Here’s the thing about… Pseudonyms, Dedications, and Queries

Let’s talk about writing under a pseudonym, ok? There are many reasons one might do that. For example, I used to have a client who had the same name as a really famous author. In a situation like that it makes perfect sense to choose a different name. My client went with using his initials and his last name. Some authors write for both adults and children and perhaps their adult work is very adult, if you know what I mean? (nudge nudge wink wink) So it might make sense to want to differentiate, so one’s middle grade readers don’t go looking up all your books and checking out the racey romance series you’re making money with. Or perhaps you’ve never liked your name. You always dreamt of being a published author and you made up an authorial sounding name that you love. That’s just as valid as any other reason. There are quite a few very famous writers who have used pen names or pseudonyms—Dr. Seuss, George Eliot, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and of course JK Rowling. But here’s the thing… (you knew that was coming, right?!)

When I get a query signed something like “Jane Smith writing as Jeanette Affascinante” I…  roll my eyes. Sorry, but I do. If you’re an unpublished author, sending an agent a query, and you’ve got no platform (i.e. you’re not famous or well-known in any big way), in my opinion you’re putting the cart before the horse by including a pseudonym. If after I offer you representation, and I’ve sold your manuscript, you want to use a pseudonym, fine. But signing your query letter with a “writing as,” is akin to putting a dedication and acknowledgments into your unsold manuscript when querying. To me that’s just… kind of silly.

That you’re “kind of silly”(in a bad way) is not one of the first things you want me, or another agent, to be thinking upon first reading your query, is it?  You want us to read your query, and besides falling in love with your story, you want us to come away with the feeling that you’re a professional, someone who understands the business, someone who will be easy to work with.

I’m sure there are other agents out there who might disagree or just not care about this issue. And that’s fine. I’m not committed to being right about this. But again, here’s the thing… when you query you want to potentially offend the least number of people. Your query letter is often the first introduction an agent or editor has with you and your work. So cutting down on the potential faux pas in your letter should be one of your top priorities, after including all the necessary information and writing an interest-piquing query.

So I’m not saying you should put aside your intention to write using a pseudonym, for whatever reason you might have (or for no reason at all). And I’m not saying don’t fantasize about a dedication page or who you’d like to eventually acknowledge, if your manuscript gets published. But I am saying that when you’re introducing yourself, via query letter, that’s not the time to do it.

That’s all. Any questions?

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Where do Writers Get Their Ideas? – guest post by Joe McGee

I recently visited a Summer Youth Camp run by the Penn State Lehigh Valley faculty. During my presentation, I shared a bit about my own writing process, to include some ideas about where ideas come from. Where do writers get their ideas? Do they order them from a small, family-owned business in Des Moines, Iowa? No, of course not…or do we? One of the items on my list of “where ideas come from” (not Des Moines – sorry, Iowa) is my favorite question: What if?

What if? What a great and creative question. After my presentation, one of the facilitators mentioned how much that one question resonated with her. As a middle-school teacher, she is constantly trying to find new ways to introduce creative writing approaches to her students. What if?, she said, was a wonderful way to get them writing and thinking about things in a new and exciting way.

What if…when you left this assembly, you found the rest of the building made entirely of Jell-O? Of course, the kids giggle and get excited. What if…when your parents came to pick you up, they weren’t driving their car, but riding on the backs of giant dragonflies? Eyes get wide, kids start oohing and aahing. What if…when you turned on your television later tonight, the screen showed you your future in 10, 20, 30 years? It blows their minds. That question, I tell them, can generate countless stories.

What if? is an absolute gem for creating a story spark. Whether you’re looking for a creative writing exercise prompt, a short story spark, or the idea for your next book. What if apes became hyper-intelligent and fought against captivity? Hello, Planet of the Apes. What if someone were able to genetically recreate dinosaurs from DNA trapped in mosquitoes in amber? Hello, Jurassic Park. What if the U.S. built a giant wall around the entire country…and the zombie apocalypse started in New York? That’s just frightening.

