to get this big and since it has, how do you feel about it all now?

Jenna: I think it was 1998 when a friend of mine with a small screenwriting site told me I should learn how to make myself a website. I resisted, but he swore it was really easy, and eventually talked me through it. So I made this very small site to promote my screenplays. For some reason, it attracted a lot of traffic—but all from writers, not from producers. They would write and ask me questions about screenwriting. How did I get an agent? How did I option a script? What did I think about such-and-such contest?

I answered their questions when I could, and when I felt unqualified, I asked other writers to help out. Eventually, I turned it into a screenwriters’ site… then a general interest writers’ site. I had no idea it would ever be as big as it has become. We have more than 75,000 subscribers. Crazy, huh? It’s overwhelming some days, and very time consuming, but I have loved being part of something so worthwhile. I know the site and the forums have made a difference in the lives and careers of many writers, and that makes me feel great.

Aneeta: It certainly has. As you may know, one of the things I try to focus on in this website is storytelling in Asia. Many authors here are reluctant or perhaps lack the courage to approach editors/publishers in the US or the UK. What advice can you give these people and indeed, are you able to advise us to what kind of stories editors from the US be looking for in stories from Asia?

Jenna: I don’t have any expertise on that, unfortunately, but I do know that there are a great many publishers in the US that gladly accept submissions from writers outside the US. Best advice I can give is a sort-of cliché: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I don’t know who said that originally, but it’s a great motivator for me. Never let insecurity hold you back from taking a shot that might make a huge difference in your career.

If you’re talking about books, the other way to do it, of course, is to get an agent who can handle foreign rights. First sell the book in Asia, then it’s easier to attract publishers all over the world to buy the foreign rights.

Aneeta: What is the number one benefit you’ve derived from being a full-time writer?

Jenna: Freedom. I’m not very well suited to a 9 to 5 job. I’m a serious night owl. I typically go to bed between 6 and 7 a.m. and wake up around 2 p.m. And although I can and do work during most of my waking hours, I also take breaks and shop on eBay, watch TV, go to the post office, see my family. I find it so difficult to focus on just one thing for 8 hours at a time.

I’m pregnant now, so the benefit is about to increase a great deal for me. I don’t have to worry about day care or maternity leave. I can take on fewer assignments as I get closer to the baby’s birth, then take on more when I’m ready.

Aneeta: There was a debate recently amongst the local bloggers about rejection. Most agreed that it was not what was rejected or the fact of rejection itself. It was how the person and his work were rejected that was important. Now, I’d like to ask you, do you think there’s a correct way for a writer to reject an author’s work?

Jenna: (I assume you meant “editor”?) You know, I’m a very sensitive person in general, but rejection just has never hit me the way it hits a lot of writers. I’ve never really taken it personally. Sure, there are some editors who reject work rather coldly (I’ve had some e-mails that have just said things like, “Not interested” or “I don’t think it’s funny,” and one query letter that was returned by mail with just a big red “R” written across it—which I assume stood for “reject,” though I’ll never be sure!). Still, I don’t take that as any reflection on me or my work. I just take it as a sign that editors are busy and they’re not all concerned about coddling writers. That’s okay.

It does make you appreciate the editors who take special time to explain exactly why they’re rejecting something, or offering suggestions about other markets for the work, or encouragement to try again. It would be great if all editors were like this, but we have to remember that their main job is to work with the editors whose work they’ve bought, not to spend time counseling writers whose work isn’t right for the publication.

There’s a positive side to rejection, too, though: It means you’re submitting your work. It means you’re one step closer to an acceptance.

Aneeta: Well Jenna, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Jenna: If you know deep inside that you’re a writer, don’t ever let anyone stop you from being who you are.

Aneeta: Jenna, thank you, once again for agreeing to this interview.

Jenna: Thanks for having me here!


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