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.

masked unmasked nom de plume pseudonym pen name

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?

pseudonym pen name nom de plume

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.

 

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