Chapter 10: Elan Mastai on astronomical advances, artistic ambitions, and advice for aspiring authors


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Do you make your own luck?

Do you really control what happens?

Or do you simply dump everything you can in the system, press the big green button, and then hang on for the hairy-scary ride?

Elan Mastai is the award-winning screenwriter and novelist behind one of my favorite books of last year – the incredibly fast-paced, head-twisting, and emotionally moving sci-fi epic All Our Wrong Todays.

I was crying hot salty tears when I reached its final pages and was delighted when Elan accepted my invite to share his three most formative books on our show.

And! Just to tease the very first story he shares.

Elan received a $1,250,000 advance for his first book. You read that right.

A seven-figure book advance for All Our Wrong Todays.

His first book!

How did that happen?

Well, I ask him, and you’re going to love the story he shares.

And then we get deeper into ambition versus contentment, how hard you push versus what you get, and whether or not we control the inputs and the outputs… or whether we all have to really learn to just practice getting comfortable dumping whatever we can into the system.

Pressing the green button.

And holding on for the hairy-scary ride.


  • How did Elan get a $1,250,000 advance on his first book?
  • Why did Elan choose to make each chapter of his book 2-3 pages?
  • Which book helped Elan become more grateful and gave him perspective at a young age?
  • Why are our values less important than our actions when we’re trying to discover who we truly are?
  • Which body part does Elan compare a writer to, and how is it considered a “documented form of pain”?
  • Which of Elan’s three most formative books was the only one he chose to read since he was forced to read the other two?
  • Why did Elan, Kurt Vonnegut, and I all choose not to put semicolons in our books?
  • How do you wrestle with book shame when you don’t love classic novels you assumed you’d enjoy?
  • What book reminds Elan of listening to a Pink Floyd’s song?
  • What should aspiring authors keep in mind when looking for a literary agent?
  • How do royalties and advances work in publishing?
  • How does an author entrench universal themes so deeply into their work that their stories stick with people and transcend time?
  • What’s the process of getting another author to write a blurb for your book?
  • How do you find your voice as an author?

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