Screenshot of the first page of the manuscript, March 2017

Screenshot of the first page of the manuscript, March 2017

A few minutes after we landed in Toronto for the second time, Mark announced he needed to pee.

Fair enough. I took him to the bathroom but as soon as he saw the woman stick figure on the toilet sign, he started to complain and refused to follow me in because he is a “man.”

“Look, Mark. I’m not going to the men’s and if you’re coming with me, then we use the women’s. Unless…”

I paused to do the quick risk assessment most parents perform on a daily basis when confronted to a new situation.

“… unless you want to go by yourself. Do you just need to pee?”

He nodded.

“Then go ahead, use the men’s. I’ll wait for you at the door.”

Airport washrooms are clean and the arrival hall was empty. I was fairly confident precious snowflake and his bladder would return safely.

“Are you okay Mark?” I called from the door a couple of minutes later.

I didn’t hear a flush. Instead, I saw Mark walking out, a sheepish look on his face.

“Well, did you go?”



“THE MEN! The other men! They’re gonna laugh at me!”

“Oh, Mark… nobody is going to laugh at you. I mean, people may be surprised to see a small… ahem, young man alone in there, but that’s it. Eh, you have as much right as them to be here and use the bathroom!”

Well, today I am Mark, self-conscious and afraid to move forward because I may be laughed at. Yet, now that I announced my project, I’m committed to carry through on it.

This is the starting point. I have a completed work of fiction and I want it to be read. On one side, the manuscript, finished. On the other… the jungle, a scary world of agents, publishers and everything in between.

At this stage, I know what I am looking for: I’m reaching out to a team of professionals to get a stamp of approval or disapproval.

If printing out copies of the manuscript and handing them out to commuters, the way Metro is distributed sounds a bit too extreme, there seem to be three options for average people who have a manuscript in hand.

First are vanity publishers, companies that charge authors to have their book published. In this business model, the book doesn’t go through an approval or editorial process and many of these companies will print anything for money—that is, the author’s money. In a way, there are similar to diploma mills. It may be a good option if you just want to get a hard copy of your memoirs but I’m not interested because first, there is no selection criteria, second, I don’t have a few thousands to spare.

A much more legit option is self-publishing where authors set their own royalties and control the publishing process. In a market where traditional publishing is hurting, it’s often seen as a valid, modern and easier alternative. I may have considered if I had written non-fiction, for instance a how-to-do-Canada guidebook.

However, for this particular work, I’m not interested in self-publishing. Why? Because I don’t want to control of the entire process, including the design of the cover and interior, formats, price, distribution, marketing, and public relations. If I learned anything over the past few years is that it’s okay to ask for help. We are raising Mark without much of a support network, we are both self-employed… hell, even when I blog I have to be a writer/techie/developer/photographer/designer! For this book project, I want to be part of a team of experts.

Remember: I work as a freelance translator, editor, copywriter and proofreader. I’ve edited and proofed entire non-fiction books authored by people way more knowledgeable and talented than me. I corrected their typos, highlighted inconsistencies and rewrote entire paragraphs. And I was paid and thanked profusely for the work. I would like my book to go through the same process.

I’m not going to hire freelancers to work on my book. I’m not going to spend the next few years trying to sell it, one copy at the time. This is not my job. I don’t want to do this job.

Instead, I want to reach out to people who know the business, who can improve the book and market it.

It’s going to be tough.

I feel like an 18-year-old moving to LA to become an actress—oh, gee babe, newsflash… the world isn’t waiting for you!

Yet, I have nothing to lose.

Time to work on the query letter, then.


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  1. Martin Penwald March 28, 2017 at 9:10 am

    About self-publishing : you can’t advance the money, but maybe you could consider a crowd funded campaign, something like the cartoonist Laurel is doing for her current book. The difficulty is to evaluate the real cost of all the process before launching it. And it is not always sure to reach the goals, which can hit self esteem.

    And gendered bathrooms are stupid. Have you seen the bathroom bills in the deep south ?

    1. Zhu March 28, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      To be honest, money isn’t even the first issue that comes to mind. I just don’t want to fully manage the process. I want a team behind me. Hey, I may change my mind again after a thousand rejections letters… but meanwhile, I have nothing to lose!

