Looking to unlock a door, Ottawa, May 2018

I’m walking down a dark hallway, trying every door. None of them open and I don’t have a key. I push the fire exit door, climb the stairs and get to the penthouse. Because it’s only accessible via a private elevator, the door is unlocked. I made it.

Okay, I’m not in a dark, deserted hallway trying to break into an apartment unit. I’m in my bedroom, in front of my computer. This was supposed to be a metaphorical illustration of the Chinese expression “.走后门”, zǒu hòumén or in English “going through the back door.”

It’s not as dirty as it sounds—Canadians call this “networking.”

Right now, I’m staring at my query master sheet and I think I need to find a better strategy because I’m going nowhere. I sent 13 query letters since April 2017. I received two rejection emails and the other 11 queries fell into a black hole. Yet, I don’t want to give up yet.

I understood the power of networking in 2008 when I hit a professional roadblock and unexpectedly found a new path. I was 25 and I had been teaching French as a second language for four years. I didn’t land my first “real” job through networking—I had stumbled upon it through sheer luck, pounding the pavement with a stack of resumes. It was a very cold month of February and the odds were in my favour since half of the city was snowbirding in Florida. I’m pretty sure I was granted informal interviews simply because managers were curious to meet the idiot who had fought through a blizzard to deliver a resume when applying by email was totally a thing.

“This is a perfect position for those entering the job market and those leaving it,” a sixty-something teacher liked to declare apropos of nothing. “But don’t stay too long in the job or you’ll get stuck.” Four years into teaching, I was nodding along. It was time for me to move on.

However, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Several language schools made me offers but I was tired of teaching. I considered going into photography but I didn’t think I could support myself financially. I started to apply for government jobs—a popular pastime for anyone between 20 and 45 in Ottawa—but I was almost hoping I would never get picked from a pool for one of these policy analyst roles, whatever that meant. Maybe this was the perfect time to go back to university and get a Canadian degree so that I wouldn’t have to explain my French university degree ever again (yes, I took Asian studies). I did take a few classes at the University of Ottawa but I didn’t enjoy the experience that much.  

And then, one day, a (back) door opened. One of my students was following my job search and he made me an offer. His colleague was getting married and the bride, who was working as a translator on Parliament Hill, was looking for her replacement to fill in during the wedding and honeymoon. “You should apply,” he suggested. “Your English is very good and I’m sure you can translate.” My student put us in touch. I took a translation test, went for an interview and the next thing I knew, I had a short-term contract, my own office, an employee pass and a very good salary. I still remember calling my mom from a payphone downtown Ottawa after getting the offer—I was ecstatic.

She found another job while on leave so I stayed as a permanent employee. Eventually, I quit—actually, the whole team did, it was a toxic work environment. But the “bride” who had hired me became one of my best friends. As a manager, she hired me as a freelancer for a while and several months later, she tipped me about a job opening—this is how I became editor-in-chief and gained more precious experience in my field (and discovered I hated managing people). Fast forward nine years, we’re both freelancing, trading tips on contracts, and helping each other’s when we’re swamped (and scheduling coffee dates when we’re not).

This is how I entered the world of translation—through a back door. Without this initial tip, without a bit of help along the way, I wouldn’t have found my career path. I didn’t even suspect I could make a living as a translator.

And now I’m trying to get my foot in the door of the publishing industry as a writer. Few people will pay attention to an unpublished writer but I have a story and I do think there’s a market for it. Hell, I wrote it. It’s not a project, it’s done.

If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that it doesn’t hurt to ask for help.

So here I am, very candidly asking for your help. The stats tell me this blog receives about 1,000 visits a day. I don’t know most of you. Maybe you work next door to a publisher, maybe you’ve heard of a publisher accepting non-solicited manuscripts, maybe you know an agent.

I welcome tips, names of agents or publishers, and ideas. I’ll do the rest.

So if you know someone who knows someone who would be interested in…

… in what, exactly?

In a 93,000-word Chinese-flavoured mystery featuring a cynical Canadian photojournalist, his naïve newcomer neighbour, a missing American and pragmatic Asian criminals. The manuscript is in English, it’s been edited and proofed and it’s ready, waiting for readers.

Thank you.

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  1. Isa May 14, 2018 at 6:57 am

    I wish I could offer you some help. Because I really want to read this novel now I know the pitch!
    Fingers crossed!

    1. Zhu May 15, 2018 at 2:02 am

      Thank you! Hey, that crossing fingers did work when I did it for you… so I believe in crossing-fingers magic!

  2. Bianca May 14, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Nothing would make me happier than yo see your work published and I would help you in a heart beat if only I could! Best of luck my dear Zhu never give up

    1. Zhu May 15, 2018 at 2:01 am

      Hey, I appreciate support as much as help! Thank you 🙂

  3. Diane May 14, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Congrats on writing your book! That’s quite a feat and I hope you’re proud of yourself. I’m proud of you. 😉

    I don’t know if you read Geraldine at The Everywhereist but she wrote at length about the book publishing process, questions with her agent, and a bunch more so maybe you’d find her posts helpful: http://www.everywhereist.com/tag/book-publishing/

    And if you don’t end up finding an agent, can you self-publish? I know nothing about the industry but I know you will find your way….

    1. Zhu May 15, 2018 at 2:04 am

      Thank you very much for the link! I started exploring and this is super interesting. Great tip, wouldn’t have found it without you!

      I don’t want to self publish for a number of reasons, the main one being that I feel I need professionals around for the adventure. I was part of the publishing process for a number of books (unfortunately, not the right kind of publisher for my stuff!) as an editor and proofreader and I can’t imagine publishing a book without these steps.

