In Your Corner: Nom de Plume (Part III)

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.

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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!)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. ♣︎


Elizabeth

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.

In Your Corner: Nom de Plume (Part II)

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?

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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. ♣︎


Elizabeth

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.

 

In Your Corner: Nom de Plume (Part I)

What is a nom de plume, and why should you care?

First of all, we’re talking about pen names.

Ever since J.K. Rowling began writing adult fiction under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, there has been a resurgence of interest in pen names and what they can do for authors. But the practice predates her and has quite a long legacy; many of your favorite authors are probably using pseudonyms. The author who is Nora Roberts writes romance under that name, futuristic science fiction under another (J.D. Robb), and still more under the names Jill Marsh and Sarah Hardesty. Her real name is Eleanor Marie Robertson. And then there’s Elena Ferrante, who remains as-yet “unknown” in that the author’s real name has not yet been revealed, and James S.A. Corey, which is a collaborative pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

But there’s a right and a wrong way to go about using a nom de plume.

 

Back in the 18th Century, a pen name enabled writers, journalists, and artists to publish controversial and even illegal articles, letters to the editor, and other works of protest without being discovered––but these protections don’t necessarily hold true today, when publishing houses and companies can be subpoenaed for your contact information, among other things. A pen name can help you avoid overexposure, yes––as both Dean Koontz and Stephen King can attest––or to conceal your gender in a still-occasionally-sexist industry––as both Rowling and George Eliot were known to do––but it should never be used as cover for illegal activities, or trusted to protect you from political exposure.

Pen names are tied up with identity politics, and that’s a fact. But new authors should be focusing on the work itself, not on being “exposed” in the public eye, right? Well … probably. Maybe. If you’re writing a tell-all about the mafia, you still might want to consider a nom de plume.

 

PEN NAME PROS:

  • You can put together a name which no one else “owns.” The world is unlikely to need two David Baldaccis, and you can avoid painful confusion by picking a pen name to differentiate yourself.
  • You legitimately need to conceal your identity. Say you’re a physics teacher in a small town and you want to publish steamy romance books. It’s not illegal, but you want to avoid uncomfortable questions at work. Or perhaps you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and you are afraid of reprisals from friends or family as you write your memoirs. There are reasons for concealment that have nothing to do with “lying.”
  • Your branding is “off” for the genre. You know how it goes … you walk into a bookstore and you can immediately tell what section you’re in by the kinds of names on the shelves. Yeah, that’s a thing. And sometimes, having a catchy name which hints at your genre can be an important selling point. This point leaves room for those of us with difficult to pronounce or remember last names. Findability is key; “weird” names are sometimes perfectly memorable, and there’s zero shame in either sticking to yours or changing it up––but ultimately that’s a decision you might be forced to make.
  • Your last book … didn’t go over so well. It happens. And when it does, sometimes you may need to put out your next book under a new name, to break old associations.

 

Next week, we’re going to take a look at some “cons” of choosing to use a pen name, like how obnoxious it can be to live and correspond with people under two or more names, and the legal side of things, too. Pen names aren’t the easiest thing in the world to pick up and use … but we’re confident that with the right information, you’ll make the right choice for yourself! So check back next week for Part II in this series on noms de plume!

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You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

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.

3 Reasons to Use a Pseudonym When Self-Publishing Your Book

Some of the most famous authors in history have used pen names, including Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, and Mark Twain. When self-publishing a book, you too may want to consider using a pseudonym. Here are three reasons why.

1. Gender

In today’s society, it is hard to believe that women authors still use men’s names when publishing, but it is true. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about two female mystery writers who decided to use men’s names because they read a study showing that men prefer to read books by men. It is common for female writers to use a male name when the main character is a male or when the topic is “masculine,” such as military, science fiction, and thrillers. This helps the author connect with the readers. Think about it: would you be less likely to take a story with a female main character and a feminine topic seriously if you knew it was written by a male? Females aren’t the only ones who decide to keep their gender a secret when choosing a pen name. If you don’t want to pretend to be the opposite sex, simply choose a gender neutral pen name.

2. Privacy

Self-publishing a book can lead to stardom for successful authors, but not everyone wants their readers to know their real identity. Many people prefer to keep their personal and writing lives separate. This is especially true for authors whose two lives contradict each other. For instance, an elementary school teacher may not want her students and their parents to know that she writes racy romance novels in her free time. Choosing a pen name allows you take on a different persona when you write and promote your book.

3. Legal Issues

Unfortunately, there are lsometimes egal issues that go along with self-publishing a book. If you are writing about real life events or people, you could find yourself in court if you don’t get proper permission from the people in the story or if the details aren’t 100% accurate. To avoid legal issues, use a pen name to protect your identity. Also, if you want to write a book based on your life, only call it a memoir only if it is 100% accurate. If you change events to make a better story, it is fiction.

I’d love to know, would you ever use a pen name? Why or why not?

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Writing for Self-Publishing: Ask the Book Doctor

Pseudonyms

Q: I am simply a hobby writer. I do get the occasional how-to article published in a magazine; however, I want to write some western fiction novels. One problem, as I see it, is my surname. It is of eastern European origin and sounds strange to most Americans. If I write under an alias, are there any special rules that might apply to using a nom de plume, getting paid under the assumed name, copyrights under that name, et cetera?

 

A: Without being an attorney, I cannot give you the full and legal answer you deserve, but as I understand it, pseudonyms are not a problem in the publishing business. Your publisher will know your real name and send your checks to your legal name. Once you produce a written piece of work, the copyright automatically belongs to you until and unless you sell those rights, and the rights will belong to you no matter what name you may choose to use when and if you register the copyright.

 

What would you like to ask a book doctor? Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com