How Posting About Britney Spears Helped My Career

I love Britney Spears, and I’m not afraid to let the world know it. It may be the single subject I post most about on social media, a situation further exacerbated by three quirky facts about my life: 1. My sister also loves Britney, so we’re often posting Britney-related minutiae and tagging each other; 2. I take a weekly dance class dedicated entirely to Britney songs and choreography, so I’m often posting either links to sign up for the class or video of the class itself; and 3. I play pop covers on acoustic guitar at a monthly open mic, and my Britney catalog is immense, so I often do whole sets dedicated to her, which are posted on my feeds. In short: If you follow me on social media, the one fact you’re most likely to know about me is that I love Britney.

This seems trivial, but if you are a freelance writer, I strongly encourage you to post the shit out of any such passions you have. (I would add this to the other great advice in this piece about scoring freelance work on The Muse.) My incessant Britney posting resulted in three great assignments the week her new album, Glory, came out in August. (It’s really good, please go listen to it, and make sure you get the deluxe version, which has the best songs.)

Here’s why it worked so well: The number-one way freelancers get assignments is so basic that beginners, in particular, never think of it. An editor—who is, after all, just a human being—thinks to herself, “I want a piece on X subject. Whom do I know who could do this?” Then a name pops into her head, and she emails that person. That’s it. You want that name to be yours.

So when Britney’s album dropped and editors I knew wanted to assign pieces about it, they immediately thought of me—I had, via years of passionate Britney posting, associated my name almost directly with hers in many people’s heads. The result was a week of indulging my passion, starting with a Billboard assessment of this album in the context of her career, continuing with a feminist analysis of Britney for Bustle, and ending with actually going to the MTV Video Music Awards to see her performance and write about it, again for Billboard.

Of course, it’s necessary to note that other factors had to be solidly in place for this chain of events to occur. Namely: 1. I have many longtime friends on social media who are editors at cool places. 2. I have been a professional writer for more than 20 years, and have written full-time about pop culture and women’s issues for 15 of those years. So I had to know the right editors, and they had to trust me.

Still, it’s worth noting: If you’re a freelance writer, posting about your passions isn’t simply fun. It’s good business.

Real Writers Risk

I read an insightful piece on Fast Company‘s website today by novelist Michael Grothaus about how he quit his six-figure tech job to write his book. What I loved most was this part:

Like any dream venture, whether it’s writing a novel or launching a startup, there is a large amount of risk involved. It’s often the fear that risk brings—How will I find the time? How will I pay the bills? What if I’m no good and don’t succeed?—that often keeps people chained to careers they may, at best, tolerate and at worst, detest.

This explains why I get irritable when some most likely well-meaning person at a cocktail party tries to relate to me by saying something like, “Oh, I’ve always meant to write a book,” or “I really want to become a writer when I retire.” Maybe they really have meant to write a book, and maybe they will. And there’s nothing wrong with picking up a writing hobby upon retirement. But these offhand comments, which imply that anyone can be a professional writer, downplay the hardest part (beyond the actual writing, which is not always a picnic): the risks professional writers take every day.

I love my freelance writer life and the control it gives me over my days (sort-of … though I promise there are plenty of days that feel way out of my control, full of interview times being changed and assignments I take to pay the bills). But walking away from a steady paycheck is a risk. Writing something and just hoping someone will pay you for it someday is a risk. Writing something and publishing it is a risk, and neither the comments sections nor the critics will let you forget it.

Real writers’ main job requirement isn’t writing. To get to the writing, and to get it out there, they must take constant risks.

Some SEINFELDIA Press

People like to talk about Seinfeld! Here are some places it has been recently:

I talked Seinfeldia with my smart friends at Vulture.

Particularly great excerpt (i.e. I like the bits they chose) about “The Junior Mint,” “The Contest,” and others in The Guardian.

I also talked Seinfeldia with fellow Seinfeld geek Jim Turano at WGN (in my hometown, Chicago!). 

