The Search for an Agent

2015 BelieveAfter self-publishing two novels, selling a novel and a short story collection to small presses, and winning a nationwide contest to have my memoir published, I am again seeking a literary agent to represent me in my next project: a contemporary romance.

I finished the manuscript with my daughter in 2014. I resurrected the search for an agent after receiving unfavorable offers directly from two publishers and being unable to successfully negotiate a fair contract for all.

Since I started querying agents, I’ve had a few rejections. The ones filled with kind words keep my spirits up and my stamina strong.

My favorite rejection came from a literary agent who reviewed and responded to my extensive fiction proposal that included not only the standard cover letter, synopsis, and first three chapters, but also a biographical summary of who I am and what I’ve accomplished to a detailed marketing plan and competitive analysis with other titles in the same genre. The agent said, “I found it (the manuscript) fun, the pacing nice, and the main character likeable, but unfortunately I am looking for a more tightly formulated romance right now.”

Not tightly formulated? No problem. A publisher in the United Kingdom wrote, “Don’t give up—it only takes one publisher, one day, at the right moment.” I’m hoping that saying also applies to finding the right literary agent.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing that non-formula anti-romance that I know no one will want to represent unless they have the courage to fight for a new genre.

Nuggets of Time

After publishing five books, no one asks, “When do you find time to write?” Instead, I am asked, “When is the next book coming out?”

No one wonders about the process, just the end product. No one assumes I work a day job, raise a family, or have other responsibilities. After all, most successful authors devote their working hours to writing and promoting their books.

But my story is a little different.

When a family is divided, the responsibilities multiply. I went from supporting one household to supporting two households. I went from caring for two children to five children. Everything in my life seemed to increase instead of decrease, except for time.

I’m learning to sacrifice things I have never sacrificed before so I have nuggets of time to write.

And still, the muse is not satisfied.

But I cannot quit my job, abandon my families, and run away to a writer’s retreat for 12 weeks to pound out a first draft. I must stick to these small wedges of time—five minutes here, two minutes there—to develop my next story even if it takes months to get the job done.

Starting a New Chapter


I have started writing my next novel.

An idea surfaced during a conversation with my boyfriend and his mother. I jotted it down in the memo pad on my cell phone and continued chopping vegetables.

The next day I woke up and heard the main character’s voice. I grabbed my notebook and began taking dictation.

The following day I wrote down other tidbits as they surfaced: memories and character sketches, scenes and dialogue, timelines and deadlines.

By the fourth day, I had enough to start my next book.

I wrote the first scene of chapter one today, and I’m thrilled.

It’s good to be writing professionally again.

Beyond the Page

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks fielding the fallout that comes after a divorce. From the public comments of “She’s a sicko to celebrate a divorce!” and “Who gets rid of a husband after 24 years of marriage?” to the private comments that cannot be repeated, I have been struggling to reconcile the image of who I am with the truth of who I am.

As novelists, we try to convey the emotional truth through the lives of our characters, whether they are protagonists or antagonists. We use the tools of our trade to create the depth needed to gain a reader’s sympathy or understanding. If we succeed, then our books resonate with our audience.

Once we step beyond the page, we novelists become just people, no different than the clerk in the grocery store you don’t give a second thought to once you check out or the aunt you text once a week to see if she’s okay. We are three dimensional people with three dimensional lives making three dimensional decisions, but we are sometimes treated like one dimensional caricatures by strangers, acquaintances, or people who say they love, support, and understand us.

Not everyone has the ability to walk in another person’s shoes and feel their pain, their longing, their hopes, or their fears. But as a writer, I would hope there are more people who are acutely aware and chronically compassionate, people who would never say, “There’s something wrong with them for behaving in a certain way,” not because they agree with our actions, but because they can see beyond their own sphere of beliefs, mores, and judgments.

Maybe this is part of the curse of being a writer. You become stuck in a world of make believe. You know anything is possible because you can create it. Good and evil. That’s why you persist in going forward through the thicket of protestors who cannot see beyond the image. You keep the faith because you know the emotional truth of who we are and why we’re here and how we are united.

Intensely Personal

I’ve spent the first half of my life as a confessional writer, beginning with the poetry I wrote in high school and ending with the memoir that was published last year.

Now I don’t feel like sharing my intimate writing with the world anymore.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, but that everything I want to express is too close to the bone, too personal, without that professional distance even a confessional writer needs.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m writing a lot, every other day, even though I feel like I could write all the time, only my schedule does not allow it, at least for now while I’m preoccupied with other things that are temporarily more important.

Does that mean my professional writing is postponed a little while longer? I don’t know. I’ve spent the last week reaching out to old contacts who had requested articles and essays and short stories from me. I’ve let people know I’m back, but I’m not anxious. I’ve already begun to write that slow, painful dance of trying to contain the emotions that are spilling onto the paper and rein them in as words. Most days I spend crying when I’m not writing. After all, I have 20 pounds of emotions to purge from the previous year. It’s not going to happen overnight.

From experience, I know when I’m done I’ll be a better person and a better writer, deeper, clearer, more empathetic than I already am. And, hopefully, the words will become less personal and more professional, and I’ll be ready to publish again.

My Apology

I’m sorry for disappearing.

I should have told you the truth sooner. Maybe you would have understood. I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I was just unable to write.

