How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

Editing and Editing and Editing ...

I actually lied up there again (I have trust issues. There was a whole thing with a cowboy and a public pool bathroom as a child -- we shouldn't get into it): I said I was writing the book right now. But that's not true. I already finished it. Months ago.

What I'm doing now is editing, and that process is a dozen times longer than the actual writing.

For those of you who can just bang out a draft in one go, clap your hands, whirl on your heel and exit the room, burning it behind you so that others might not defile it with their lesser genius -- most of us writers also have to double as self-editors.

Editing is just like writing, except hateful, and in reverse. Instead of birthing words and ideas out of nothing, you're murdering them in cold blood, culling them like sickly sheep weakening the flock. And since you're the one that brought them into the world in the first place, you feel a certain attachment to every single thing you mercilessly cut. Every time you delete a paragraph, you remember the three hours when you had to stop halfway through that sentence to research the sex lives of Romantic-era poets and what molecular alterations would turn human skin into a high explosive (yes, those were both real, actual things I had to do for the new book). But that can't matter when you're in editing mode; something works, or it doesn't, and it has to go.

After a while, it does get easier though. But only because you will rediscover, with every single sentence, what an incredibly talentless asshole you really are. Every stilted phrase, obvious typo or terrible analogy will have you grimacing and swearing tiny vendettas at the horrible hack who wrote all this garbage you now have to fix.

" 'They're is no end?' Really? Really?! Really, you incompetent poser?!"

Learning to edit is, quite simply, learning to hate yourself word by word. If you have a healthy sense of self-esteem right now, you should seriously consider a better career path than "professional writer." Might I suggest prostitute, or "guy that lets people spit in his mouth for a dollar"? After all, it's pretty comparable money.

Oh, that's right! We haven't touched on the money yet. Well, friend, now that you're done with your magnum opus, after these thousands of hours of toil, you're finally going to be ...

Collecting Your Shitty Money

There's no more sensitive subject than finance. In our money-centric society, pay-rates tell everybody exactly how much you're worth as a human being. Same as with any other job, no self-respecting writer wants to talk hard numbers. Luckily, I also edit for a living, so I've stabbed all that self-respect out with a mechanical pencil long, long ago. Let's talk numbers:

For my first book, I got an advance of $30,000.

Fuck! Not bad, right?

I mean, sure, those fancy guys who own cars and a complete pair of matching shoes may scoff at that money, but 30 grand is 30 more grand than no grands. It seems like a substantial sum. But just like dunking over a child, it becomes much less impressive once you stop and think about it.

"Oh, he's breaking the glass! Bad form, even here, in the child-taunting division of the NBA."

First, there are agent fees: 15 percent, right off the top. So that's down to $25,500. And of course, taxes take a bite of everything: 20 percent, state and federal. Down to a net $20,400. Still, that's like answering four questions right on a game show; you're lucky to be there in the first place, and it's fair compensation for doing something kind of fun. If you wanted to do this full time, all you'd have to do is pump out five of these short little books a year and you'd be ric- hahaha, sorry, I can't even finish typing that sentence.

From inception to completion, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody took me about a year and a half. And not a "just working on it in my spare time" year and a half, but 18 months at 40 to 50 hours a week, minimum. While simultaneously holding down another full-time job, of course, to keep paying the bills. All told, I netted roughly $6.50 an hour for writing my book. In the state of Oregon, where I lived while writing it, that's two dollars less than minimum wage.

Pictured: A more glamorous and fulfilling life than "author."

But then, that's the great thing about books: That 30 grand was just an advance. I still get royalties, and if the book keeps selling, then someday I'll reach that magic number where I pay off the advance, and it's all profit from there, baby.

That should be cake, too, because Everything is Going to Kill Everybody did pretty well, all told: During launch week, it hovered at around No. 31 on Amazon's sales rank list. Do you know what that means? For one solid week, it was the 31st bestselling book (out of all the fucking books in history) for the biggest bookseller in the world. That was just in the United States. In Canada (which I'm told uses for-realsies grown up money and everything), it peaked at No. 5. Just to reiterate: For one whole week, mine was the fifth bestselling book in Canada.

Which basically means "Ted bought a copy."

So what do those impressive sounding numbers translate to in sales? About 1,000 copies. For all of launch week. In September of last year, I got my first and only sales breakdown: The book has sold around 9,000 copies, total. I get about a dollar a book in royalties, and there's that pesky advance (remember, the year and a half at migrant worker pay?) to sell through before I see any of that. So only 21,000 copies more to go, then I get a dollar!

Still want to be a writer?


Yeah, me too.

I mean, obviously. I am writing another one, after all. Even knowing how unglamorous the whole thing is; even knowing that I'd be better compensated for my time if I spent my nights underneath the bleachers at a local football game with my mouth open, trying to swallow errant nickels; even knowing that the entire process is built on self-loathing and horrible, tedious monotony, I am still getting right back to work on the new book just as soon as this column is finished, because ... because ... shit. I don't know. It's a sickness?


You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. But you should probably just take the subtle hint all those links were giving you and buy the book: You could be lucky number 20,999!

For more from Robert, check out 5 Disturbing Ways the Human Body Will Evolve in the Future and Revisiting Old-School Text Adventures as a Jaded Modern Gamer.

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Robert Brockway

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