Two weeks ago, I began a quick series on the merits of using a nom de plume–otherwise known as a pen name, otherwise known as a pseudonym–under which to self-publish your next book. The series continued last week, with an examination of the drawbacks of using such a cover, and concluded with the question:
So: You’re ready. What next?
And … here we go.
If you’ve decided to adopt a pseudonym, there are a few steps you should take to ensure you do it right. (And by right, I mean correctly!)
- Choose wisely. Once you’ve selected a pen name, yup, you’re stuck with it. Or rather, you will want to be stuck with it for a whole host of reasons to do with convenience and consistency, so make sure it’s not a name that ages poorly or that you will grow out of in a year or two. Don’t go overboard in making up a name so memorable that it comes off as goofy to others. Use friends and family that you trust as a sounding board for pseudonym ideas–they’ll let you know if they catch a whiff of something goofy immediately, since your reputation is important to them.
- Choose something unique. Don’t settle for your first idea; your pen name should be unique, so it’s well worth your time to do a little searching through Google and so forth in order to check that your pseudonym of choice is not already used by another writer (past or present) since you want to avoid confusion. Also: steer clear of imitating famous names. Stephen King will not be happy when he hears you’ve stolen his name, and you’re favorite dead author wants you to know her estate will be calling to sue, even though she’s long gone. Hunt through the U.S. Trademark Office website to make doubly sure you won’t get into any hot water for duplication, conscious or unconscious.
- Put a ring on it. Or, you know, your personal domain. Search for available domain names before committing to a pseudonym, and then buy it. Also make sure to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement if you’re likely to receive payments made out to your nom de plume instead of your real name. This is a real thing, and you should do it.
- Put your mouth where your money is. I know, I know, this is a total reversal of the usual statement. But once you put money down on a domain name, you want to make good on that expenditure. Put your pseudonym on your book’s cover and on your copyright notice. It is worth putting the notice in both your real and pen names.
- Keep your publisher in the loop. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s crucial that you be in touch with your self-publishing company at every step of this process. They’re the ones who will catch a lot of the flack if something goes wrong, but they also can do a lot to make sure your pseudonym is a success. Talk with them! And if total anonymity is your desire, then you’ll want to make that clear to them, possibly even going so far as to set up a corporation, LLC, or other entity in order to sign your contract under a name other than your real one. But that’s expensive, and complicated. If you are content with being anonymous only to the general public and fully frank with your publisher, there’s little need for that step.
- Register that copyright. Look, this might sound like an extra detail, but it’s 100% worth the fiddly work. You really ought to register the copyright of your work under your real name, your pseudonym, or both. There are different ways of going about this, but my personal recommendation is to lean towards “both.” That way, all of your bases are covered and you’ll never be caught out in a tricky legal situation where you can’t prove that your works are, well, products you made yourself.
No matter what, the decision about choosing a pen name rests with you, the self-publishing author, and while there are several potential missteps you might make, good intentions go a long way in the world of words. The one crucial thing you’ll need to do in choosing a pseudonym is to choose it sooner rather than later, especially if secrecy is something you want to weave into your relationship with your publisher. But the sooner you settle on a name, the sooner you can get your cover designs settled, and your copyright paperwork filed, and so on and so forth. “The early bird publishes in a timely fashion” would seem to be the moral of our story this week!
Do you have any questions about pseudonyms that we can answer here on SPA? I’d love to tackle them, or to hear you weigh in on your past experiences with pseudonyms, good or bad. We’re here for you, as a listening ear and a resource.
You are not alone. ♣︎