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Publishing

Pen Names and When to Use Them

Pen names, aka pseudonyms and nom de plume, are more popular than ever and legal to use. Pen names are usually suited to the genre and are designed to be catchy and memorable. With a pseudonym, a writer can his or her gender and persona. They are often used if an author is trying their hand at a new genre or topic that is far from what their loyal readership would expect. For example, if you are well known for writing children’s books, a change to erotica might cause a stir. Or, if you normally write mysteries, but want to try romance, you may start writing those under a new name. In situations like these, a nom de plume would come in handy.

There are many famous authors whom have adopted pen names that have becomes well known.

Pen Name: Robert Galbraith
Real Name: J.K. Rowling

Pen Name: Richard Bachman
Real Name: Stephen King

Pen Name: E.L. James
Real Name: Erika Leonard

Pen Name: Dr. Seuss
Real Name: Theodor Seuss Geisel

Pen Name: Mark Twain
Real Name: Samuel Clemens

Using a pen name is often a wise business choice. However, writers should take the certain steps in order to avoid confusion and protect their rights.

Why use a pen name?

Privacy

If you’re an elementary school teacher, do you really want your students’ parents to know that you dabble in erotic fiction? If you enjoy writing high-body count thrillers, perhaps you don’t want your neighbors to know this and start looking at you funny. Privacy is one of the main reasons to write under a pseudonym.

Easy to Read

The internet has completely changed the marketplace. More people book shop on a screen, scanning tiny thumbnails, instead of browsing titles on bookstore shelves. With that being said, you may consider choosing a short name that will pop off the screen.

Branding

When deciding a pen name, try to make it fit the genre you’re writing in. Its possible to have different pen names for different genres. The pen name must evoke the right tone; if writing romance, for example, the name may be loveable compared to the name used for a science fiction piece. If a writer didn’t do so well in a specific genre, he or she may choose to start again with a different name.

Avoid Confusion

Make sure to research the name you’re considering using. You don’t want to use a common name or a name of someone famous. Use a common name and you’ll be lost in a sea of other writers. Use a famous name and it may look like you’re trying to trick your readers.

Collaborations

If you’re writing a piece with one or more people, you might pick a single name for publication.

Choosing a Pen Name

As with other aspects of writing, choosing a pen name is a creative process. Many writers find this more challenging than naming a character in their story. Compile a list of possible names that speak to you. Once you have your list, make sure to:

Research

Pseudonyms should be unique. Make sure to do your research to avoid choosing a name that is already used by another writer; you don’t want to confuse readers. Again, don’t use the name of a famous individual, so you’re not accused of trying to pass yourself off as a celebrity in order to increase book sales. Make sure to search through Trademarks as well—using the name of a registered trademark could lead to you getting a cease-and-desist order. A question of legality also comes in when you’re using a pen name that happens to be the name of a real person. If you are using a real person’s name, you are not committing a crime and this is completely legal. Identity theft occurs if you’re intentionally impersonating someone for financial gain. However, if your writing ends up affecting this person’s life, then yes, consider choosing a different name.

Claim and Use the Name

If you’ll be getting payments made out to your pen name, then you should file a Fictitious Business Name Statement (aka Doing Business As (or DBA)). Search and buy a domain name for your pseudonym as well. This is helpful for building your audience. Make sure to place your pen name on the cover of your books and in your copyright notice (©2018, pen name). Some authors put both their real name and their pen name in the copyright notice, but this is not necessary.

Register Your Copyright

You may register your work under either your pen name, real name, or both. If you write under a pseudonym, but want the records of your copyright to be under your real name, then put your real name under “Individual Author” and click “Pseudonym” to add your pen name. Otherwise, just click “Pseudonym” and insert your pen name to use only that name. Keep in mind: any information you put here cannot be removed from public record and will be accessible on the internet. Few readers are going to research the copyright records, so you may want to consider registering pseudonym work under both your real name and pen name to create a permanent record of ownership. If you choose to register your work under your pseudonym only, it may be difficult to prove ownership down the road. Plus, the life of the copyright is shorter.

How secretive do you want to be?

Most authors are fairly open about their pseudonyms. For example, at book signings, they’ll use their pen names, but at conferences, they’ll use their real name with a reference to their pen name. They may even have their pseudonym sites linked to their real one, like Dean Koontz.

You can be somewhat discreet. There are authors who limit public appearances and won’t post photos or links on their real name site. Otherwise, you can be the author with major roadblocks to your identity. Corporations and trusts are created to hold the copyrights and contracts for the pseudonym. This can be expensive and may require an attorney. No matter how many blocks are put in place, someone somewhere knows the truth and your identity could still be leaked. Think about what happened to J.K. Rowling and her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. Regardless of how much she tried to hide her connection, it still got out.

At the end of the day, do what feels comfortable to you and continue to write great stories!

 

What are your thoughts on writing using a nom de plume? Please share in the comments below!

 

(Feature photo credit: George Becker via pexels.com)

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