Last week, I launched a short new series on the pen name, AKA the nom de plume. I examined some of the reasons, historically, why some authors have been drawn to the partial anonymity it provides—as well as some of the “pros” to doing so today. (Hint: some of the old reasons don’t apply any more, so it’s worth knowing that time has not been kind to nom de plume-rs.)
But what are some of the “cons”? What are some of the reasons not to use a pen name for you, the self-publishing author?
PEN NAME CONS:
Some reasons which lead authors to publish under a pseudonym can lead to problems, whether legal, ethical, or moral—or might simply be bad for business. If your motivation for using one involves any of the following reasons, you might want to reconsider:
- Skipping libel lawsuits. Lambasting your rivals under a pen name will not keep you from facing a libel or slander lawsuit in the slightest. The libelees may not be able to personally identify you, but your publisher can be subpoenaed and forced to turn over your name, and you should never underestimate the regular old information highways of the Grapevine and social media to reveal you to fans and foes alike.
- Riding on someone else’s coattails. Adopting the name of some other, more famous writer can land you in serious trouble for identity theft, or for copyright infringement. So don’t give yourself a nom de plume like “Edgar Poe” or “Stephen King” unless you’re prepared by the original (or the original’s estate, in the case of deceased persons). Besides, that’s just confusing. Some authors whose real and actual names are shared with other, more famous authors will even choose a pseudonym simply to differentiate their works from their more famous namesake’s.
- Tax evasion. Nope. Don’t do this. It’s dangerous! Tax fraud is something which the IRS takes very seriously, and authors are not exempt from the law. As with other legal issues, your publisher or publishing company can be subpoenaed for your information if the government has fair reason to suspect you (or your pseudonym) of doing something shady.
There are, of course, other “cons” which have nothing to do with misdemeanors. They include:
- Making the processing of your advances and royalties more complicated, thus complicating your relationship to both your agent (or company) and bank, as well as complicating the sale of your reprints and subsidiary rights, the administration of your personal estate, and the transfer of title to heirs upon your decease.
- Making marketing an acrobatic act. If you’re trying to maintain anonymity, it is hard to take advantage of your personal and social networks for promotional purposes without immediately giving up your actual identity. Your real name carries a weight with family, friends, coworkers, and even more tenuous connections that a pseudonym won’t. How will you maintain anonymity at readings or signings, if anyone you know might see your face in pictures or other coverage? (And remember: Facebook can ruin things for you too, with its face-matching algorithms which “suggest” name matches to faces in uploaded pictures.)
- Shortening your copyright protection. This will only apply if you fail to register your pseudonym with the Copyright Office, but it’s a very real concern since so many people do.
- Not seeing your name in print. I mean, come on! It’s half of the fun.
All of this is not to say that not choosing to publish under a pen name is the only good way to go … but it is to say that you ought to be cautious, and make sure you’re willing to take on all of the challenges associated with doing so.
So: You’re ready. What next?
Don’t worry, that’s what next week is for! We’ll go over how to choose a nom de plume, and best practices for doing so. It’s going to be fun!
You are not alone. ♣︎
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.