Questions about Pen Names


I’ve fielded a few questions about Pen Names recently. There are a few different reasons authors might want one and so I’ve tried to address their concerns. I do not write under a pseudonym, so I am far from an expert so don’t consider me as golden or legal advice… just some guy who has friends who are willing to share what they’ve done.

Following are several reasons you might use a Pen Name and some details about how best to proceed based on your needs…

  1. There is another author with the same name already.

This is a pretty common reason to utilize a pen name. I am not entirely certain that it is necessary, but understand why one might want to avoid confusion. It could be frustrating to keep saying, “No. The other John Doe.” I could especially see this if the author wrote something in a far removed genre  or one that clashed with yours. If you write religious devotionals but someone with your same name writes M/M erotica you might want to create some separation. It may be advisable to put your real name “writing as XYZ” on the copyright page of your book.

If you write with a pen name it becomes important to file an actual copyright certification. It may be important to note that it may be unwise or even disallowed to use pen names for nonfiction—especially when credentials are important.

  1. I write multiple genres and would like to keep my two personas separate.

There are many authors who do this as well. Some do it because they don’t want cross-over on their audiences (see the above example) and others for the sake of not confusing an audience. Some, perhaps, to compartmentalize who they are as writers and operate in a different head-space as they produce their works. To each their own. It is effective. It does require additional work since you are now building and maintaining two audiences, author profiles, newsletters, etc. but the reasoning is valid. It is important to understand that you might limit your backlist or potential sales early on in your writing career, so know why you are doing it first and then stick to your guns.

  1. I write sensitive material and need to keep myself as anonymous as possible.

This is a difficult situation to be in and I can only really recommend that you seek legal advice. The more hedges of protection you want to shield your name behind equates to more hassle, and more money. There are ways to hide who you are behind DBAs, by registering a company with contact info for a person living in a foreign country which will not comply with outside requests and/or court orders, and also never have the author’s real name appear anywhere. Still, there is someone else involved and so it cannot be truly anonymous… someone will know.

Everything can be traced and people can be persuaded. JK Rowling had a pen name for other projects. It was her lawyers who leaked it and spoiled her anonymity. If you really need your work to be public but anonymity is a must, consider staying anonymous and forfeiting your copyrights. You really have to weigh your pros and cons in this scenario and make your own gut call.

You can pick up a phone, dial 866-216-1072 and ask Amazon up for contact information of any seller located in USA (its different numbers outside USA), stating ‘initiating litigation’ as the reason for your call. Amazon has a policy stating you that they will release your information here which is visible here
“Protection of and Others: We release account and other personal information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law; enforce or apply our Conditions of Use and other agreements; or protect the rights, property, or safety of, our users, or others. This includes exchanging information with other companies and organizations for fraud protection and credit risk reduction. Obviously, however, this does not include selling, renting, sharing, or otherwise disclosing personally identifiable information from customers for commercial purposes in violation of the commitments set forth in this Privacy Notice. ”

I want to throw out a caveat regarding pen names that there may arise disputes from time to time regarding authorship. Not only might hackers steal your work and try to pass off your book as their own (it happens) but also unscrupulous competing authors have been known to use copyright infringement claims to shut down other authors to temporarily block competing titles so they can steal the lion’s share of the market.

Since you will have the original file on your computer, you have proof. It shows the sign-in user as the file creator along with a date; this is traceable. This is the ultimate mark of evidence, but it’s not something easily verified to turn over one of the above mentioned disputes. Authors with a pen name may have to prove their identity (there are many ways to do this,) but if you’ve read my account of dealing with amazon after being plagiarized by Russian hackers then you know it is more of a hassle than it ought to be. Ultimately you are protected, but if you have to go so far as verifying the source document and identity to prove copyright ownership then you’ve likely already had to get lawyers involved. That means there were several months in lost sales, legal fees, and the bad mark by things like algorithm ranks, associates accounts, etc. that could be put in jeopardy. A Pen Name potentially muddies the water as you try to straighten everything out.

Helen Sedwick says over at Jane Friedman’s blog:
You may register the copyright of your work under your pseudonym, your real name, or both. There are downsides to registering the copyright under a pseudonym only. First, it may be difficult to prove ownership of the work at a later date. Second, the life of the copyright will be shorter: 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from its creation, instead of 70 years after your death.

I recommend that authors register their pseudonymous works under both their real names and pen names. This creates a permanent record of ownership, and few readers are going to research copyright records and find out the author’s real name.

There is no way to “claim” a pen name as exclusively yours. You may go through the process of filing an FBN Statement, but that gives you the right to use that name, not the right to stop others from using the same name (unless they happen to be doing business in the same county as you). If you become very famous under your pen name, then you might have other options. If that happens, you should engage a lawyer to help you.

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