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The Best Advice For Authors

How to make a living as a writer.

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Mary Soderstrom is the author of over 15 books — some of which, such as Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move, looks at the deep aspects of why we travel, and I consider her writing essential for any traveler. Her next book is called Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States, which I’m currently reading a draft of to provide a cover blurb.

Mary is an example of a successful author; she is someone who lives and travels off of the written word. But when I recently checked out Mary Soderstrom’s Goodreads page I found something interesting that really hit home. It was a response to a question: “What’s your advice for aspiring writers?”

Mary laid it out plainly:

“Whenever a young person asks me for advice, I say ‘hook up with a partner with a good day job.’ Writers who can live from their writing are few and far between. A partner who believes in you is a wonderful thing–and it helps when it’s time to put food on the table or a roof over your head.”

Writing is a Babe Ruth kind of profession. You either hit it out of the park or you strike out. There are stretches where I make good money; there are other stretches where I make next to nothing. The tenuous part is that you never know when you are entering either. There are rarely any signposts that say, “You are going to make a lot of money this week” or “Next month you’re not going to make shit.” It’s a tumultuous, unpredictable profession, and this is part of what I love about it: you work hard, publish, and sit back and watch what comes of it. Writing has taken me places I’ve never imagined, but it’s also left me with on the edge of penniless wondering how I’m going to get money for my family. Contrary to the writer’s reputation, it is a hopeful profession. Like gambling, you need to have this unalterable belief that the next hand is going to come up aces.

But also like gambling, it’s not the wins or losses that really matter. That’s just the justification for the game. What it’s really about is the process — that’s what you get hooked on, that’s why you sit still in a little room all by yourself for hundreds of hours typing, typing, typing. You do it because you like it. Money is just something that you can use to make everybody leave you alone.

My wife is not a writer. She’s not an artist. She’s not an entrepreneur. She’s a worker-bee. She likes formal employment. And regular paychecks. And knowing how much money she makes. She likes the appearance of security from the 9-5. She doesn’t like informal work or hustling a living — that’s just not who she is.

And because that’s just not who she is we’re a good fiscal pair. I’ve brought in $11,000 in a day once. I regularly write articles for corporate publications that pay between $800 and $1,100 a pop. Every once in a while I hit it big on Forbes — one time making over $4,000 from one story. But sometimes my monthly take is rather adolescent. I vacillate between man-the-provider and deadbeat with the regularity of the seasons … and it’s just part of the game of writing.

For years my wife taught at Montessori schools in China, and this was the time that our financial strategy materialized. It worked well. She’d take care of the baseline earnings and I’d add in the spikes. As Mary pointed out, this is the arrangement that the writer needs.

These past few years my wife hasn’t worked and I’ve been faced with coming up with most of our earnings. A certain about of anxiety was infused into my work, and it started seeming … like work. I began craving new paths.

Now my wife took a job in NYC. It pays reasonably well. But compared to the cost of living there I’m not quite sure how well. The hope is that we can again gain an equilibrium in earnings and I can go back to swinging for the fences.

Filed under: Authorship, Money, Travel Writing

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

7 comments… add one

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  • Rob June 1, 2019, 6:13 am

    Life is one day at a time, some of us can make a good guess at what that will bring and others have to wait and see.
    You guys are who your are… and it sounds like you and your wife have both bases covered!

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    • Wade Shepard June 1, 2019, 11:29 am

      Marriage is a partnership to obtain a string of goals. Viewing it sort pragmatically helps. Like I mentioned somewhere in that birthday post from this year, having set roles in a relationship and knowing that you rely on other people is definitely a positive that holds people together. All this bullshit pedastaling of being independent and not having to rely on others doesn’t, I feel, lead to happiness. You meet all of these expats who brag about how independent they are and how they don’t need anybody … they are also often the most miserable, bored people I’ve ever met.

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      • Wade Shepard June 1, 2019, 11:29 am

        But then there are people like Trevor and Andy who are as independent as they come but still seem pretty dang happy.

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        • Trevor June 1, 2019, 6:42 pm


          my bags r packed, i’m ready to go….

          thanks for the mention !;)

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          • Wade Shepard June 1, 2019, 7:12 pm

            Have fun out there. Let me know your waypoints.

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  • Mary Soderstrom November 19, 2019, 11:10 am

    Somehow I missed this post. Thanks again for writing the blurb for Frenemy Nations: it’s out, but, as you say, there is absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to make any money for anybody.
    The book is dedicated to my husband, “For Lee, of course.” He’s been there all the long road, even though he never reads anything I write (probably a good thing.)

    Do hope that you’re doing just fine now, adjusting to Queens and getting a bunch of interesting (possibly lucrative) projects lined up.

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    • Wade Shepard November 26, 2019, 4:54 pm

      You’re very welcome.

      This post actually got be in trouble with my wife. She didn’t seem to get that this is something that I admire and respect her for … but I guess it kind of made her look pretty lame. It wasn’t my intent, but that’s they way it goes when writing about life sometimes 🙂

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