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Why Use a Pseudonym?


By; Donnell Ann Bell

In a writing world where I’m surrounded by authors, I often know them by both their legal and author names, or wonder when I “cyber” meet them if they’re using a real or fictitious one. I often wish I had gone with a pseudonym, but by the time I published, nine years after I’d started writing, people knew me by Donnell. Besides, my editor at the Colorado Springs Business Journal had dibs on the coolest name ever—Victoria Lipton Smythe.

I bring this up because a few days ago on Facebook, a new Indy author was lamenting that she was publishing under a pseudonym, but friends kept addressing her by her legal name when they posted congratulations on her page. She very much wanted to keep the two separate and was asking experienced authors how to address this problem.

I thought that an interesting conundrum and wanted to know more. Obviously, I get the typical reasons of someone writing erotica, writing in different genres, or a controversial topic might choose a pseudonym. But I wanted to dig deeper, so I asked a few colleagues the following questions:

  • Do you use a pseudonym? Why or why not?
  • Have you found it advantageous to do so? Why or Why not?
  • If you publish under two names or more, would you ever consider using . . . say Author X writing as?
  • Are there any legal ramifications and/or protections to authors who use a pseudonym?
  •  Do you have to post your legal name in the copyright area?

Here are some of the answers I received back. (I have tried to stay true to their statements, while deleting names and reference points to protect their anonymity.)

Author A. I do, because I was just starting to get some gritty short stories published as my husband decided, late in life, to become a Methodist minister. I thought it would be good to separate our names.

Have I found it advantageous to do so? Very much so! And in some unexpected ways. I found it convenient to use my legal name as my “company name” for my Schedule C on my tax return.

Then, after a few years of getting published, I ran into some scary people online. One got irate that I had not told her. In a personal email, I responded that I had assumed (at the publisher’s request) another pen name. My website clearly references each other, so I didn’t understand. But the all caps and dozens of exclamation points, plus the language, made me think this person might be violent. I was very glad she didn’t know my real name. And I’m careful not to put my address anywhere. I use a PO Box for my newsletter.

Author B:  I have two pen names. The first I chose for professional reasons, and to keep my private life and my book business somewhat separate. I’ve never regretted that decision. And no, you don’t have to use your legal name to copyright something (in the U.S. at least). All my books are copyrighted under the pseudonym.

Author C: For my second cozy series, my editor wanted me to use a pen name. My agent said it was so I would look like a debut author to booksellers and readers, since the first series didn’t sell hugely well. It worked. My two series under my pen name are way more popular than the work I published under my legal name.

My (publisher/agent) never said I couldn’t link the names and I do, everywhere. I talk about my alter-ego and vice versa, and my copyright is always my legal name.

Author D:  I was a professor of Health and Exercise Science, publishing articles of the credentialing of yoga teacher training programs, when my first book came out. And I was also teaching a lot of first-year students who didn’t always exhibit much maturity when they got low grades. I could imagine a one-star in revenge for a D or and F. Or social media harassment. I was keeping my professor life and writer life separate.

Author E:  (finally, here’s an author who uses her real name but . . . ) As you know, I use my real name.  People assume it is a pseudonym.  The bonus is it grabs attention.  The downside I was put in Facebook jail until I proved myself. My friends campaigned to spring me.

I enjoyed reading the various answers as to why authors use pseudonyms and the benefits behind using one. These responses aren’t particularly helpful to the author who would prefer people not to “out” her. Perhaps a private message is in order to anyone who does.

Donnell Ann Bell

Donnell Ann Bell is a former editor of Writing from the Peak. These days she’s writing a cold case series, but hopes to pop in with an article now and then because she misses her tribe. 

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