Award-winning copywriter, communications specialist and editor, Amy Forstadt is joining us today from Los Angeles, CA. Amy has worked with Walt Disney, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Intermix Media. She has done work both in business writing (corporate communications and marketing) and the entertainment industry (mostly television).
~In reviewing your resume’ and LinkedIn profile, I’m amazed at how much you have accomplished with your career in such a short period of time. How did you get your first freelance project? What skills were your greatest asset in securing that position?
Like most breakthrough opportunities, I got my first freelancing project through a combination of luck and hard work. It was way back in 1995 and I was working as a receptionist, but I knew I wanted to be a freelance writer. At that time, I was also taking a screenwriting class, and the teacher of the class asked me to work the booth representing his writing services at an upcoming media convention in Chicago.
I agreed to work at the convention, and decided that I would take advantage of the opportunity to market myself. I had business cards made and passed them to everyone who came by, telling them I was a writer for hire (after I gave the schpiel about the class, of course!).
It turned out that another woman working in the booth with me was employed in the communications department of GE Capital Railcar. She told me that she might need a freelancer and we set up an appointment for the following week.
I was looking forward to the appointment, but I wasn’t expecting too much. I knew how it worked – my contact would have to talk to her boss, who would probably have to talk to his boss, and there would be all sorts of approval processes before anyone was hired. Well, when I got to the office, it turned out my new friend was the boss! She had a corner office with a big window and pretty much hired me on the spot. I was at GE for over a year, and my contact became a really good friend and regular client.
I think my greatest asset in getting that position was my willingness to really put myself out there at the convention and market myself to anybody and everybody – kind of like a mid 90s version of an e-mail blast – combined with the confidence I felt that I really could do the job.
~Working as a freelance Communication Specialist since 1995, you must have gained a tremendous amount of experience. Can you share with us a few of the important skills you have honed during this time that have helped you advance as a writer?
Being a successful freelancer is about so much more than just being a good writer (although that’s essential). The most important skill to develop is an ability to just jump in and get to work. People often hire freelancers because they are in a crisis situation – there’s lots of work to be done and their staff is just too busy to do it. So it’s not like being a new employee where you get training and introductions, and no one expects you to learn everything the very first day. When you come on as a freelancer, you’ve got no learning curve. You have to start being productive in the first hour.
As far as writing skills go, it’s important to be very adaptable to the different personalities of your clients, and the various corporate “voices” you’ll need to adopt. As with any sort of writing, you can’t take criticism personally. You need to satisfy the client, and if he/she thinks your project needs another draft or, occasionally, to be started again, you’ve got to be able to listen and make the changes they’ve requested.
At the same time, freelancers are often called in to be experts on a subject. So you may be in a situation where everyone is looking to you for answers, usually on a project you’ve just learned about. It can be a delicate balance that involves both taking suggestions and giving them.
~Can you tell us what is involved in entering the Drama Garage screenwriting contest which you won in 2005? How do you recommend people break into this market? Is it a highly competitive field?
I think screenwriting, or anything in the entertainment business, may be the most competitive field there is. I’d say that if you’re interested in working in entertainment, break in by doing everything you possibly can. Call all your contacts. Enter all the contests. Go to the networking events.
And most importantly, write, write, write. Success in this field can take years, and even after you do break in, there are no guarantees. A lot of people keep their day jobs for quite a while after they’ve had their first success. As someone once said to me, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” You’ve got to be in it for the long haul if you want to see results.
~Your educational background (B.A. in English from The University of Iowa, Technical Editing courses at Harvard University and a Copywriting and design course at AdEd in Chicago) is impressive. Is there one course you recommend all writers complete to enhance their marketability as freelancers?
I do think there’s one course every writer should take, and that it’s a different one for each writer. Aspiring freelancers should find a course about what interests them, whether it’s business writing, copywriting, digital content creation, etc and take that. You can usually find classes like these offered at your local community college or even online. And if you’re interested in more than one subject, you should take more than one class.
Not only will taking these classes look good on a resume and give you the confidence to start a project in that area, they will give you a taste about what it’s like to work in that field. I think most writers are naturally curious people, so there should be no shortage of potential writing careers that seem interesting. And you never know, you just may meet someone in one of these classes who will give you a great freelance project!
Amy's writing has been included in several books: Pieces of Me – Voices of WriteGirl, WriteGirl 2004, Honku – A Zen Antidote to Road Rage, Random House 2003, and Bold Ink – Collected Voices of Women and Girls, WriteGirl 2003. You can find Amy on LinkedIn.