How to Use a Pseudonym

What is a pseudonym?

Also known as a pen name, this is an opportunity to write under a different persona, whatever that name may be. If you choose not to be know in your small town, want to write books under a different name to protect your identity, or even choose a new name as an opportunity to fit your genre better (think last name “Heart” as a romance writer), then a pseudonym may be for you. This is a business transaction and not just a game of dress up, so make sure you know your rights and the information you need before making that decision.

So, how do you handle it? How do you write under a pen name?

Here is a list of necessary items to know before embarking on that journey:

1. Here’s the no-brainer pseudonym advice when choosing your name: do not choose a popular name (sorry, you can’t be J.R.R. Tolkien), don’t choose a generic name (Jane Doe is nondescript), and try to stay away from pretty-sounding latin words (Syringa – it’s Latin for lilac) otherwise people will find weird things when they search your name.

2. Be ready to stick to that name in all aspects of your new pen name. For example, when signing books or visiting book events you must be committed. Don’t have your pseudonym on the cover of your book and then autograph the book with your legal name. This will lead to confusion.

3. Let the publisher know your real name, but ask to have the pen name used as your byline. You’ll want to receive checks in the correct name, which is linked to your social security number. So, when submitting a query letter, use the pseudonym as the byline, but include your real name in all information blocks. This is also true if copyrighting your work, use your real name.

4. If you don’t want anyone, including your publisher, to know your real name, develop a “business” identity (“doing business as” or “dba”) so that you can get paid properly. This may be an extra, unnecessary step. Consider divulging in your friendly publisher and let them in on the big secret of your pen name.

5. Pseudonyms do not protect you 100% of the time. If you choose to write secrets about someone, lies or otherwise, be ready for possible ramifications. Libel is a real thing and you can be sued, and lose if the court proves you are incorrect and choosing to lie on purpose.

Now that you know the facts of the pseudonym, what will you choose to do? Will you keep your name or commit to the new name of your choosing? Either way, make sure you know your rights and know your decision thoroughly.

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