Writing a Best Seller, Cruising Free, Obtaining Endorsements
and Other Thoughts from a Best Selling Author:

Jenna Glatzer Interviews Rita Emmett,
Author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook

I first read about Rita Emmett on a site about book promotion. She’d written a little book called The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing It Now (Walker & Company, 2000), and had sold more than 100,000 copies. It piqued my interest so much that I bought a copy, even though I’m not generally a procrastinator.

I enjoyed and identified with Rita’s voice as a writer. She’s upbeat, full of memorable phrases and concepts, and not too full of “rules.” So when I heard that her third book, The Clutter-Busting Handbook, was coming out, I decided it was a good excuse to get her on the phone and chat about her interesting path to writing success.

First, just tell me how you got started as a writer.
I was teaching “Blast Away Procrastination” seminars, and people would ask, “Are there any good books on this subject?” I started 22 years ago when I was three years old... just kidding, but I started 22 years ago, and at the time, the only books on procrastination were by psychologists for psychologists. So for 15 years, Jenna, I said, “I wish somebody would write a book.” Then I had one of those smack-yourself-in-the-head moments and I said, “Well, Rita, they say we should write what we know about. Write the book!”

Now, the other thing about it was that first, I was teaching time management, and many times people would say, “Oh, time management? That doesn't work for me.” So I started asking a lot of questions and I found that procrastinators don't respond to time management. Most of the time management things back then were Franklin Planners. They get out these Franklin Planners, and procrastinators would go home and add them to their stack of other Franklin Planners and dust them off every few months. They were shrink-wrapped-- they never even broke the seal.

I decided I was going to develop some stuff on procrastination. I'm a professional speaker and even now, there are no professional speakers who just speak on procrastination. So I had the luxury of teaching six-week classes, and I could say, “We’re going to try this,” and they would come back and say, “That did work” or “That didn't work.” So after several series of six-week classes, I had some very valuable stuff that did work, and that's when I was saying, “Somebody should write a book,” and it hit me that I should be the one to write the book. I got with Walker & Co., and it was just going to be a little paperback, $11, just for the people who take my seminars. So you had to know that once that book sold 100,000 copies so fast, I was surprised, my husband was surprised, and so was the publisher at the time.

You wrote the whole book and then submitted to Walker?
II did it backwards, yes. You are supposed to do a proposal and then the book. I had the book done and then I did the proposal next. I used a short magazine article that I followed step by step like a recipe to write my proposal and it was accepted, The article is in The Writer’s Room on my web site www.RitaEmmett.com

I joined a writers’ group in the Chicago area very far from my home, never realizing that writer’s groups are everywhere. Maybe at the time they weren't, but right now I know I could join a writers’ group in my town. Two bookstores and our library all have writers’ groups. But I joined one an hour and 15 minutes away.

I was very cranky that I had to drive that far, but an agent spoke. Her name was Jane Jordan Browne. I went up to her, described what I wanted to do: I wanted to write a book on blasting away procrastination in everyday language for the everyday person, not just the Ph.D.s. She said she would be interested and I should show her what I had, and she took me on. So there wasn't a strategy.

That’s neat-- you just happened to go to the meeting and she happened to be there and she happened to be interested.
Now, I thought she took me on because I had such brilliant ideas and I was so very, very charismatic. That's not why she took me. She took me because-- and I think this happens to a lot of people-- she took me because her husband was the world's greatest procrastinator and she thought just by osmosis, she'd show him a chapter here and a chapter there and it might help him. That's why she took me.

So then she said, “You have to write a proposal,” and I said, “But... but...” She said, “You have to write a proposal.” So I did. I wrote the proposal.

Then I wrote a second book called The Procrastinating Child: A Handbook for Adults to help Children Stop Putting Things Off.

When I went to write that book proposal, I saw it was the only book out there to help kids stop procrastinating. You have to do a “competition” part of the proposal where you list all the other books published that deal with that subject. When I did the competition section, I called the publisher and said, “There are parenting books that touch on procrastination, and time management books that have perhaps a chapter on kids, but that’s it. There are no other books out that help children stop procrastinating.”

My editor, Jackie Johnson, at Walker was surprised and offered to search also. By the way, if a writer can get a great editor like I have with Jackie, it will improve the book beyond anything you can imagine. Anyway, we were all astonished to find out nobody had touched the subject, yet every family has that kid who drives the parents crazy. So that was the second book.

