How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps


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

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
"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. Then, profit!

Finding a Publishable Idea

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
"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

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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."

Editing and Editing and Editing ...

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
" '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

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps

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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
"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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
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.

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps
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? WHY WON'T ANYBODY HELP ME?

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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