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I’m Not a Unicorn

Ottawa, December 2017

I’m about to send my last two queries of the year. It sounds very final and dramatic, but after all, 2018 is right around the corner.

I guess I’m not a unicorn—you know, this person, who claims, a coy smile on her lips, that they just answered when opportunity came knocking. “Oh, I was sitting in this independent, neighbourhood coffee shop, working on my novel, when a publisher glanced at my screen and made me an offer, ah ah!”

Fine. My fault. That would never happen to me. I don’t write in coffee shops—I drink coffee in coffee shops.

I don’t have much to report eight months after emailing my first query letter. No follow-up, rejection or news. I did receive two automatic “thanks, got it, now move on and DO NOT BOTHER US” replies. Every time I check my spam folder, just in case, I see the usual Viagra and Cialis offers—this doesn’t do wonders for my mental health (and it’s clearly not what I need, marketing fail).

I shouldn’t be surprised. I know a thing or two about artistic endeavours. My father is a full-time artist, my mom studied tapestry weaving (?!) at the École des Beaux-Arts—in case you were wondering, yes, that’s where they met—, my sister is trying to break into acting in Paris and my brother is currently torn between completing his science PhD and going for a career in visual arts like my dad, knowing full well he doesn’t want the same kind of life my parents have (i.e. the broke kind). To me, they are all talented and successful. To the world, they are either hobbyists who really should get a proper job or strange cigarette smoking individuals, tortured by inner demons and possibly high on drugs. They are occasionally in the spotlight during an exhibition or when they get a bigger gig but they aren’t museums famous or Hollywood famous.

So yeah, I know that despite hard work, chances of socially acceptable success are slim.

You’d be surprised how normal artists and performers are. You’d be surprised to see their art is a job, a true full-time job.

I also know that few people wake up one morning and decide to “become an artist” for money or fame. Artists don’t create because they want to but because they have to. Expressing something through art gives them a sense of fulfilment and happiness, much like having power, autonomy, and status appeals to executives.

I knew all this. I’m not feeling discouraged, I’m not disappointed—I just feel stuck. I was ready for rejection. If you get rejected, you can improve or decide to give up. But what can you do when you’re being ignored? Is the query letter boring? Are the first few pages of the manuscript awful? Am I reaching out to the right people? Are unsolicited queries even read at all? I feel like a fool. Is everyone going through a Chinese “hòumén” (“back door”) and making deals behind the scenes while I’m naively following submission guidelines? Is the “submission page” a decoy to get rid of idiots like me?

Some days, I feel like a door-to-door sales representative from a shady business pitching a product over and over again. Gosh. I am cold calling. How did I even think this could work? I can’t sell shit and I’m not competitive by nature!

Right, because I’m also this possibly unrealistic person who, five years ago, also thought starting a freelance business while taking care of a baby was going to be totally doable. Okay, maybe I’m a bit over optimistic sometimes. Thanks life for bringing me back to reality.

Yet, I’m still querying—yes, it’s a verb because it’s a full-time activity. What else can I do? Give up? It’s tempting but at this stage, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I already completed the work, after all. This isn’t a proposal with a possible outline. The manuscript, the characters and the story exist.

I can’t help thinking that if I keep on trying, maybe I’ll get lucky, maybe I’ll eventually reach the right person.

I’ll keep on querying until I run out of names. There is no plan B.

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