At nErDCampNJ, author Henry Neff mentioned that What if? is a great way to approach world building. Take one or more of the S.P.R.I.T.E. categories (Society, Politics, Religion, Ideas/Culture, Technology, and Economy) and tweak it with What if? For example, What if artificial intelligence grew so smart that it became self aware and considered humanity a virus in need of cleansing? Hello, Terminator. What if, instead of money, we bought, sold, and traded for things with minutes from our life – people give up (or gain) minutes, days, months, years…that car will cost you two years and three months at your current credit score. A gallon of milk costs 26 seconds.

What if? is also good for turning tropes upside down. We’re always looking for fresh ways to spin the norm, right? No, this is not a nod to “alternative facts”. Consider the sweet, elderly librarian; complete with bifocals and a grey bun. But What if she were actually the High Priestess of a cult dedicated to opening a rift that would usher in creatures of unspeakable horror? What if that sword-wielding, muscle-bound barbarian fainted at the sight of blood? What if the werewolf were a vegetarian?

So, you see, there is quite a lot you can do with those two words, that one, simple question. What if?

What if this question was the inspiration for your next big idea? It just might be. Happy writing, friends!

Joe McGee is the author of the picture books Peanut Butter & Brains (Abrams, 2015) and Peanut Butter & Aliens (Abrams, 2017), which comes out August 29thHe earned his Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Joe teaches creative writing at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, and is on the faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults track in Lake Tahoe, NV. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, an avid board and role-playing game gamer, and a consummate daydreamer. You can visit him at http://www.joemcgeeauthor.com or follow him on Twitter @mcgeejp and Instagram at joemcgeeauthor.

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Drag Queen Storytime – guest post by Fifi Abu

Give me something pretty to look at: drag queens at storytime

drag brooklyn.jpgOne of the most beautiful things about public libraries is that they serve everyone. Toothless damp infants, surly teens oozing with bad attitudes, stay at home moms eager for adult interaction, and gently snoring elderly men propped up behind newspapers in discreet corners. All are welcome, all are served. We see families with gender fluid preschoolers and families with two dads. Our programs are diverse and unique and we hope that our patrons connect with our wide selection of offerings. We want to show that we value and honor all types of people.

drag 3.jpgSequins, feathers, and a thick coating of makeup — what’s not to love? Drag queen storytimes are popping up at libraries all over the U.S. in recent years. Orlando Public Library, New York Public Library, The Free Library of Philadelphia, Brooklyn Public Library, and Boston Public Library have all hosted drag queen storytimes, emulating Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions (www.dragqueenstoryhour.org), who originated the program in San Francisco in December 2015. Part of a larger effort called “Queering the Castro,” Drag Queen Story Hour was created to highlight the full range of queer culture.

drag brooklyn 2.jpgResponse has been favorable, with enthusiastic responses from gender fluid and queer families as well as families who want to embrace the wide range of gender expression and identities that make up our communities. It allows libraries a chance to present queer role models, offer creative dress up role playing, prevent bullying, and promote acceptance of difference. Children arrive in tutus and glitter, staring in awe at the magnificent drag queens that will read to them. Books like Todd Parr’s It’s OK to be Different, My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert are read to the children by glamorous sparkly and fabulous drag queens, clearly sending the message that the world is full of a wide variety of types of people and that there is more than enough room for all of us.

For more information about this happily growing trend, look at the Herald Times, the New York Times, here and here.

IMG_7794Fifi Abu writes and illustrates picture books and graphic novels. A graduate of Humboldt State University, Fifi also has an M.A. in Children’s Literature and a master’s degree in library and information science, both from Simmons College. Fifi has been a judge of the Associates of the Boston Public Library’s Writer-in-Residence Program for the past several years, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children’s Book Academy graduate. She is a member of the 2019 Caldecott Award Committee and holds the position of Manager of Youth Services at the Boston Public Library. Find Fifi online at fifiabu.com and @fifiabuillustration.

 

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