SDSU Writers’ Conference: Memoirist Shares His 18-Year Journey to Publication

Raymond M. Wong

Raymond M. Wong, author of the memoir, I’m Not Chinese: The Journey from Resentment to Reverence

If you’re a writer with a dream, get one step closer to becoming a writer with an agent by attending the SDSU Writers’ Conference.

Through a wealth of invaluable information, which includes the conference’s groundbreaking 1:1 appointments with editors and agents, you’ll shave years off the learning curve on both your writing skills and your strategy for getting published. You’ll also have three days of networking opportunities with top-tier industry professionals.

Keynote speakers are New York Times best-selling, multi-genre author Jonathan Maberry, a four-time Bram Stoker Award winner and zombie expert; and Chip MacGregor, literary agent and president of MacGregor Literary Inc., a full-service, West Coast literary agency. Maberry will draw on his experiences as a published writer since 1978 to share how optimism and business savvy trump fear and negativity; MacGregor will share his perspective on how authors, editors and agents fit into the changing world of publishing.

Among the many info-packed workshops is Raymond M. Wong’s Passion and Persistence, on Saturday, Jan. 24.  It took Wong 18 years to publish his memoir, I’m Not Chinese: The Journey from Resentment to Reverence. In this breakout session, he’ll discuss the driving motivation for his memoir and how he placed his book with a small press without an agent.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak at the SDSU Writers’ Conference,” said Wong. “It’s part of my journey as a writer. I have a chance to talk to other writers about my memoir, the process of writing, the road to publication, and the power of passion and persistence. This helps me get my story and message out to others.”

Were you a prolific reader as a child? What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader? 
I loved reading as a child. I liked comic books, mostly Marvel comics such as Nova, Iron Man, and Thor. I admired Thor’s nobility and the fact he carried a big hammer! Iron Man’s shiny armor was beyond cool, and Nova was this teenage hero who could jet through the sky faster than a speeding rocket. Oh how I wished I could fly!  I also read children’s sports novels by Matt Christopher, and I began reading science fiction as a teen.

Were you an avocational writer well before you wrote your memoir?
Not really. I started my memoir in 1996. In the early 1990s, I enrolled in some creative writing classes at Grossmont College and was bitten by the writing bug. At that time, I wrote mostly short fiction, and I recall my first creative writing teacher, Glenda Richter, telling me I had a good ear for dialogue but relied too much on it in my short stories. She was right.

I’ve been writing ever since, so probably about 20 something years. I’ve done some journalistic writing for the U-T and published some articles and op-ed pieces in various newspapers and magazines, but narrative writing has always been my favorite kind of writing.

I cannot say I’ve had mountains of success getting stories published, and I’ve certainly experienced my share of rejections, but I have had a few notable acceptances outside of my memoir. One of my personal essays ran as a Father’s Day tribute in USA Today, and I’ve had five stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, with a sixth on the horizon.

Where does the pursuit of your MFA in Creative Writing fit into the timeline of writing your memoir?
Fairly recently. I started the MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles in 2011 and completed it in 2013. Antioch is a low-residency program which means you have five intensive 10-day residencies sandwiched between project periods with a writing mentor and a genre cohort group. My specialization was creative nonfiction.

How does the SDSU Writers’ Conference fit into your journey?
I attended the conference in 2001 and had face-to-face meetings with two editors. I even have the green Advance Reading Appointment Comment Sheets. I see my own comment in pencil at the bottom of one of the sheets reminding myself to send three chapters to the editor. I didn’t land a contract through that process, but I received some encouraging feedback and this helped me to keep pushing forward.

Were you part of a critique group while writing your memoir or did you labor in solitude?
I was truly blessed to be in a writing group led by the late Ashley Geist, a gifted editor and group facilitator in Point Loma. A handful of writers met at her home on Sundays, and I received her feedback and the group’s for most of my memoir’s first draft.

In the 18 years it took to publish your memoir, were you querying agents all over the country?
I was querying whoever I could wherever they resided! Since many agents are in New York, I sent a lot of queries there, but I have been rejected by agents in other states, including California.

What percent of rejections were form letters versus ones that contained constructive feedback? Did you revise your memoir accordingly?
I received many more form rejections than ones with comments because I remembered feeling good whenever I received comments. Most agents seemed to be pretty careful about the fact that their opinions were theirs alone and I don’t recall a lot of specifics about changes they recommended. When I was working with an agent, we always received comments on my manuscript, but it didn’t seem to be the right fit or they didn’t feel enough of a passion for the story to take it on.

How did you build your platform as a writer?
This is something I still struggle with because my focus has been more on the craft of writing than the business end of it. When I began writing my memoir, I didn’t do so with the thought of how to market the book or how to build my brand as an author. I wrote the story because it interested me. However, I also know that I have to market my writing and, more importantly, myself if I’m going to get people to read my work.

I’m still in the process of building my platform, and I’m far from an expert in this or marketing. I think that just as the writing needs to come from who the writer is, the platform and marketing have to stem from the writer’s natural and genuine personality.

One of my goals is to get my book into college classes, so I contact Asian Studies, English, and Creative Writing instructors to see if I can do a presentation on campus or in their class.

You ultimately found success with a small press. How much does a small press help with promotion?
I can only speak from my experience with one small university press, and others may be different in how they handle promotion and marketing. Apprentice House was clear from the beginning that the majority of promotion and marketing would be handled by the author. They gave me a lot of input into the design of the book from interior layout to cover art to author photo to who would provide blurbs for my memoir.

They have been great about sending out advance reading copies to people I’ve provided, and they send copies of my book to contests I want to enter. When I need additional copies of my memoir, they ship them right away, and I receive them in a timely fashion.

I talked recently to the publisher about running a special promotion, and they lowered the price of my E-book from $6.99 to $.0.99 for the month of January, so they have been open to different marketing strategies.

I handle most of my own promotion and marketing, but from what I’ve heard, this isn’t very different from other small presses or even the bigger traditional publishing houses.

What advice would you give to unpublished memoirists?
Write your truth, polish it until it shines, then put unwavering energy into getting your story out into the world. There are no guarantees, but the journey, no matter how daunting, is worth it.

For more information about the SDSU Writers’ Conference, visit neverstoplearning.net/writers