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I Need Your Help—And a Better Strategy

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 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 an 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, 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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