For an engineer who applied to journalism school on a whim and admittedly doesn’t love reporting, Christopher Steiner, a New York Times best-selling author, Forbes writer and co-founder of Aisle50, Inc., has built a nice name for himself.
In August 2012, Steiner (MSJ03) published his second book, Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World. His first book, $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, published in 2009, was a New-York Times bestseller.
The 32-year-old insists that even the most inexperienced J-school graduate should consider authoring a book and that all anyone needs is a solid idea and a well-written pitch. He compares writing a manuscript to writing an extremely long article, but due to space constraints and the intense editing process commonly found at magazines, he says, book writing is easier.
In Steiner’s opinion, a side project like a book (or a blog or documentary) is important. “It always keeps your fire lit no matter how disappointed or unengaged you are at your everyday job.”
After finishing school at the University of Illinois, Steiner held jobs as a civil engineer in San Francisco and Park City, Utah. Unsatisfied by the formulaic nature of his work, he applied to graduate programs, intending to enroll in business school. But a last minute change of heart brought him to Medill instead.
“I wasn’t in love with the idea of journalism or reporting or breaking a story,” Steiner says. “I said to myself, ‘I like to write. And who writes? Journalists write.’”
Post-Medill, Steiner was interning at the Tribune, where he wrote a front page story about McDonald’s push into the late night arena. The story eventually landed him a job at Forbes,
“There was a guy at Medill—I don’t remember who it was—who said, ‘I don’t like writing, but I enjoy having written.’ I think that’s pretty much true,” Steiner says. “When I sit down to write, it’s excruciating. But after I finish it off, I feel really good.”