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
"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
Finding a Publishable IdeaAfter 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
"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
Doing an Assload of ResearchI wrote a non-fiction book, and obviously
WE TRUSTED YOU YOU SON OF A BITCHIf 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 ...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?!"
Collecting Your Shitty MoneyThere'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
"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,
Pictured: A more glamorous and fulfilling life than "author."But then, that's the great thing about books: That 30 grand was just an
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.