A while back, I wrote a non-fiction book about the apocalypse. Since publishing the book, the question I get asked the most has to be: "What are you doing in my toolshed?" Second place goes to "Is that my wife's cocktail dress?" The third is- well, let's skip ahead to questions not relating to a highly illegal fetish revolving around forbidden sheds and stolen evening wear. People usually ask me: "How did you get your book published?" Everybody wants to know how the process works, because they think that if they can just get the steps for this secret dance memorized, it's all plaid jackets and grad-student-blowjobs from that point forward. There are a lot of questions and answers for new authors out there on the Internet, but they always seem to skirt the subject in the name of preserving some sort of artistic mystique. As is the case with all nice things, I would like to ruin that tradition. I'll talk to you about the publishing process honestly and unflinchingly, even when it makes the whole thing (and by extension, me) look kind of shitty.
Getting the Attention of a Publisher
Fair warning: This is not going to help you.
I didn't actually initiate contact with a publisher of any kind. In fact, I didn't even have a book to pitch when contact was first made. Somebody at the publishing house contacted me, out of the blue. And her email was caught by my spam filter.
Some backstory: I used to have another site in addition to my work here on Cracked, called I Fight Robots. This secondary site was just more of my work in the same style, but entirely under my own control. The very nice lady at the publishing house found me through the Cracked articles, but it wasn't until she clicked the little links at the bottom of every one and read my own site was she confident in contacting me. She emailed me through the I Fight Robots link, and because I apparently saved the Pope from getting raped by snakes in a past life, I was blessed enough to check my spam filter that day, and caught it. The email asked me if I was interested in putting together some book ideas, to which I responded -- quite reasonably -- by clapping my hands and running around in circles until I fell down.
"I'm gonna be a serious and respected author! DERHERHER!"
So I guess I lied earlier: This information could feasibly help you. If you're looking to get published, all you have to do is find a high profile site to write for, work your ass off producing quality content there, then start your own secondary site and do the same thing again, all while ignoring loved ones, education, socialization and career advancement in favor of writing dick jokes about The Enterprise.
Finding a Publishable Idea
After I read the publisher's email for the 50th time, then called up everybody who'd wronged me and threatened to crush them with my newfound industry connections, I went out for a drink with my wife. That's when the panic set in. The ground rolled beneath my feet, the table bucked like a bronco, and the beer poured right out through my sweat glands as the anxiety turned on me. That's when the wife said those same stupid, trite, cliche words you always hear: "Write what you know."
"What the fuck do I know about anything? Literally anything?!" I screamed into the face of the now fleeing waitress.
"Well," she said, "you like the apocalypse. Write about that."
She was right, of course. But the book isn't her fault: All she did was notice that I'm messed up enough in the head to "enjoy" the concept of society dying horribly just so I can race cars through its crumbling graveyard of abandoned cities, and throw liquor bottles at famous statues.
"What am I into? Well, I guess I'm pretty into the death of all humanity and the slow, somber retreat of civilization as it cedes to nature. What are you into, baby?"
But there are a few more implied words at the end of that "write what you know" slogan. It should actually go like this: "Write what you know ... so long as it's interesting, and hasn't been done before like a billion times."
That's the catch, and navigating around it is harder than it seems. No offense, but you, like me, probably mostly know boring and stupid bullshit. And boring and stupid bullshit does not usually make for very good literature. Sure, there are a few exceptionally talented writers who can convert tedious subject matter into captivating words. But the simple odds say that your thoughts on what it is to be a barista and your Gears of War griefing tactics are not going to be entering the Library of Congress anytime soon.
So write what you know ... that nobody else does. Or write what you'd like to know -- what you find interesting and wish you knew more about -- and just be prepared to do a shit ton of research. But that's OK, actually, because no matter what, you're going to be ...
Doing an Assload of Research
I wrote a non-fiction book, and obviously that involves a good amount of research. For every hour I spent writing, there were 10 spent reading scientific essays on cell division and geological abnormalities. And for every hour spent doing that, there were 10 more of me pretending to understand it, just in case the power of wishing could make it true.
So what? you're probably saying now, my book is fiction. No research there, my good man. It all bursts forth, fully formed, from the wondrous aether of my imagination!
First of all, you talk like kind of a prick. What are you, from the 17th century? Knock it off, dickhead. You ain't better than me.
Second, I'm writing a fiction book right now, and there is exactly as much research as the non-fiction one. It wasn't even a subject that seemed research intensive, at first. My fiction book is a dystopian pharmaceutical-time-travel sci-fi thriller -- you know, a classic -- and I basically thought I'd just be sketching this world out in my head, and then writing a story through it. Like LeVar Burton told us as kids: "The only thing books need ... is imagination!"
I need you to sit down for this, because it's a hard truth to learn: LeVar Burton is a dirty motherfucking liar.
WE TRUSTED YOU YOU SON OF A BITCH
If you give a damn about the quality of the work at all, every other sentence means a pause for research. You write the word "steel" and then you have to stop, and wonder: "Is steel strong enough to do this? Wouldn't they have something better than steel in the future? Where is the future of the steel industry heading?" Six hours later, you're Googling "hardened mesh weaves" and "nano-tubes" just to finish the sentence: "Biff Largeblaster's sculpted cyborg abs glistened in the afterglow of the imploding time-vortex like a gargantuan bunch of manly ____ grapes."