My name is Stephanie Chen and I am a 2nd generation Taiwanese American. Like many of my peers, I followed a prescribed path towards success: studied hard, got good grades, went to an Ivy League college. I studied finance and after graduation, started a job at a top-tier investment bank. I then joined an investment fund, where I eventually became a partner. However, if you had asked me when I was in the 6th grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said “a writer”. In early 2017, a post on this very website took me down the path to following that dream. In just a few short months, it felt as though my life had changed completely. Follow me on my journey–the new challenges, the overwhelming uncertainties, the small, but cumulative successes–to becoming a published author.
Revisit Part 1: How It Began. http://www.taiwaneseamerican.org/2017/05/writing-journey-1/
Revisit Part 2: Is It Good Enough? Dealing with Self-Doubt. http://www.taiwaneseamerican.org/2017/06/writing-journey-2/
How did all those books on the shelves get published? How long did it take? Being a writer required a tremendous amount of patience, I realized. Weeks had gone by since I sent out the numerous queries to agents about my book. As I waited for replies, I read a lot, sometimes two or three books a day, studying the prose, the plot, the characters, with a different eye than I had in the past. I wondered how my book measured up to these, already published ones.
I did get one hit, from an agent that represented a Singaporean author now living in the US. I had actually written her off, as (1) she was way too big to be interested in a little, no-name writer like myself, and (2) my query email to her actually contained a typo, which I discovered in horror two minutes after I had sent it. To my great surprise, she actually replied back with a pleasant, “I would be happy to read this. Please send me the full manuscript as a Word doc.” I was ecstatic, and spent the morning re-reading the whole thing before shooting it off to her, starting the clock for more waiting.
I should be networking, my friends told me. Unfortunately, as I had worked in the financial industry my whole adult life, I had very limited connections in the literary world. Still, I tried, emailing friends and colleagues, asking for advice, introductions to other writers, agents, publishers, anyone that might be connected to my new profession. It was a position I was not used to being in; my previous career path had been well-defined: get a job, perform a set of defined tasks, collect a paycheck.
A friend had published a cookbook, so I asked her how she went about it—did she have an agent, I asked. “Sorry, the publisher approached me,” she replied. Apparently, one needs to be already famous to publish a book.
Through Facebook, I wrote to the mother of a former classmate of my daughter’s, whom I knew was a published poet and essayist, inviting her for lunch or coffee. The message showed “seen,” but she did not write back.
Another friend introduced to me to a British author, who was also living in Singapore, and she invited me to join The Singapore Writers’ Group. I attended my first meeting, where a few people took turns reading out loud pieces of their writing, and everyone else provided comments. I imagined having to take my turn; would I be able to take being evaluated in an open forum?
If you grew up like I did, you probably did not get the constant praise that parents, myself included, shower on our children these days. I have almost no recollection of my parents ever saying “Good job,” never mind if I had actually done a good job or not. It wasn’t something that I felt had been missing in my life, though; it just hadn’t been a thing in our household back then. Now, however, I found myself craving approval from my friends and family with respect to my writing. When they started sending comments on my book, I re-read every one, often peppering them back with more questions. What did they think about the ending? Did they think the book would appeal to a broad market? What parts didn’t they like?
Somewhere along the way, I sent one of the essays I had written to my father, who is also a part-time writer (mostly about Taiwan—here’s a link to a recent article, if you can read Chinese). He replied, “Your article is excellent.”
I turned to my husband, saying, “My dad thought my article was excellent! I think that might be the first time he’s ever said that about something I did!”
I researched the Singapore publishing market and learned that writers often go directly to publishers rather than through an agent. I made a list of the largest publishers and saw that several had submission guidelines posted on their websites, but many offered no information. I sent Facebook messages, getting responses from two of them at 11 p.m. with instructions on how to submit. I sent the query letters and resumed the waiting.
The rejections started coming in, and it was difficult to bear.
“…while I admire your writing very much, I never felt sucked in the way that I would want to.”
“I thought the writing style was very clear and assured, but… I don’t think this is the right fit for me.”
“Although your prose requires little line editing and reads very well…”
“Unfortunately, the piece is not for us…”
After feeling depressed and dejected, I was surprised that I actually appreciated the rejections; at least they took the time to reply. The non-responses were the worst—my query hanging out there, lost in the electronic slush pile of an agent’s inbox.
Then, one morning as I was sitting at a coffee shop waiting for my dog to get a haircut, I received a message through Facebook (turns out Singapore publishers really are quite casual).
“Hi Stephanie – can you give me a call at [phone number] when you get a moment please? Many thanks.”
I held my breath as I made the call.