A Salon.com discussion about the antiheroes of Seinfeld.

And ‘How Seinfeld Became About Something,’ from NBC online.

SEINFELDIA Is Out Today!

SEINFELDIA“Her book, as if she were a marine biologist, is a deep dive…Perhaps the highest praise I can give Seinfeldia is that it made me want to buy a loaf of marbled rye and start watching again, from the beginning.” —Dwight Garner,The New York Times Book Review

Get a copy of Seinfeldia wherever books are sold, or online at AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks a Million, or IndieBound.

My Favorite ‘Seinfeld’ Scene: George’s Whale Monologue

I have a book about Seinfeld, called Seinfeldia, coming out July 5 (and available for pre-order now), and I’ve already done a handful of interviews about it. The natural question that comes up is: What is your favorite episode? I think I answer this differently depending on my mood because there are so many good ones. If I’m feeling geeky, it’s “The Chinese Restaurant” because that represented the show’s first risky departure from sitcom conventions. If I’m feeling feminist, I go for Elaine’s “spongeworthy” plotline. If I’m feeling indecisive, I start rambling about how I really love the entire arc in which George and Jerry make a sitcom called Jerry, which ultimately fails. If I’m feeling contrary, I go for the much-hated finale, which I’ve loved upon re-watch.

I do, however, know my favorite scene, and that’s George’s monologue explaining how he saved a whale after pretending to be a marine biologist while on a date. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends …”) If I were an actor who had to do auditions, this would be my go-to material. It displays Jason Alexander’s special skill as an actor that made this character so great—the dramatic talent he brings to comedy. He plays George as a guy who’s quite serious about the cosmic joke he knows life is. I also remember this scene as possibly the first time, during the show’s original run, that I as a young viewer really got how brilliant Seinfeld was, the way it brought all the crazy plotlines together at the end of an episode in one comic quadruple-pirouette. Let’s enjoy:

Get a Free Signed Copy of SEINFELDIA by Joining My Launch Team!

SEINFELDIASeinfeldians, I need your help in getting the word out about SEINFELDIA as its July 5 release date approaches! To that end, I am recruiting a special ten-person launch team. In exchange for your help, I’ll send you a free, signed copy of the book. You’ll agree to post something about the book (a pic of the cover, a link to order it online, something fancy like a gif or a meme, a rave review) on whatever platforms you use—blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.—every day for the week of the launch, July 5-12.

If you’re interested, tell me in the comments here, ping me on Facebook or Twitter, or email me here.

UPDATE: This offer is now closed. Thank you all for your interest!

SEINFELDIA Preview: An Exclusive Interview with the Face of ‘Rochelle Rochelle’

 

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Street artist Jayshells made this reproduction of the poster featured on the show and hung it at an abandoned New York City theater in 2013. He gave Holton a copy.

Seinfeld‘s fictional movie titles were always a special treat — Sack Lunch or Chunnel, anyone? — but the one with the most mystical staying power has to be Rochelle Rochelle, “a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.” First, George sees the film at the theater. Then he’s renting it in a later episode when he runs into his ex, Susan, and her new girlfriend at the video store. It even eventually becomes a stage adaptation in an episode guest-starring Bette Midler.

 

And all the time, the movie poster remains the same: a hazy, moody black and white portrait of a beautiful young woman.

She was “played” by an uncredited extra named Chela Holton. Though Holton did lots of Hollywood background work during the time Seinfeld was on, she now lives a low-key life in California. I was lucky enough to be the first to interview her about her Seinfeld experience for my upcoming book Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, which is out July 5 — and available for pre-order right now.

Here, a few highlights from our interview … for the rest of the good stuff, please check out the book!

How did you end up as Rochelle? I was an extra, but I had been hired specifically to pose for this picture. They needed her to have a summery dress on. I had to borrow one from a neighbor. They dolled me up a little bit. Outside the soundstage, there was a little park area where I posed for pictures.

