Jeanette Juryea quit her day job on April 30, 2007, and became a full-time freelancer on May 1. From her former life as a corporate communications manager, Jeanette knew just how much writing went on inside big businesses, how much they paid for outside help — and how to get those gigs for herself. So she lined up her first big project before quitting her day job and hit the ground running in her new freelance career. Fast forward seven years and Jeanette now owns a corporate writing enterprise that serves Fortune 500 businesses, major universities and government entities with audiences numbering in the millions.
Jeanette will be teaching a Saturday morning feature called “Freelancing in the Fastlane”, where she’ll share some of the things she’s learned as a freelance communicator extraordinaire!
Jeanette was kind enough to answer a few questions. Here is what she had to say
PWC: What are some hints for getting your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard (or notepad)?
JJ: When I worked for Corporate America, all I wanted was to quit my job. I hated that it took eight years to finish my novel, and I knew I didn’t have time to focus on perfecting it, selling it, marketing it or writing more. My damdayjob was in my way. But, I needed the blasted job, because I depended on the income.
But, I was determined. I devised a plan to quit my damdayjob and become a freelance writer. My plan involved research, preparation, financial shuffling, big promises to (and buy-in from) my husband, and one big client already lined up for Day 1 of my new career. It all took six months to accomplish, but I was finally ready to quit my day job and become a freelance writer. The idea was to write for corporations for the paycheck, and then work on fiction after my income needs were satisfied.
Now, after all that hard work, negotiations and convincing people before I started, I don’t dare fail! I had made such a loud splash when I dove into this pool that everyone is now watching and waiting to see what becomes of it. I simply have to make it work — or eat an awful lot of crow. That’s what keeps my butt in the seat and fingers on the keyboard.
PWC: When, Why, and/or How did you first realize you were a writer?
JJ: In 1996, my husband had received an unexpected package from a total stranger. The package contained paperwork containing documents of shared family histories between the stranger’s family in Pittsburgh and my husband’s family in Reading. The paperwork also revealed a story with some incredible mystery attached to it. I won’t get into that story here, but I remember saying out loud as we were going through the materials, “Someone should write a book about this!” My next thought was, “I’ll do it!”
And so I did. It started out being a “true story” based on the facts of the paperwork. When I realized I had to fill in some assumptions, I called it, “based on” a true story. Then I added even more assumptions and it soon became “inspired by” a true story. Finally, (Oh heck!) it was a work of fiction. But I had fun writing it and I wanted to write more.
That was my “Aha” moment. I suddenly realized that I had been a writer my whole life! In 7th grade I had written a 14-page story for a class assignment, where the other kids wrote a mere two paragraphs. In my early years as a corporate employee, my managers always came to me to write something because, “you’re so good at it.” I wrote customer letters, department memos, training materials, newsletter articles – even a policy manual. All boring stuff to anyone else, but cake to me. So this 1996 revelation — that I am a writer — became the first day of the rest of my life.
In 1997 I applied for, and got, my first position where my actual job function was to write (instead of just being an employee who was called upon to write occasionally). I started and finished my second novel that same year. (It sucked, but was a great learning experience.) In 1999, I got a job in Marketing Communications and I started my third novel. Writing had become my life and even my family and friends started to think of me as a “writer.” In 2007, I quit my day job and started my freelance business. Today, I own a corporate writing enterprise with two employees, Fortune 100 clients and millions of readers. I recently invented a new stream of income for freelance writers, (which I will be teaching at the conference). I just won a 2014 ClearMark Award of Distinction (more about that below). Plus, I have eight novels and/or nonfiction books started, nearly finished or finished and shopping around.
None of this would have happened if that perfect stranger wouldn’t have sent that mysterious package to my husband nearly twenty years ago.
PWC: What are you most looking forward to at the 2014 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference
JJ: I try to go to at least two conferences every year and have been doing so since about 2005. As a middle grade writer, I belong to SCBWI and have been to quite a few of their conferences. I’ve also been to the Rutgers children’s lit conference, the Write Stuff Conference and other smaller conferences and seminars. This will be my fourth (or fifth?) time going to the PWC, but it will be my first time as a workshop leader. I mostly look forward to going to PWC because all my friends will be there. Besides, I adore historic Philadelphia! Part of my novel takes place there. I once booked a weekend in that same hotel just to walk around the area for a couple days so I could see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it – for my novel and for me.
PWC: Tell us about some of your recent success stories!
JJ: I recently wrote a booklet that won a 2014 ClearMark Award of Distinction for my client (Aetna). The ClearMark Awards are given to the best “plain language” documents and web sites. They are judged by a panel of international experts, following a strict set of criteria. My company (Quality Business Communications) specializes in “Plain language” writing, (a growing trend with corporations today) so this is important to me.
The winning piece is a 12-page consumer disclosure booklet (i.e., heavy legalese) on a very complicated topic (health insurance). It had existed as a consumer protection piece, but as a dumping ground for a variety of regulatory mumbo jumbo, it had little hope of protecting consumers. We transformed a hideously written, impossible to follow legal document into a pleasant 6th grade reading level that actually makes sense. My company also designed it. This win is a huge feather in my cap – at least for my business writing. Well … “I” don’t get the award, nor does my business; my client (Aetna) does. But I’m very proud to say that I wrote the piece that won it for them.
Do you want to meet Jeanette and take her Freelancing in the Fast Lane course? Register for the conference here!