Instead of writing about how shitty my lungs are, I thought I’d write about writing about how shitty my lungs are. Think of it like one of those crappy EPK-style features they used to put on DVDs. If you’ve ever wanted to know how many words were in the first draft of my book, today’s your lucky day.
There were roughly 8 drafts of Can’t Eat, Can’t Breathe and Other Ways Cystic Fibrosis Has Fucked Me, which was called Cough! Or What I Learned from Excessive Mucus Production all the way up to the fifth draft. My fiancee Bekka didn’t like the idea of having “mucus” in the title and I didn’t like the fact that Cough is essentially un-Googleable, but a better title didn’t present itself until one of my doctors suggested I use the summary of Cystic Fibrosis that I had pitched for a conference they were attending: “Can’t eat, can’t breathe. Any questions?” I added the “and other ways Cystic Fibrosis has Fucked me” because I felt that immediately tells you what kind of book it is. As much as it pained me, I used wacky characters for “Fucked” for economic reasons.
However, I made up for it by including a lot of swearing in the book. My first draft is filled with off-color language, mostly as a way of communicating to myself. I always knew the 1st draft was going to be more of an outline, but I was naive enough to think that after one edit by Bekka and a second pass by myself, the book would be done and out the door. I was a fucking idiot.
I made my first attempt at this book in the Spring of 2012. I managed to get a chapter on my diagnosis and a chapter on my daily routine done before I rage quit. There were a lot of other things going on at the time—my grandmother going into a home, losing my apartment—and I wasn’t in a great place to have meaningful thoughts. Instead, I had a series of “and then”s that felt like it had no audience. People without CF wouldn’t care and people with it would say “No shit.” So I gave up.
The idea kicked around the back of my head for a few months and then—as ideas tend to do—came back when it had some more substance. The best ideas I’ve had have been the ones that I’ve chipped away at and put aside in frustration, only to have the solution to the problem come rushing in while I’m in the shower washing my nether regions. This happened in September 2012, when work on COUGH began in earnest.
Though I didn’t want to admit it at the time, the idea still had a lot of mutating to do before it was presentable. I just watched Indie Game: The Movie and saw how Team Meat emphasized how important prominent placement in the XBOX Arcade was for Super Meat Boy (even though it was a digital game), my original plan was to fire out a book of a few thousand words, pitch to Amazon as a Kindle Singles book, get some sweet front page placement and clear room in my bank account for the massive money avalanche. This did not happen, mostly because Amazon told me to go fuck myself.
They said it way nicer than that of course and—in their defense—I sent them the 5th draft of the book, which was already 9,688 words over the 30,000 word limit for a Kindle single. I figured if they liked it enough, I’d just cut a bunch of things out. They didn’t, so I didn’t.
Here’s a chart of the dates and word counts of the various drafts:
I was sure the 2nd, 5th and 6th drafts were final drafts. I was wrong.
Throughout the process, Bekka acted as my editor, pulling out the extra words and demanding clarification. A few times she took out a joke that I really liked, so I’d try to sneak it past her again. If she caught it, it stayed out. If not…well, I don’t know. She never missed any.
Draft 7 is the one I read for the audiobook, a process which also acted as my final edit. Given the amount of reading and talking I do throughout the day, I figured I’d be able to knock the audiobook out in roughly five hours, but I allotted myself two days just in case. I started recording out in the garage, because no one goes in there, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone changing the mic position or anything. However, the garage was hot, smelled like oil and seemed to act as a resonant chamber for every cricket in the area, so I moved in the house after about 5 chapters. 5 chapters that took me roughly two days to read.
It turns out that getting a usable, reliably enunciated and compellingly performed reading on disk isn’t as easy as I thought. The recording process took about 20 hours over a one week period, not including the time it took to listen back for mistakes, do a final edit and try to remove all the cricket sounds.
(For those curious, I recorded the book using a Behringer B-2 Pro condenser mic into a Focusrite Scarlett 2-2i USB interface which was feeding Audacity on my laptop. I used Reaper and iZotope RX 3 to clean up the cricket noises. The iZotope plugin saved the entire project.)
The front and back cover photos were taken by my buddy Andy. I believe it was his brother Tom who came up with the concept of the broken swing that made the front. Not wanting to limit our choices, we took 200 pictures staged on various pieces of playground equipment.
The final book hit Amazon on 9/14/2013. I had planned to launch it on every ebook platform at the same time, but I heard the siren song of the KDP Select program, which allows you to have promotional sales for your book and makes it part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library in exchange for Amazon exclusivity. In retrospect, I think this was a mistake, as I only made $2 off of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and when I finally launched the book on other platforms (via Smashwords), it was hard to get the message out that the book was available everywhere.
In any case, sales were fairly steady for a while, but things didn’t really pick up until the good people at Cracked.com—in particular, Robert Evans—picked up my idea for an article about what it’s like to have a terminal illness. When it ran in February, my phone started blowing up with notifications, this website saw a huge uptick in traffic and I got to hear a lot of great stories from other people. It was during this time that my book hit #6 on the Kindle ->Humor->Essays chart, which was pretty awesome. If you’re looking for advice on marketing your ebook, there it is: write an article for Cracked.
Writing the book often made me feel like I was exploring new and exciting ways to shove my head up my ass. I’m still not far enough away from it that I can sit down and read it; sometimes just looking at the cover makes me think I’m an asshole. But writing the book was an interesting way to find out how I really feel about CF (and, as it turns out, the Nintendo Entertainment System), even if that wasn’t the original intention. In that respect, I’d recommend writing a book, even if no one else ever reads it. That way you too will know how you really feel about CF, NES and the WWF or whatever initialisms populate your life.