I set up a new e-mail address under a name—let’s say it was George Leyer, though it wasn’t—and left it empty. Weeks went by without word from the agents who had my work. I read another study about how people rate job applicants they believe are female and how much better they like those they believe are male.
The thing I was thinking of doing was absolutely against the rules, the opposite of all the advice writers get, but I wasn’t feeling like a writer, and I hadn’t written in weeks. Until last winter, I had never faced a serious bout of writer’s block or any meaningful unwillingness to work. A blank page had always felt to me like the moment the lights go down in a theater—until the day it didn’t. I was spending more time crying on the phone than writing and I had no idea how to get back to work. Every paragraph was a negotiation—my instinct leading one way, and then a blast against it—don’t do that, you’ll confuse people. No one wants to read that kind of thing.
So, on a dim Saturday morning, I copy-pasted my cover letter and the opening pages of my novel from my regular e-mail into George’s account. I put in the address of one of the agents I’d intended to query under my own name. I didn’t expect to hear back for a few weeks, if at all. It would only be a few queries and then I’d close out my experiment. I began preparing another query, checking the submission requirements on the agency web site. When I clicked back, there was already a new message, the first one in the empty inbox. Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript.