of the Month
Jacquelyn Lynn: Writing is something I always wanted to do. I got a typewriter as a Christmas present in the fourth grade and I was absolutely thrilled. I knew that I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter, but I didn’t really know how you made money being a writer if you didn’t work for a newspaper. So I got a job in the corporate world, and [when I was in my early 30s] saw an advertisement for a writer’s conference, and went to it. I had gotten to a stage in my life where I didn’t like what I was doing anymore and really wanted to be a writer. Those 10-12 years spent in the corporate world really helped me with what I do now because it gave me a good background for writing about business.
Leslie Halpern: What happened at the writer’s conference?
Jacquelyn Lynn: At the conference, there was a program about how to sell an article to a magazine. I listened carefully; I took copious notes; and I went home and did exactly what the speaker said to do. In three weeks, I had an assignment from a national magazine.
Leslie Halpern: So how did you make the transition from writing business articles to writing business books?
Jacquelyn Lynn: The first few books I wrote were ghostwriting projects. Getting the ghostwriting contracts was tough. Ghostwriting is not an easier way to break into writing books; in this case, I just sort of fell into it – serendipity. All the books published in my own name have been through Entrepreneur Media. Ten of them are business start-up guides and three are trade books. I’ve been writing for Entrepreneur Magazine almost since I started writing, and have a good relationship with lots of different people out there. I got the first book contract with Entrepreneur because I had been writing articles for them for so many years and had worked with several of the different articles editors. At a meeting they were having, the book editor was saying she was looking for a writer to do start-up guides. One of the articles editors recommended me. My path to doing books has been a little different than most other writers. Most writers have a burning idea for a book in them. I didn’t. I just like writing about business topics and I don’t care if I’m doing articles, web copy, or books. I’m just happy doing the writing.
Leslie Halpern: How important are these relationships in the
Leslie Halpern: Your other books for Entrepreneur were start-up guides. How is your latest, The Entrepreneur’s Almanac, different from the others?
Jacquelyn Lynn: The other guides tell you how to do one thing. They were the kind of books where you start at the beginning and read to the end. The Entrepreneur’s Almanac is a book designed to be something that you can pick up at any point in the book and you can read for two or three minutes and have a good idea for your business. You can put it down and the next day you can go to a different page and get a good idea for your business. It’s categorized by subject so if you do have an issue you’re concerned with – whether it’s marketing, new product development, human resources or whatever – you can go to those sections. In the back of the book, there’s a start-up section so if you are in the start-up process it’s good for that. The book has plenty of inspirational quotes, too. I talked to a lot of successful business owners – some well known, some not so well known. I asked them “What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you started?” The book contains lots of great little nuggets of advice and information.
Leslie Halpern: You told me about the content, what about the form and style of the Almanac?
Jacquelyn Lynn: Readers are going to see some pages that look like traditional book pages, but there are other pages with lots of boxes, sidebars, charts, and lists. The book has things that are quick and easy to read. There’s quite a bit of eye candy – nourishing eye candy that is visually appealing and entertaining, but contains valuable information.
Leslie Halpern: How do you usually conduct your research, by phone, fax, mail, email, or in person? Can you provide any tips for conducting these interviews?
Jacquelyn Lynn: I like doing short interviews by email if possible because it saves time. Usually I talk to people on the phone. I talk to some people in face-to-face interviews, but most of the time that just isn’t practical. When I can, I send them the questions in advance. I’m not doing investigative expose type of articles. I want them to have time to think about it. If I’m asking them, “Tell me about a time that you made a mistake and what did you learn from it?” I want them to have time to think about it. I find that it’s a better interview if I tell them the questions ahead of time.
Leslie Halpern: Tell me about a time that you made a mistake and what did you learn from it?
Jacquelyn Lynn: You got me! Something I have failed to do in the past is to set boundaries with clients. They need to respect me and my time, they need to know, for example, that just because I work at home, they can't call me late at night or on weekends and expect me to be available (even though I might be willing to do that under certain circumstances). Especially when you personally like a client, you need to remember that they are clients first, not friends. Certainly you want to be friendly and comfortable, but keep a business tone to the relationship. So set and maintain professional boundaries.
Leslie Halpern: Do you maintain a strict writing schedule? How do you stay motivated?
Jacquelyn Lynn: Staying motivated has never been a problem for me. Work: Get paid. Don’t work: Don’t get paid. Writer’s block is a myth. If I’m having a problem with a particular project – and this is one of the beautiful things about being a freelancer – I go do something else that might be a little easier, and I can get back in the rhythm to do the first thing. I heard a speaker once say that if you can write a letter to someone you know wants to hear from you, then you’re not suffering from writer’s block, you’re suffering from “I don’t want to write that.” You have to think that you’re telling this information to a friend who wants to know it. That will get you going. You can also speak it out and then transcribe it.
Leslie Halpern: Any plans for writing fiction?
Jacquelyn Lynn: There was a time years ago when I really wanted to write the Great American Novel. A friend of mine who was a successful fiction writer looked at something I’d written and said the dialogue was terrible. I said, “Gee I thought it was pretty realistic.” And she said, “It is, that’s why it’s terrible.” There’s a craft to writing good fiction and it’s a talent that I don’t have.
Leslie Halpern: What advice would you give to others who would like to write nonfiction books?
Jacquelyn Lynn: I think there are two different kinds of non-fiction writers. There are some like me who just love doing the work. I enjoy the business arena, but I’ll write about pretty much anything and then want to move on to the next writing project. Then there is the person who wants to write a book because they have a message they want to get out there. They may be a consultant or a business owner and that’s their goal in doing the writing. I think you need to identify what kind of writer you are to put together a plan. If you just want to be wordsmith, that takes one business model. If you want to write the book because you want to get out there and promote it, develop ancillary products, and do consulting and speaking gigs, that takes a totally different model. Before you do anything else, you have to decide which kind of writer you are.
2007's Honorary List