Many schools have used that book as a fund-raiser, so it has had great sales --- definitely beyond our expectations.

This year, my third book comes out and it's The Clutter-Busting Handbook.

So I wrote the first book and then there was a need for the second one, and at the back of the book I put my e-mail address and my phone number and everything-- the publisher really didn’t recommend that, but I did and I've never regretted it. I get tons of e-mails and people are saying things like, “Wow, I really have curbed my procrastination, but what am I going to do about the clutter?” So that was the logical next step.

You actually went with what the readers were telling you, what they wanted. That’s the absolute right way to do things. But you put your own personal information-- there’s something I would love to hear about. Did you ever have any kind of bad experiences from that or was it all just good feedback?
Well, I got a phone call from Japan one time at four in the morning and I couldn't understand a word she said. I didn't realize my contact information including my phone number would also go in the foreign market. I’ve received wonderful calls from Pakistan, Guatemala (they flew me down to give a presentation. It was wonderful), Ireland, Puerto Rico, all over... my books are in 32 countries now. And I receive emails every single week from all over the world. My husband cleared a bookshelf on the bookcase for the foreign copies of our books and now we started a second shelf. We have it in Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, Czechoslovakian, French, German, Italian... many languages. It’s so thrilling.

I am lucky that my editor and publisher agreed to the subjects I wanted to write about.

Do you get a flat rate when they sell foreign rights or royalties?
I get an advance and royalties. There are big bucks there and I would never have been able to do this on my own. A woman named Eileen Pagan at Walker & Co. does this, and she is just fantastic. We're constantly getting these crazy amazing wonderful foreign books in the mail.

When I’m dealing with the negotiation of contracts, some publishers are wonderful with selling foreign rights, and some keep those rights and they don't do anything with them, so it’s always a challenge for me to decide whether to keep the rights myself or whether to have the publisher handle the foreign rights.

I left that up to the publisher because I knew if I kept the foreign rights, I wouldn’t know how to sell them. And if I tried to learn and sell them on my own, there would never be any time to write or do anything else. Plus, the agent said, “I think we’re better off giving them the foreign rights.” If the publisher did nothing with those rights, that's what I would've done anyway. Eileen is magnificent at that. She sold the clutter book to five countries two months before it even came out. Canada, France, Korea, Turkey, and Greece.

You still have the same agent?
Sadly, Jane Jordan Browne passed away in February a year ago. Her assistant, Danielle Egan-Miller, was being prepared so Jane could take a semi-early retirement, so Danielle just stepped into it and took over. I stayed with Danielle. I originally thought I was staying with her out of loyalty, but she's done a great job.

What kind of communication did you have with either one of the agents-- did they contact you often? A weekly phone call?
No, not weekly. I can’t imagine any agent having time to call her authors weekly. I would call with questions and that would be enough and we were happy with it. To be honest with you, I was very terrified of Jane for probably the first three months. I would call her, and I really was nervous about even calling her... she just terrified me. You know what it was like?

Did you ever have that teacher in school who was really, really strict in the beginning and she turned out to be your favorite teacher? That's what Jane was doing. She didn't want any nonsense or any fooling around. One morning, I called her up and said, “Good morning, Jane! How are you today?” and she said, “Fine, but there's no time for humor.” I felt I got the only agent in the world with no sense of humor, which turned out not to be true. She had a wonderful sense of humor, but in the beginning, that's how she was training me, apparently.

She was very hard-working, as is Danielle. With Jane, I would call and it would be a quick phone call. I'll tell you this-- after the first book was published, I had so little contact with Jane that when I finished the second one, I called and said, “I'd like to just bring it down and hand it to her in person,” and her assistant said, “She's only going to be able to see you for two minutes. She's really busy at this time, unless you want to wait.”

I didn't want to wait. I had to deliver it at a certain time-- she wanted it at a certain time. I said, “I would just like to see her.” She said, “Okay, come on down, but don't expect anything.” Well, I woke up that morning and there was a terrible snowstorm in Chicago and the first thing I heard on the radio was, “Avoid going to the Chicago Loop if you can. It's just terrible out there.” My husband said, “Do you have to go?” I said, “I have to go.” He said, “Tell you what-- I'm off today. I'll go with you.” We took the El down-- like a subway but it’s high up above the ground-- because driving was terrible. It should've taken us 45 minutes and it took more than two hours. We walked over there and I saw her for two minutes and it took us three hours to get home, but that's okay. After that, I really grew to know her and got close to her and was just nuts about her. I feel the same way about Danielle, and my editor Jackie and our publisher. Love ‘em all.

