Your manuscript contains 193 uses of the word “very,” 244 “just”s and 86 “suddenly,”s. How many can you cut before you give up and return to your former job as a toll taker?
A book club in Brisbane, Australia is discussing your new novel. You’ve been invited to join their meeting via Zoom at 4 p.m. “local time.” You’re in New York and it’s the morning after Daylight Savings. How badly will you fuck this up?
If you sell 600 paperbacks but Amazon lets customers return all of them, how much do you owe your publisher?
You’ve decided to craft your own bookmarks. You’ve purchased tags, tassels, even an ink stamp. How many will you make before you concede they look like they were designed by a drunk toddler and you should’ve just ordered from Etsy?
You invite 100 friends to your launch party but the forecast calls for rain and a new season of “Indian Matchmaker” just dropped. How many Sorry, can’t make it! texts will you receive moments before the event begins?
Rounding up, is the number of peanut M&Ms you’ll consume before admitting to yourself that no one needs another novel about a rakishly handsome vampire closer to 100, 1,000, or 1 million?
There are still 17 typos in the second pass pages of your manuscript. How many will you find after you’ve sent it back to your editor?
You and a friend are querying agents simultaneously. What’s the magic number of rejections you’ll each amass before your friend suggests robbing a marijuana dispensary?
How many rainy afternoons will your friend float this idea before deciding it’s the plot for her new thriller?
You’re a last-minute replacement on a panel featuring authors who’ve made a “30 under 30 list.” You’re 52 and you’ve run out of Xanax. What is the ideal number of Benadryls you can take to calm your nerves but not collapse on stage?
You spent $99 on a course explaining Facebook ads for authors. You cap your daily ad spend at $10 and run ads for 30 days. You sell a total of 11 ebooks priced at $4.99 each, 60% of which your publisher pockets. In fraction form, what part of your pride will remain after you ask your parents if you can move into their assisted living facility? (Feel free to round down.)
How many minutes will you waste trying to understand when to use further vs. further and lay vs. lie before you start smoking again?
Over the past eight months, you’ve been a guest on 72 podcasts, yet your sales have tanked. How frequently do you think about firing your publicist?
You’re home alone. In seconds, minutes, or hours, what’s the longest conversation you can have with your cat before realizing it’s time to go back to therapy?
To generate some pre-launch buzz, you mailed signed copies of your memoir to reviewers. The book retails for $27.99, but you were able to buy them at a 40% discount. While searching for a vintage NPR tote bag on eBay, you discover these priceless editions selling for $2.89 (+ shipping). What percentage of your heart just imploded?
You’ve joined TikTok. How many awkward videos of your cats set to rap music will you post before you grumble, “I’m too fucking old for this!”
Your agent says she’s excited to read the synopsis you’ve painstakingly put together for your next project. What’s the maximum number of follow-up emails you can send before she files a restraining order?
How many months will your friend’s magnum opus, Scribbler in the Weeds, a whimsical masterpiece about a desperate writer who robs marijuana dispensaries, spend on the New York Times Best Seller list before she ghosts you for good?
Congratulations! You’ve earned out your advance and received your first royalty check. Unfortunately, it amounts to $80.43 while your monthly health insurance premium is twelve times that figure. Which nearly-maxed-out credit card should you use to cover the shortfall?
Making your best guesstimate, how long will it be before you feel comfortable sharing your Little Women-meets-American Psycho mash-up with your writing group: six months, one year, or longer than it takes to finish Cormac McCarthy’s new novel?
Your neighbor’s book club consists of 14 members. They’ve chosen to read your short story collection this month but your neighbor tells you they bought one copy and shared it. How much have you just lost in possible royalties and neighborly good will?
How many times will your college roommate ask, “How’s the writing going?” before you block her number?
You’ve poured boiling water over the same coffee grounds once in the morning and twice in the afternoon. What time is it when you admit you need to get a “real job?”
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Liz Alterman is a freelance writer and the author of the humor blog On the Balls of Our A$$ets, which chronicles the period that came after she and her husband were laid off within six weeks of each other. (Spoiler alert: Don’t try this at home.)