06/25/2012 (12:58 pm)

How to become an automotive writer in 5 easy steps

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Originally published at GreenBigTruck.com.

Just about everyone who visits websites like this or reads auto magazines thinks “Wow, what a great job those guys have. People hand them free cars to drive, feed them lunch and dinner at fancy restaurants, and even take them to the race track! And all they have to do is write about it. How awesome is that?”

The answer: pretty dang awesome, my friend.

So how do you land a wonder gig like this? Well, becoming an automotive writer is not easy. In fact, it normally requires a lot of work, years of school, and a lot of sacrifice. Some people, like one guy I know, went the hard way by getting an engineering degree, working for years in the industry, and then finally breaking into the writing side of things after years of work and sacrifice. But that’s the hard road and while it builds character and stuff, if you’re like me, you’ve already got plenty of character. So why not take the easy way?

No problem. There are five simple steps that you can take to become an awesome automotive journalist like myself. I used to be a heavy metal singer, then a computer nerd and then a truck driver. If I can transition those into becoming an auto journalist, then just about anything can be turned into writing about cars.

The 5 Skills of the Automotive Journalist
There are five skills to master to become someone who’s paid to write about cars. Anyone can write about cars, but not everyone can get paid to do it. To be a professional, you have to get paid for the job. Learn these five skills, and you’ll be ready for the big leagues.

Skill #5 – A Way With Words
Writing is about writing. Right? Exactly. So learn to write. If you’re experienced at making snide comments in automotive forums, tossing out authentic-sounding information on Facebook threads, and can jive your buddies into believing you when you remark about 1980s Japanese cars having left-handed threads on the engine bolts.. you’re well on your way to mastering this skill.

You don’t have to be right or even in the ballpark. You just have to be coherent at expressing the idea. So if you’re writing about the new 2013 Ford Mustang, don’t bother looking up facts like the actual horsepower or the number of valves on the engine. Who cares about that crap? Just wing it. The Mustang probably has, like, a 1,000 horses under the hood. Right? If anyone calls you on it, tell them you were using artistic expression. It’s a thousand mustangs under the hood. See? Playing with words. That makes you a writer.

Not very good at this? Don’t worry about it. Being able to write well is the least of the skills required to be an automotive writer. Bad writing doesn’t matter. That’s what editors are for.

Skill #4 – A Large Stock of Ramen
Sounds odd, but trust me, writing for a living means going through lean times. It doesn’t pay as well as most people might think. So you’ll need some backup just in case the bank account runs dry. Ramen is cheap, easy to stock a lot of, and doesn’t seem to have an expiration date. So load up on them. Besides, if all that hooey about the world ending and Armageddon coming actually happens, you’ll be preparado.

Skill #3 – Know Stuff About Cars
Like being able to write (see #5), this skill does not need to be mastered, per se, but it should at least be generally understood. If you label a Corvette as a Dodge, people are gonna notice. Although with foreign cars like BMWs and Citro..er.. Citraun… whatever.. nobody cares, so you can call them whatever you want. But with domestics, I guarantee some wannabe automotive writer will call you on it if you don’t at least match makes and models. Lucky for us, there’s Google, which is accurate enough that if someone does call you on a mislabel, you can probably find a website where it was called that and say there’s your reference. Then tell the comment troll to go get a job. Name-calling is the best way to get rid of idiots who say bad things about your stories.

Skill #2 – Cursing
One thing every automotive writer needs to master is cursing. There are two reasons for this:

1) most publications won’t publish things with curse words in them, so you’ll need to master cursing so you can master alternatives to it;
2) sooner or later (probably sooner), another writer, an editor, a publisher, or some twit in comments will f#@*%&! p#*& you off and you’ll have to vent – proper cursing is the best way to do this without ending up in jail.

In fact, in all of automotive, from manufacturing to sales to mechanics to journalism, cursing is a universal expertise. So if you master it, your job qualifications for many areas of the industry will suddenly broaden big time.

Skill #1 – Getting Other People To Pay for Stuff
As we all know, the whole point of becoming an automotive writer is to get stuff for free. Right? Totally. Getting stuff out of industry representatives (called “reps” in the biz) is easy. Just ask for it and they’ll probably hand it over. Your status as an automotive journalist means they must worship you or you’ll say bad things about their product. So feel free to treat them like dirt and take all the freebies they have. With reps, if they have it with them, it’s a freebie. Key fobs, hats, jackets, laptops… whatever. Just tell them you want it and they’ll hand it over.

Reps are easy. It’s editors, publishers, and the like that are rough to get anything out of. Generally, it’s understood that nobody wants to pay you anything because they believe the job perks should pay for the job itself. After all, you get to interview hot models posing with cars, drive cool vehicles all the time, get free stuff out of reps, and so on. Yours is a life of glamor. So why should they cut you a check?

Learn how to get paid, even if you don’t deserve it. The number one rule in automotive journalism? Everyone loves you and the world is yours, so they should pay up. Keep this in mind at all times and you’ll negotiate to win. Missing a deadline or failing to turn anything in at all is no excuse for them not to at least cover your expenses – even if those expenses were just beer and your cable bill.

These, my friends, are the five skills you must master to become an automotive journalist. It won’t be easy, but you can do it, Padowan.

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