Why would any author want to write behind a fake name? Isn’t getting your name well known the whole point of becoming an author? One of the most common reasons may be because their earlier work(s) failed, says Writers’ Digest.
However, some famous authors have written under one or more pseudonyms. Mark Twain comes to mind. This name is perhaps more famous than his real name, Samuel Clemons. J.K. Rowling said choosing a pen name was liberating to her writing as there was no hype nor expectations that way.
Test Your Author Knowledge
These are pseudonyms. Do you know their given name?
- Who is Robert Galbraith? The Cuckoo’s Calling
- Who is Richard Bachman? The Running Man
- Who is John Lange? Binary
- Who is E. L. James? 50 Shades of Grey
- Who is George Eliot? Silas Marner
- Who is George Orwell? 1984
- Who is Lewis Carroll? Alice in Wonderland
- Who is O. Henry? The Gift of the Magi
- Who is Dr. Seuss? The Cat in the Hat
- Who is Ellery Queen? Detective series magazine
Reasons for Pseudonyms
Writers’ Digest notes that established authors do it to cross genres. Another reason to use a pen name is to switch publishers. When an author is under contract, his/her publisher may own the rights to any upcoming work under that name. When Stephen King first began publishing, he was limited to only one book per year. A prolific writer who could crank out two or more books a year, King created Richard Bachman so he could publish more than one book and keep the money rolling in. He writes under four pseudonyms.
Some of our own local writers say they chose their nom de plume to maintain anonymity or to keep their day job separate from their writing. Often, it didn’t work. Friends and family knew they were writers and once their books came out, everyone knew. A few women said they believed they would have better success under a pen name. One author who desired to write a piece of chick lit far opposite of what she usually wrote said, “It was fun and liberating to write, but also disappointing to relinquish any public acclaim to praise.” I have written content for online blogs and magazines and the group I write for mandates a pen name. That way any complaints or praise comes back to the group and not directly to the writer.
Legitimate Reasons for Using a Pseudonym
There are legitimate reasons for writing under a different name:
- You want to honor a relative or mentor (or keep your family name incognito).
- You have a hard-to-spell name or one easily misspelled or mispronounced.
- You have the same name as an existing author.
- You write for competing publications. (Ray Bradbury, Stephen King)
- You need a pseudonym as a ghostwriter.
- You want to escape reality and write under an alter ego.
- You are writing about dangerous information such as an ex-spy tell-all. You need witness protection and security.
Do You Need to Register Your Pen Name?
The Copyright Office offers several ways to register pseudonymous works. The first and safest is to record your legal name under “name of author” followed by your pseudonym (e.g., “Mary Smith, writing as Marianne Carmichael”).
Keep in mind— using a pseudonym will not protect you from any legal action that might result from your writing.
To learn more regarding the legalities of pseudonyms, go to the Library of Congress Copyright Office. Download the PDF directly at http://www.lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/fls/fl101.pdf.
Answers to Quiz
- Who is Robert Galbraith? (J.K. Rowling)
- Who is Richard Bachman? (Stephen King)
- Who is John Lange? (Michael Crichton)
- Who is E. L. James? (Erika Mitchell)
- Who is George Elliott? (Mary Ann Evans – 1819-1880)
- Who is George Orwell? (Eric Arthur Blaire)
- Who is Lewis Carroll? (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
- Who is O. Henry? (Willian Sydney Porter)
- Who is Dr. Seuss? (Theodor Seuss Geisel)
- Who is Ellery Queen? (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee)
American cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee wrote over 30 novels together as Ellery Queen. They published another four novels under the name, Barnaby Ross. More curious – both Dannay and Lee were pseudonyms. Who were they, really?