All Done.

Have you noticed I haven’t been blogging much? Me, too! I noticed. I think I’m just going to make it official, dear readers. I’m all done.

Six months before I became a literary agent, I started blogging. At first my posts were just stuff. Stuff I was thinking about. Testing the waters. Then the blog morphed into stuff about writing and querying (at the time, I was the oldest unpaid lit agency intern in Manhattan). Then that fall I became an agent. And for the past six years I haven’t shut up.

I’ve said a lot of things here on The Blabbermouth Blog, about publishing and writing and querying and reading and being a human on the planet. I’ve done quite a few series: Authors on Craft, Guest Post Regarding Writing, On Writing: Why Story is Necessary, Quick Questions, Inside Scoop: Dish from a Literary Agent Intern. My clients have stepped up and blogged for me, numerous times, on various writing-related topics, when I’ve needed a break from blogging over the summers. Thanks clients! I love you!

I’ve been very lucky to be able to share many happy things, like when clients and friends and friends who are clients have gotten book deals. We’ve celebrated lots of book birthdays. I’ve done quite a few book give-aways and contests and Q&As. That was all fun.

I’ve also shared about the not happy things. The not happy posts were particularly hard to write–After Paris, Searching for the Words: My French Love Affair, after the 2016 election, A Letter to My Blog Followers and After Orlando: Stop the Ride I want to Get Off.

I feel I’ve said as much as I can say about writing query letters, going to conferences, the facts about publishing, and writing in general. I don’t know how to be creative any more about how to talk to agents, online, by email, and in person. And there are so many, many not happy things happening in the world right now. So I think I’m just… done blogging. It’s been a good run.

Peace out, humans.

Linda

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Feel free to follow me on Facebook and @LindaEpstein on Twitter.

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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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