Next time you crack open a fortune cookie, spare a thought for retired fortune writer Russell Rowland, America’s most widely read (and poorly paid) author.
How did you become a fortune cookie writer? I was working at a small printing company. One day this man showed up, asking if anyone wanted to write fortune cookies. He needed 700 of them. I offered 25 cents per fortune and he countered with 30c.
Was it a tough gig? The first 200 were kind of fun, but after a while you just run out of clever things to say. Eventually I was paraphrasing famous thinkers and shuffling goofy clichés.
What’s the secret to a good fortune? Fortunes need to be broad enough that they won’t offend anybody. I tried to do some more philosophical stuff, throwing in a few pithy sayings about the meaning of life, that kind of thing.
Are your fortunes still in circulation? As far as I know. There are only two companies that write fortunes, and these days they just get recycled over and over again. I’m probably the most widely read – and widely unknown – author in America.
This Q&A appears in volume 33 of Smith Journal. You can pick it up here.