What is a Pseudonym and How to Use it Properly

So, what is a pseudonym, anyway? As an author, you want to thoroughly research this topic because you may just want to use one sometime during your writing career. Here's a hint; it is the opposite of an "autonym", which is using one's original or true name.

What is a Pseudonym

In a nut shell, a pseudonym is a fictitious name used in place of the actual author's name. It is also known as a pen name, nickname, entity, or an alias. When an author uses a fake or made-up name to author a story, they are using a pseudonym in place of their own legal name.

If you plan on using a pseudonym as your name for a novel or story you've written, you will find it is just as easy as using your own name. But when it comes to book writing and making money, you need to know the complete answer to the question, "What is a pseudonym," before you make that choice of by-lines for your novel. Know everything about "pen names" before you actually choose to use one.

What is a Pseudonym?

A pseudonym has its benefits and downfalls, but just be aware that you will have more work ahead of you if you use a pen name for your writing. It is something you don't want to take lightly or not research before you do it.

Here are some examples of people who have used pseudonyms or pen names with their writing:

Samuel Clemens who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, Stephen King who wrote under the pen name Richard Bachman, J. K. Rowling who was really Joanne Rowling (no middle name) and Mary Ann Evans who is better known as George Eliot.

I've personally seen many authors writing under a pseudonym just because they are embarrassed and don't want their friends and family to know they write. Maybe it is because of the subject material they are writing about, or that they are not confident in their abilities as a writer.

What is a pseudonym was a question I juggled around in my mind a lot when I was a young writer. The more I thought about it, from a money aspect, it doesn't matter what name you use to publish books until you become famous.

There are many reasons why authors choose to write under a pseudonym. Let's explore more about what is a pseudonym, why authors use them, and see some of the pros and cons of using a pseudonym in these situations.

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms

Here are eight reasons authors don't want to publish work under their own name:

1. Embarrassment! You may feel uneasy or embarrassed of your writing ability or your work and you don't want people to know who really wrote it.

2. Lack of Confidence! Confidence is a huge hurdle in writing. If you lack confidence, maybe because you are new to writing and don't know how readers are going to respond to your work, you use a fake name to mentally protect yourself.

3. Ghostwriting! If you are ghostwriting a story for someone, you rarely take credit for that work and may use a pen name to hide your true identity to protect your own work, especially if you are a big named author and your name may be used to add marketing value to a piece. Using a pseudonym prevents authors from taking advantage of that marketing pull.

4. To Disguise the Author's Gender! As part of a marketing move, some publishers require female authors to use their initials instead of their spelled out names to attract more male readers. An example of this is Joanne Rowling who authored the Harry Potter series using a pseudonym of J. K. Rowling. The publisher anticipated a target audience of mostly young boys who might not want to read a book written by a woman. She didn't have a middle name so she chose "K".

5. Privacy! Most authors who choose to use a pseudonym are trying to hide their identity for privacy. They are afraid their work is going to attract too much attention and possibly put their family in harms way.

6. Joint Interest! Some people who work for an editing, publishing, or writing firm don't want their author's using their real names outside the business for any published work as this may reflect undesirably on the company.

7. Self-Incrimination! Some people who write have committed a crime or may have done something that they don't want people to know about, but they really want to tell the story. Most writers write about some kind of personal experience, even in fiction, so they write their stories under a pseudonym so people can't put two and two together.

8. Easy to Remember! A big marketing reason to use a pseudonym would be so readers can easily remember your name. If you have a huge name that is difficult to pronounce, it may be wise to shorten it a little or to use a pen name to make it easy to say and word of mouth to others.

As you can see with what is a pseudonym, there are many situations when using a pseudonym is useful to the author. But there are some legal things to consider when you are using a pseudonym and starting your own book selling business that many writers don't think about when they are first starting out and want to use an author pen name.

Did you know that in the United States you must register your fictitious or doing business as (dba) name with your state and is the legal way you can earn money under another name? I recommend if you do this, that you also establish an Employer Identification Number (EIN or Federal Tax ID Number) for tax purposes.

If you use a pseudonym to avoid reporting earnings on your writing can land you in jail, so you must register your "business entity" to track your writing income.

If you can answer the question what is a pseudonym and already know you want to create a pseudonym for yourself, try out this free pen name generator. You will quickly find a name that suites you and your fiction writing.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice. Please consult an attorney regarding starting a business or "doing business as" a separate entity prior to publishing your fiction under a pseudonym. Ensure you understand all of the laws and taxes involved.

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