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Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga on Getting Published

January 15, 2008

MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT is my debut book, but is actually the fifth novel I have tried to get published. When I took a job as a technical writer in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s, I found that many of my co-workers wrote fiction on the side. This inspired me to take a creative writing class at a community college where I began writing short stories about my experiences with Japanese culture. They were well received in my classes and after many rejections I managed to eventually get some of these stories published in a few small literary journals. The next step seemed to be to write a novel—how hard could it be? I had trusted readers and friends read Novel #1 and they all assured me that I was on the road to publication. I confidently sent out Novel #1 to a good fifty agents who all rejected it soundly, mostly via form letters.

I was not deterred, however, and wrote Novel #2, which was called NO KIDDING. Again, I was rejected by every agent I sent it to, though this time I got a few encouraging comments. I’d heard that author M.J. Rose had scored a major book deal by self-publishing her first novel, so I decided to self-publish NO KIDDING through iUniverse, the premier POD publisher at the time. The book ended up placing in the Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Book Awards in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category. Surely, I thought, an agent would snap it up now, but the rejection letters piled up further.

With Novel #3 I finally scored representation by an agent who represented a writer friend who had passed my manuscript on to him. This agent received rejections from every editor he contacted. He half-heartedly pitched Novel #4, but it was quickly dead in the water. “If this were a few years ago, you’d be on the shelves,” he told me. “Fiction is an extremely hard sell these days. There’s nothing more I can do for you.”

All along I’d been workshopping my novels and consulting with teachers and writing experts. I knew my craft was improving, but I still couldn’t get anywhere in the publishing world. And I knew from reading the deals on Publisher’s Marketplace that debut novelists were still getting published despite my former agent’s negative assessment. So once more I was sending out queries for Novel #5, which was MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT. I had some close calls with a few agents, but no offer of representation came until about eight months later when I finally got an offer from the wonderful agent I have now. Six weeks after signing with her I had a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Griffin. All the hard work and perseverance over the years had finally paid off.

About Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga was born and raised in San Francisco. Her short stories have appeared in The Abiko Literary Quarterly Review, The Plaza, and Yomimono, among others. She has worked as a technical writer and editor, an executive producer for children’s Web sites, and is the author of two nonfiction children’s books. She lives in Half Moon Bay, California with her Osaka-born surfer-dude husband, Manabu Tokunaga. Drawing on her extensive experience studying the Japanese language and culture; living, working, and playing in Japan; and her cross-cultural marriage, Tokunaga wanted to explore the theme of why some people feel the need to trade in their native culture for a new one. “Like my character Midori, my husband also felt like a stranger in a strange land in his native country of Japan. When he left for the United States at age eighteen to attend college, he found that he felt much more at home here and never returned.” Tokunaga is currently a student in the MFA in Writing Program at University of San Francisco and is working on her second novel for St. Martin’s Griffin about an American woman who unexpectedly finds herself in Tokyo and ends up discovering a family secret.

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