As a writer of narrative nonfiction, journalism, memoir, travel narrative, humor, etc., I’m fine pitching work under my name. In fact, I have never given a moment’s thought to the idea that something could be unsalable about it. Sure, “Sarah” might be a bit of yawn, a 1980s nice-enough relic, but “Wolfgang” more than makes up for what “Sarah” lacks. It adds Danger! Mystique! It is unstoppable, unequaled.
It conjures up images of Mozart or werewolves. (This is me with Kid Number One hiding under a cape and surrounded by mutant cats in Lima, Perú.)
But, an unexpected thing happened when I had kids and began reading to them; I thought, “Hmm, I could probably write one of these”—maybe not something as classic as Everyone Poops, but something random kids won’t absolutely hate either. I sketched a few stories that had been taking shape in my head for a while and wrote one and then two picture book manuscripts. I don’t have formal training with structuring a children’s story or know with certainty what themes or language is best-suited for the three-to-eight-year-old set, but I self-educated with Barbara Seuling’s How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published, Chuck Sambuchino’s Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and Lisa Rojany Buccieri’s Writing Children’s Books For Dummies.
Since I was also trying to find an agent for my road trip memoir, it didn’t seem strategic to give an agent a twoferone if the books were wildly different genres. Then, it occurred to me. I could choose a pen name for my children’s book writing alias. I’m usually good at handing out names. My past cars’ were Blade, Lazer, and Chainsaw Sloar. All came to me fast. All reminded me of teenaged boys, and I wanted them to strike fear into minivans and Mini Coop’s near and far.
I looked around on the Internet to see if there was precedent for this—an agent taking on one person with two authorial personas. I didn’t find any info for that, specifically, but I did find a useful blog post from writer and writing coach Jennifer Blanchard about how to choose your pen name. (Here is where you can purchase Blanchard’s Pen Name: How to Create Yours e-book. I don’t know the author and am not getting paid to discuss it, btw). In the e-book, she describes the real-life debut of an author with two writing personas. The author she interviews gives tips on how she made the double identity work. She describes how she avoided feeling silly or schizophrenic. She discusses the legality of using a pen name and presents thirty-one detailed suggestions and worksheets on help brainstorming.
She also offers clever solutions for the stickiness of handling the author photo issue.
I’m still working on choosing a pen name that’s “me” and have no idea if the agent I’ve been working with will be into representing my Peter Parker/ Spider-Man selves. I’ll keep you updated. I would also love to know if anyone else has had experience juggling two (or more) writing identities.