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I Sign My First Book Contract

After almost a decade of blogging full time I found myself with my first book deal.

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I am 32 years old, I just signed my first book contract. It’s for the Asian Arguments series at Zed Books, and the manuscript is set to be completed by March. This deal has been in progress for the past three months, and now it’s official, the dotted line has been signed.

You sometimes hear these stories about some blogger who was picked from the masses like a gold fish being scooped from a tank of hundreds of other nearly identical peers and presented with a book contract with a good publisher. This is perhaps a fantasy for new bloggers firing up their first .blogspot.com, but it’s a fantasy that dies fast after a year or two of bashing impotent missives into the brick wall of an over-stimulated, under-amused public. It’s something that has happened before, sure, but it’s not something that really happens.

“You’re like some teenage girl trying to get discovered by a modeling agency in a mall,” my wife once scornfully tried to cauterize my blogging practice. Well, that sort of happened.

I have been blogging full time since 2005. This habit first began as a training ground for the books that I would someday write. Then I began making money, and after a few years cultivated a readership far beyond the number of books I could ever dream of selling. The priority of being an author was pushed down by the day to day workload of running websites until I just about lost site of it in the mire. Though I’ve been working on many books on a wide range of topics for years, until recently none had yet gained much inertia. Some, like the A – Z perpetual travel manual, felt like outright chores, others had topics too far outside the range of general public interest to warrant much time input, while others I was just writing because I knew they would make money. In all cases, working on them felt like dragging logs through a forest. Sure, I could move them alright, but that doesn’t mean their going very fast. Partially, this was out of personal preference: when presented with the option of writing a blog post or article, clicking the publish button, and getting my daily dose of fulfillment, I generally found myself putting the books, which are not so immediately gratifying, off. I almost became secure in my identity as an internet writer — losing sight of what this entire project was supposed to be preparation for. I sat back, sighed, and accepted my position. Then Paul French wrote.

The subject heading of the email said “Chinese Ghost Cities.” It was an invitation to write a book for a series he edits at Zed.

I found no reason to waste thought in deliberation, and responded immediately. I was in — of course. I then spent the night wondering if he’d made some kind of error. His other writers have advanced degrees from high ranking universities, they are professors, they are journalists for big publications. My wife put an end to this fast: “No, I’m sure he wanted the other guy hanging out in ghost cities.” Fair enough.

The next day Paul wrote back telling me to submit a proposal. Two weeks later I had a draft of one finished. It passed it on to the commissioning editor at Zed, she gave it initial approval, and then the wheels began spinning — I made it into the peer review process.

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For the past three months I’ve been working on this book and going through the process of getting it published. The peer review process was a touch brutal. My proposal was torn to shreds by a British university professor, but the criticisms were all dead on. I picked up the pieces, twisted them around, patched them back together, reinforced the seams, and ended up with a sturdier model which received final approval from the publisher. I was sent a contract, I signed it, and now I wake up each morning scared shitless.

But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it. -Seth Godin

Filed under: Travel Writing, Vagabond Journey Updates

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

5 comments… add one

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  • J January 7, 2014, 6:54 pm

    “You’re like some teenage girl trying to get discovered by a modeling agency in a mall,”…
    wow congrats wade! did the wife change her tune once you signed on the dotted line? you and andy are the only travel bloggers i truly respect…

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    • Wade Shepard January 7, 2014, 7:46 pm

      Now she thinks it’s a bad idea to stop doing the websites 🙂

      This quote came from very early on, before blogging really began making us any money, so what she said was pretty reasonable.

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  • Gerard January 8, 2014, 7:30 am

    Well done sir!

    I’ve been a fan for a while now of this blog.
    Very inspiring.
    I’m planning a ‘mini retirement’ next year, inspired by ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’
    By Tim Ferriss.
    Interestingly, the last book I bought was an audiobook called ‘Vagabonding’
    As it was recommended by Tim on his blog,
    Then I realised he bought the rights and published it himself!


    In the above post, he signs off saying he is looking for submissions from authors,
    Publishers and agents for his Tim Ferriss book club.
    I think you guys should talk.

    As he writes often often about alternative living, income streams and the finance of perpetual travel,
    I feel he would like the ‘Independent Travel Work’ series of yours,
    I’d buy a collection of those in a PDF ebook right now!
    Those are very inspiring, would be great to see more like that, actual interviews would be cool for an audiobook even without the nuts and bolts of how to make it work in detail, and they explored some alternate options apart from the online business model of the 4HWW, but that is not to say they couldn’t compliment each other as you have.
    You reminded me that you can get work where you find it, or you can build your skillset and create work wherever you find yourself.



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  • Scott January 11, 2014, 12:34 pm

    Congratulations on your book deal! All your hard work paid off. Hope your book is as successful as the Harry Potter series, give or take a few million. But really the success is just doing what you love. Great news on hearing this. Continued success to you! Relax and enjoy the process.

    BTW: Your new site header is killer.

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    • Wade Shepard January 11, 2014, 9:08 pm

      Thanks Scott,

      Much appreciated. If the word “thousands” was used to describe book sales I’d probably jump for joy 🙂

      Thanks also for the feedback on the new header. I didn’t really know how it was being received.

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