How did you seek out endorsements?
I practically stalked Pulitzer Prize-winner Frank McCourt, the fellow who wrote Angela's Ashes, to get his endorsement. I finally got it and I was a little starstruck by him-- he's my favorite author-- and then my agent, Jane, told me I had to go back to him and ask for three changes. Can you imagine? You’re terrified of your agent and you’re a little starstruck and you have to go to a Pulitzer Prize winner—I had never been published in my life-- and say, “This isn’t good enough.” I got sick for three days over this.

How did you get in touch with him in the first place?
We wound up on a cruise together. It was an amazing coincidence, so I took advantage of it, and talked to him about it, and after the cruise, we sent the manuscript back and forth. Once I got that done, I was able to get a whole bunch of others, because then I got the courage to write to all of my heroes. I never met Harvey Mackay and Brian Tracy, but I got their endorsements, which would appeal to businesspeople. My book is not strictly in the business section, but when people see Brian Tracy and Harvey Mackay, it makes some of them take a look at it again.

What kinds of things did you do or did your publisher do for publicity once it was coming out?
The publisher hired a publicist-- an outside publicist-- and they got me on the Today Show with Katie Couric, so that's very big. They arranged tons of interviews with newspapers, radio and TV. Plus I do everything I can to promote my book. I write articles and say yes to every request I can... this interview... I never say no. Never, never say no. Even get up at 3am to do radio interviews in the middle of the night or with another country. I just want everybody in the world to hear about my book. I follow up a lot and I respond really quickly.

I was just on an Irish music cruise with my husband and we met a couple. They never mentioned that their daughter worked for Reader’s Digest, but they took my workshop on the cruise. When they came home, they told their daughter about me. She called and she's doing a thing called “The Best Of.” It's the best of this and that, and she wanted “the best of clutter tips,” so I gave them to her. So I might be mentioned in that-- it would be in the May issue, which comes out in April, and that's when my clutter book will be released.

Costco has a magazine called the Costco Connection and in the back, readers write in and they say, “Here's a picture of a Costco member at the top of the Himalayas, and a Costco member who races sled dogs,” so I wrote in for me and they called and did a little interview with me. That's going to be in there in April, again, when the book comes out. That's 3 1/2 million readers.

My agent, before the procrastination book came out, got a chapter in the National Enquirer and Family Circle. I wasn't impressed with National Enquirer's journalism, but that's 13 and a half million readers! When that book came out, it really did take a nice jump. People had heard of it and it jumped.

Sounds like you had a lot of people believing in you.
I had a real hard-working agent-- ethical, honest, and that's the big thing. My agent now, Danielle, is the same way And the super people at Walker & Co. ----they’re all hard workers, and good people. I like the people and I love working with them.

Do you have any tips for procrastinating writers?
I think writers get overwhelmed. “I have so much do-- I can't do it all. I don't know where to start.” My tip is: “Take the STING out of feeling overwhelmed.” STING is five different steps. Together, they form a very powerful strategy that really works.

S is select one thing to do. You can’t write all those articles at once. If you're writing a book, just outline it or go to work on one chapter. Don't try to work on it all.

T is time yourself. Get an ordinary kitchen timer and set it for an hour. Sometimes people say, “I can time myself with my brain.” That's fine, but I have to tell you the ticking of the timer really creates urgency.

I is ignore everything else. I know you can't ignore everything all day, but ignore it for an hour. A lot of time, procrastinators feel they just don't have time to do anything, or they say, “I'll start writing when I have whole afternoon free of interruptions” or “I'll sit down and write when I have a whole evening free.” Well, that’s never going to happen. But everybody can find an hour-- maybe not an hour a day, but you can find an hour in a week. That's how I started writing my book, one hour a week. I set the timer for one hour and ignored everything else. People say, “Today, I’m going to write. But first I’m going to check my e-mail... that'll only take two minutes. And I think I’ll make two phone calls... it'll only take a few minutes each. Then I will reward myself and play just one computer game...” Then they look at the clock; the whole day is gone! So they say, “Well, it's too late to get started now, so I'll start tomorrow.”

N is for no breaks allowed. Ignore everything else just for that one hour, and don’t take breaks. If you've been to my website, you know I'm a recovering procrastinator. As a recovering procrastinator, I used to take a two-hour job and have it last 14 months. I was tremendous at taking breaks. “Oh, somebody needs help? I’d better take a break from my work and go help them … whether they need help or not.”