Were there multiple set-ups? We did a lot of different things. They had me walking with my suitcase. The idea was that it was supposed to be a dark and dreary setting but then here’s this girl in her sundress. Most of the pictures they took were of me standing, but the one they used was a crop. The idea was how out of place this girl in her sundress is. I think the day was perfect, because it was overcast.

Since you were hired as an extra, did you appear in any other scenes? By the time they were done with my mini-photo shoot, probably a couple of hours had passed; they had me change and then I was an extra in the bar scene. My back is to the camera and my hair is back, so you can’t tell that it’s me. And by the time that scene was done, there was my picture on the poster, eyebrows all unkempt. It was so fast. It was like a drill. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and they just got it done.

Did you get a copy of the poster? Way back when the show aired, I was told, “Call back next week and ask if you can get a copy.” When I called, they said, “Sorry, it’s studio property.”

Do people in your life realize the significance of Rochelle? I have two beautiful stepchildren. [My partner] took a screenshot [of the poster] from the show and blew it up to hang in his office. So the kids asked about it once or twice. They think I’m famous. Realistically, I very rarely bring it up. It was 20 years ago. Vanity overcomes, and who wants to be as old as that?

There are also people in the office. There’s this young boy who recently moved onto another position. But he’s obsessed with Seinfeld. So much so that he would bring up a quote or say something Seinfeldesque several times a day. We even started a Seinfeld jar. He put a dollar in every time he said something about Seinfeld. He’s young, so he would have been a little kid when it was on. I have not told him. That’s my little secret.

 

Someone Stole My Website: A Cautionary Tale

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Hi, I’m the pretty, real Sexy Feminist of 2013!

Heather Wood Rudúlph and I started a website in 2006. First it was called SirensMag.com, because everyone was into this “online magazine” idea then, and eventually it evolved into SexyFeminist.com, because we figured out that we were running a feminist website! In 2013, we wrote a book based on it, called Sexy Feminism, which was cool because I got to write a book with my best friend. Yay, us.

We stopped publishing on the website shortly thereafter, feeling like we’d said everything we had wanted to say. Last year, we decided to take the site down so that we didn’t have to continue to pay for maintenance of it. Reluctantly, nostalgically, we took the pieces we particularly loved from the site and republished them on our own blogs. We pulled the plug. It was the end of an era.

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Hi, I’m the sort-of fake, “new” Sexy Feminist!

Or was it?

When we declined to renew the domain, we noticed very soon afterwards that someone else had snatched it up. We worried slightly, because our names were associated with Sexy Feminist, and we worried some jerk would do something unseemly there. On a whim a few months ago, I decided to check in on SexyFeminist.com.

What I saw truly shocked me: Our words, our logo, our art, and even our bio with our photo. They were all back up in a slightly schlockier layout — whoever did this didn’t have our custom design elements. A few extra tweaks were slightly off, like “our” new tagline, “Making feminism sexy.” (That was never the intention of the name, though I promise you many people took it that way, and some of them weren’t thrilled by it. Neither were we.) Hilariously, the site now also has a copyright line at the bottom of the page.

My partner, Jesse, is a web developer, so he quickly did that thing that programmers do where they press some quick combination of buttons on the computer and it does something magical. It showed him the registration information for the domain. It had an email attached and everything. Heather and I wrote this individual an official “cease and desist” email demanding he take the content down. No response. We wrote to the domain administrator, who told us (with disinterest and vague condescension) that there was nothing the company could do about it. (I doubt that’s technically true. They just don’t wish to.) It seems the only option left is for us to sue, something for which we have neither the time nor the resources.

I called this a “cautionary tale,” but I’m not sure there’s anything we could have done to prevent this. I’m writing this partially because it’s a weird story about things that happen online, and partially so the Internet at least has a record of what’s going on. Someone stole our website, and there is nothing we can do.