Writing

Gene Weingarten: How to throw the book at writing a book – The Washington Post


(Illustration by Alex Fine/For The Washington Post)

For the past six years, I have been working on a book. It is about to come out. So I think I am well positioned to offer some helpful “tips for authors.”

1. You will come to hate your book. Accept this graciously as a natural consequence of having had to read it 5,000 times. Example: I am a guy who absolutely requires reading material when on the pot. The other day I looked around before going to the bathroom and all that was immediately available was my book. I let it lie and instead read the contents of my wallet.

* Corollary: The time when your book will most disgust you will coincide with when you must go on a book tour and speak enthusiastically about it 10 times a day. Resist the impulse to tell the truth because your publisher will get very mad at you if you despondently say, for example, “Don’t you have an author to interview who doesn’t suck? Was Pynchon not available?”

2. As you are bringing the book in for a landing, resist the urge to assemble your 23 chapters into one long document, because that will make it possible to idly search for words and phrases that you think you might overuse. And that is when you will discover just what a shocking, tedious hack you are. For instance, the number of times I had written “slap-to-the-forehead revelation” (five) was a slap-to-the-forehead revelation to me. Not in a good way.

3. If you use an audio recorder for interviews, don’t be a neurotic like me, because then you will spend the entire interview nervously checking to see that it “is on,” missing virtually everything your subject is saying and reducing your interviewing skills to that of a Pleistocene hominid.

4. Protect your working manuscript with multiple levels of security, even to a point that fails strict tests of sanity. For example, keep saving your latest versions, then emailing them to yourself, then saving them again to the cloud, and then having them also saved automatically to the cloud by a company you have paid to save it. Also: Install two surge protectors, connecting them serially so the first is protecting the second from surges.

5. For your author photo on the book jacket, get a real pro to do it. You will still look like an enormous hamster with jowls the size of regulation basketballs, but at least the lighting will be good.

6. If you have something awkward you feel is ethically necessary to have in your book, hide it in the “Acknowledgements.” Nobody has ever read acknowledgements. In my new book, that is where I mention that I have plagiarized two lines from a friend and also that I am pretty sure the book has factual errors.

7. Trust no one. In my first book, “The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death,” the publisher proudly informed me the cover was done and going to the printer. I asked to see the final version, so they overnighted it to me, sort of grudgingly. “Hypochondriac” was misspelled.

8. Your publisher will ask you to beg every famous or semi-famous friend you have to write a “blurb” for the book jacket: a pithy little quote effusively praising a book they almost certainly have only “skimmed.” This is the most humiliating thing you will ever do, even if, like me, you once had to leave work and buy a new pair of pants because you did not know that there can be disturbing leakage consequences to eating too much peanut butter straight from the jar.

9. Resist the urge to read reader reviews online. For every good one there will be an idiotic one that will infuriate you. I once got a negative one-star review solely because the book had arrived in the mail with a smudge on the cover. I also got a one-star review for a book of mine on old dogs because I wrote that eventually old dogs die, and this made the reviewer “sad.” My editor Tom the Butcher got a one-star review that read, in its entirety, “This book is just a bunch of words.”

10. If at all possible, don’t ever write a book.

Email Gene Weingarten at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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