Writing a Best Seller, Cruising Free, Obtaining
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
How did you get in touch with him in the
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
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
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
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
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
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write
the author of 14 books, including MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A
FREELANCE WRITER, which you can find at
out how to get a FREE editors' cheat sheet with this book!