For over the last year, I’ve been embroiled in the process of ending 23 years of marriage to my biggest fan.

I pushed through the first six months, propelled by the sales and marketing campaign for my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, and the resulting nationwide book tour. But when I returned to California last November, I stopped writing. I would pick up a pen, but I could not find the words to express what was going on or what I felt or needed to say. I could not tell a story, write a poem, or compose a letter. I thought my writing days were over, that I had done what I needed to do, and that my career was finished.

But once my ex-husband signed the final marital settlement agreement, I felt my spirit lighter and my attitude brighter. The first half of my adult life was over. I was free to start again.

Instantly, the words returned.

The first thing I wrote was an apology to you, my fans, my community of readers, my extended family.

I want to thank my ex-husband for the gifts he gave me. For 25 years he protected me, cared for me, guided me, and partnered with me. He helped me grow up and into the woman I am today. He read every story I handed to him, encouraged me to continue on the writing journey despite rejection letters and other setbacks. He never said, “Quit. Get a real job.” I will always cherish those memories of unconditional love and support.

I admit I failed him. I broke his trust and his heart. I didn’t give in and I eventually gave up.

It’s always been difficult for me to write a good ending. That was my ex-husband’s specialty. Getting those last few words right. He isn’t here to do that anymore. It’s one of the many skills I am going to have to learn going forward.

And that’s alright because you’re here with me. We’ll help each other, one word at a time.

The Next Project

During my book tour, people asked, “What’s your next project?” I was honest, bouncing around some ideas I had and my conflicted feelings about committing to a larger work before I was ready.

Now that the tour has ended, I’ve painted a few paintings and written a few poems but again I wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, “What’s your next project?”

I’ve thought about the thriller I need to rewrite, the one that was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, the one in which I didn’t know how to proceed but now have the knowledge to continue. I’ve also thought about the romance I need to edit, the one that every editor and agent said was a solid idea, poorly executed. Could I work on that?

And then there is the exhaustion that comes after one projected has ended. How much time do you allow yourself before apathy creeps in and takes hold? Is one week enough? One month? Or do I need more time to recover?

I don’t have any answers to any of these questions, only more questions upon questions. That’s why I wake up every night and wonder how I will begin. That’s why I try to go back to sleep, to dream and rest and find that sense of sanity I lost when I was writing, promoting, and traveling.

And that’s how stories always begin. When I am not looking for that next project, the project seems to find me. It starts as one word, then another, until I have another manuscript unfolding in my hands. That’s when I’ll look up and say, “I know what my next project is.”

Four Must Haves for a Successful Book Tour

1. Hire a publicist. Not only should your publicist schedule your book events, she should also make your hotel and travel arrangements. This extra service is worth the expense, since it prevents missed opportunities. I only listened to half of this advice by hiring a publicist to arrange only the book signing events. Because my publicist did not plan my travel arrangements, I ended up being unable to reschedule one leg of my flight to take advantage of a last minute TV interview. If my publicist had managed the entire trip, this would not have happened.

2. Hire an author escort or roadie. An author escort meets you at the airport, takes you to your hotel, and drives you to the event. She may also highlight points of interest in each city and suggest places to go for meals. If you can’t afford an author escort, you can also hire a roadie who will carry your bags to and from the airport, drive you to your hotel and events, and take pictures for your website. The roadie won’t pack your suitcase, so you may still forget that beautiful angora sweater on the hotel duvet, which is exactly what I did.

My Roadie
My Roadie

3. Bring your own pen. Every bookstore manager asked, “Where’s your pen?” Not only was I unaware of the expectation that each author has a special book tour pen, I only carried those fine tipped ball point pens I use to jot down notes when inspiration strikes. If I had known better, I would have purchased a red fine tipped felt pen for autographing books – red to emphasize the title and the message of happiness.

4. Bring your own bottled water. Most bookstores supplied water, but the schools I visited did not. You do not want to lean over a water fountain with a highway of students pushing and shoving down the halls between periods in the hopes of quenching your thirst. It does not work. If I had brought my own water, I would have been less hoarse and tired after giving 5 presentations in one day.

Best Book Launch Party

From left to right:  authors Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Angela Lam, and Jan Ogren
From left to right: authors Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Angela Lam, and Jan Ogren
I had a great time at Best Wishes! Cards, Gifts, and US Post Office in Santa Rosa visiting with long time fans and friends at the book launch party for Red Eggs and Good Luck.

Special thanks to Carol Lueck for hosting the event. She makes every occasion warm and wonderful just like her store–the best place to buy one-of-a-kind gifts, mostly locally made, and easy to ship from the onsite USPS service station.

It’s been a long and glorious trip, full of adventures I’ll cherish forever. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Not even the crying babies on the two-and-a-half hour flight from Washington DC to Chicago. It’s all been good.

Most of all, it’s good to be home!

Visit to Green Apple Books

Featured Reader of the Night
Featured Reader of the Night

I had a wonderful time in San Francisco reading from Red Eggs and Good Luck and discussing growing up biracial during the Great American Melting Pot and autographing books for readers. I especially enjoyed the lively discussion with readers who shared the same upbringing that I did. They have inspired me to continue to tell my stories.

Signing Books for Readers

Special thanks to my publicist, Eva Zimmerman, for arranging the event and the entire staff of Green Apple Books for making my visit memorable.

Only one more stop on my nationwide book tour…stay tuned.