  4. I Say Oui May 14, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    Do you mention in your query letters the statistics of your blog readership? Although you haven’t published a book, publishers like to see that you have a built-in readership, and blogs count. You could mention that in your blog you write on themes that are present in your manuscript and that your writing appeals to a large amount of people who are interested in multicultural stories.

    1. Zhu May 15, 2018 at 2:08 am

      In the first five query letters, I didn’t. Then I started to include it because after all, this blog is also my portfolio. Great point! Now I’m not sure the stats are *that* impressive. Actually, I’m not sure the query letter is even read at this point… and I think that’s part of the challenge. I completely understand if the manuscript isn’t a good fit or if someone feels the story is weak, badly written, etc. Why not, after all! But not getting any feedback whatsoever leads me to believe that I the queries, mine and others, just end up in a drawer (or rather in a folder) somewhere.

      1. I Say Oui May 15, 2018 at 10:37 pm

        I wonder if a blog writer can get the attention of publishers through social media. I know a number of book publicists, at least, have their own individual accounts, which perhaps are more accessible that the book publishing companies’ main Twitter accounts. I don’t know what the etiquette is around that– just another thought.

        Or, I wonder, if you have any short stories or personal essays to submit to known publications or web sites, whether that could be another way to get your name in front of a larger public.

        Lol, well, I’m impressed by your stats.

        1. Zhu May 15, 2018 at 11:30 pm

          😆 Well, I’ve been around for ages… since 2005!

          I’m kind of trying spreading the word on Twitter this week, I’ll report back. I may try more targeted messages but like you said, I’m a bit worried about etiquette. “Author seeks publisher” sounds slightly pathetic already, add “stalker” and I’m reaching a new low 😆

          1. isa May 17, 2018 at 5:16 am

            I’m sorry to meddle into this conversation but I know of at least one blogger who managed to publish a novel thanks to her blog fan base (Mélissa Bellevigne). So at least in France, yep, totally possible!
            I’d say you use that leverage as well, Zhu!

          2. Zhu May 18, 2018 at 1:17 am

            Oh, meddle in, my friend, meddle in! 🙂 I’m going to check her out. I like happy stories where people reach their goal! Okay… I NEED them 😆

  5. Alan May 17, 2018 at 3:16 am

    I wish you luck in getting your book published.

    You might consider getting advice from a Writer in Residence at your local library.

    The Writer in Residence assists writers by providing:

    Writing advice and suggestions.
    Insight and assistance with all publishing phases: from research, to writing the first draft to publication.
    A professional critique of their work.

    Office Hours:

    Wednesdays 1:00 to 9:00 pm, Central Library
    To book a free, one-to-one manuscript consultation: email WIR@reginalibrary.ca

    The Regina Public Library Writer in Residence is Andrew Battershill. Maybe he could help or refer you to someone local if you don’t have one at the Ottawa Library. I looked but I didn’t see one listed.

    Andrew Battershill has an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. His first book, Pillow, was longlisted for the Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Award and his second novel, Marry,
    Bang, Kill, is scheduled for release in 2018.

    1. Zhu May 18, 2018 at 1:16 am

      This is an amazing suggestion! I’ve never heard of such program before. I didn’t see anything similar in Ottawa but I’m going to contact Andrew Battershill. Ho did you learn about this program?

  6. Lexie May 17, 2018 at 9:10 am

    And it’s really good! Right after reading it, one day I found myself starting a sentence like «oh wow this reminds me of a great book I read…» and when my friend, interested by the subject, asked me about the title and the place he could find the book, I was speechless. So please, make this happening! As one of the first readers, and a books lover, I need to.

    1. Zhu May 18, 2018 at 1:37 am

      Aaaww, thank you! The funny thing is, sharing the book was a great experience for me, one I valued more than I had thought at first. I realized the value of feedback, for a start. And support 🙂

  7. Alan May 18, 2018 at 3:17 am

    I was checking the due dates for my books when I noticed an ad for a new Writer in Residence. I immediately thought of your blog. Andrew Battershill’s term is up at the end of May so you will have to contact him soon.

    Goggle shows Writer in Residence for: Edmonton, Calgary, Sasktoon, Regina, Winnipeg, London, Hamilton and Toronto. So if Andrew leaves before a replacement is found, you still have other choices. He probably knows the other Writers in Residence anyway and can probably suggest someone else.

    History of the Program

    RPL is a staunch supporter of Canadian writers, and, in 1978, became the first public library in Canada to offer a Writer-in-Residence Program. RPL offered this valuable program to the Regina community on an annual basis from 1978 to 1991, through a 50 per cent funding grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

    Since that time, RPL administered and funded the program independently and continued to follow established Canada Council for the Arts guidelines in order to maintain the program’s continuity and credibility. When the Canada Council for the Arts Author Residencies Grant was re-established, Regina Public Library applied and was granted funding to continue the program. The Writer-in-Residence program is not being funded by the Canada Council for the Arts this year; however, RPL continues to follow their guidelines.

    I didn’t even know this until today. You tend to think that the larger cities would be the first with this type of program but Saskatchewan had the first socialist government in North America and pioneered Universal Health Care so I should not be surprised.

    1. Zhu May 19, 2018 at 2:06 am

      This is absolutely awesome, thank you again for this precious info and for thinking of me. I’m going to contact him early next week, after the long weekend.

      Incidentally, I thought of you last week because I was working on employment standards across Canada (I’m being sent all kinds of documents as a translator!) and I noticed Saskatchewan was really coming ahead in terms of paid time off, sick days, etc. Very interesting.

      I’ll follow up regarding contacting Andrew 🙂

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