      Gendered bathrooms are stupid. I often use the men’s when there is a long lineup for the women’s…

      1. Martin Penwald March 29, 2017 at 4:48 pm

        It is the only reason I don’t want it changes. It is so convenient not to wait to go to the restroom. 🙂

  2. Frenchie au Canada March 28, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Whoop whoop! congratulations, how exciting!
    My offer to read it still stands.
    And if I were you I would try to network. You already know some writer, they might be able to help. And we have some writers who come to speak at local events about the writing/publishing world and how it works. I’m sure you can find something similar in Ottawa? Et il y a des salons du livre pour les nouveaux auteurs avec the big 6 (or was it the big 3?) with all the big Canadian publishers that might be worth visiting or checking out to get the names of serious agents.

    1. Zhu March 28, 2017 at 10:51 pm

      Fuck, tu veux dire? 😉

      Your suggestions are great! This is awesome because I’m so into the project, I’m also forgetting the basics. Unfortunately, I really don’t have anyone to reach out to because most of the authors I know work in a niche (non-fiction and academic), it’s another world. Taking note for industry events…

      … et je prends aussi note de ton offre, encore une fois. J’avance, je sais pas trop où je vais, pour le moment je fonce mais c’est possible que je demande de l’aide en chemin 😉

  3. Lexie March 28, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I cross my fingers !!! J’ai lu aussi qu’il pouvait être intéressant de sélectionner les maisons d’édition qui t’intéressent, celles qui semblent correspondre à ton style d’écriture ou d’histoire.

    1. Zhu March 28, 2017 at 10:55 pm

      Oui, c’est ce que j’essaie de faire en ce moment. Je ferai rapport sous peu 🙂

  4. Christine March 28, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    I worked at a very small publishing company when I was at university. They publish books written in French.

    It’s owned by an older couple and they are still totally old-school from what I can see on their website! They are on Saint-Patrick in Ottawa.

    I’m reading a book right now that’s self-published. I received it as a gift. I don’t know how well this is going for the author or how expensive it was for her.

    Good luck!

    1. Zhu March 28, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      I’ve just looked it up and there is a slight issue : I’m technically a French writer but… ahem, the book is in English 😆 Yes, I like to make things complicated 😆

      I worked a block from Saint Patrick for a few years and I think I may have met the couple, actually. I’m going to look at their catalogue, it’s interesting to see how they work. Did you enjoy your time there? What did you do?

  5. Gagan March 30, 2017 at 2:58 pm



    It is a big step 🙂 I am happy to hear that you are doing this.

    1. Zhu March 30, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  6. Holly March 30, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    I have been a at for too long…this is exciting! I look forward to hearing more 🙂

    1. Zhu March 30, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      I’m looking forward for news from you! I tried to access your blog but got a weird error message… is it private? Are you still blogging?

  7. Jeruen March 31, 2017 at 4:32 am

    Wow, this is a project! Good luck!

    I’ve never dabbled in non-academic publication: all of the manuscripts I published in the past were all scientific articles, and the publication process for that was tiresome. After submission, and the reviews, and the revisions, and the proofreadings, and the whole process takes a year or more. By the time it actually comes out, I feel like it’s lightyears away from when I actually did the research I was reporting. :/

    1. Zhu March 31, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      I’m often involved in this long process as an editor or proofreader so I’m not surprised!

      How did you submit your articles? Are you sending queries like in the nonacademic world?

      1. Jeruen April 1, 2017 at 2:36 am

        In scientific journals, articles are submitted by sending the manuscript (which should be formatted according to the journal’s requirements) and a cover letter to the editor in chief, explaining what the article is about, and why it is appropriate to the journal. Researchers tend to aim for high-prestige journals first, if the paper is declined, then you move down a notch. The editor in chief reads it, and if s/he agrees it is a match with the journal, then assigns an action editor, and the action editor will then search for 2 or more referees to read and comment it. The comments will be gathered (which takes minimum 3 months, but I’ve had a case where we waited a year), and depending on the comments, the action editor will decide if the paper will be accepted, needs revisions, or denied. Most need revisions, so you have to revise it, and then the referees read the revised version again. Hopefully it is accepted after the revisions, but sometimes another minor revision stage is needed. Once it is accepted, then it goes to proofreading and typesetting, where sometimes the journal inserts weird errors and the author has to correct it. Then it gets published, but the journal typically has an embargo period, where the article is available as a PDF online but without a volume and page number yet. This lasts about a year.

        1. Zhu April 2, 2017 at 12:15 am

          Thank you for the detailed answer! It’s really interesting for me to reader from another perspective (the writer) and in another industry. I caught a glimpse of it as someone part of the process, that’s it.


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