G is for give yourself a reward. Don't expect somebody to give you a reward for writing. Accept that and give yourself a reward. It could be anything from having that soda that you love (that you wouldn't allow yourself to have until your time is up) to watching a television show.

It sounds very simple and simplistic, but it works. I set a timer for myself for one hour for four weeks in a row, and let me tell you, really, when we're procrastinating, nine times out of ten we’re not putting off writing the book-- we’re just putting off getting started. I thought my whole book would be written one hour at a time, but after I had put in four hours, I was so excited about it that I was willing to give up sleep, television... I was willing to give up anything. Then I really got going and I never had to set the timer after that fourth hour; I just wrote and wrote every chance I got.

I think that procrastination often has to do with perfectionism, too. We put off doing things if we don’t believe we know how to do them perfectly.
Yes. To strive for excellence is wonderful because excellence is achievable. Perfection is hardly ever achievable. Realizing that changed my life. It really was the beginning of me blasting away my procrastination.

Do you think you’ve been lucky with the way opportunities have come your way?
I think when we're out really doing it, when we're working towards our goals and doing our homework, stuff falls in our lap. My husband and I have been offered a deal with a cruise line to go on free trips in return for my doing two talks. We get a cruise and airfare. This is just like heaven. We are delighted.

We went to Bermuda twice and then they said, “You know you can go anyplace you want?” I said, “Really? I thought we were just going to go to Bermuda twice a year.” So, last year we went to Alaska and we cruised the Mexican Riviera, which is the West Coast of Mexico. Next month we’re going from Florida down to Central America, across the Panama Canal; and later in the year, we cruise to Hawaii...

I said to my husband, “You know, we have our own business. Taking this much time off for cruises kind of scares me. That's a lot of time to take away from your business, although I have to tell you, I believe writing for one hour on a cruise to me equals four hours at home. There are no phone calls, no e-mails, you don’t have to worry about grocery shopping, laundry, washing dishes... So you not only have total uninterrupted concentration, but you have so few responsibilities. I just give a couple of talks.

I do get a lot done while I'm on the cruise. I really love writing on a cruises. I wrote my whole proposal while cruising the Riviera and never missed anything-- never missed a chance to snorkel or go dancing with Bruce or any of the activities we wanted to do, because there are spare hours here and there.

Jenna, both you and I have had lucky things happen, but we're out there working our butts off. That's something you need to get across to writers-- that you were writing and writing when things “fell into your lap.” I was just listening yesterday to an audio thing by Robert Kiyosaki, the guy who wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad; and he says luck (L.U.C.K.) means “Laboring Under Correct Knowledge.”

What he means is that you went out and did your homework. You learned and practiced, got all the knowledge and worked hard, and then you had your good luck. I believe that. I believe you’re a perfect example of that. Everyone will say “You are so lucky,” but they don't know how much you worked.

I think you're exactly right that these things don’t usually happen by chance. The same kind of thing with you and the cruises-- even if you're saying that you shouldn't take off so many weeks, well, not only can you work during those five weeks, but you're also making connections, and you have no idea where each of those connections is going to lead.

Tons of connections and lots of real quality time with my husband. A lot of speakers criticized me because you can't pay the bills with a free cruise. I'm a professional speaker and I'm not out there earning any money while I’m cruising, but that's what we decided. We prayed about it for a while and decided if I was earning money, after we pay our bills, we would want to travel. So why not take the free travel?

One of the secrets of my promoting my book is that I take these opportunities. I'm not going to say yes to something that's immoral or against my values, but that hasn’t really come up. I just say yes to everything.

Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write www.absolutewrite.com and the author of 14 books, including MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE WRITER, which you can find at www.jennaglatzer.com Find out how to get a FREE editors' cheat sheet with this book!


Want to write a book? Go to Rita’s web site www.RitaEmmett.com and click on The Writer’s Room. Take a look at Rita's The Procrastinator's Guide To Authorship: Stop Putting Off Your Success. Find a free article about writing proposals in The Writer’s Room

Don’t procrastinate in going there now.

Rita Emmett, author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook and The Clutter-Busting Handbook, is a professional speaker who presents Keynotes and Seminars nationwide. She can be reached at 847-699-9950 and email is Rita@RitaEmmett.com

To subscribe to her free monthly Anticrastination Tip sheet with quick short tips & ideas to help break the procrastination & clutter habit, click here Subscribe

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