Friday, November 20, 2009


Over the years I’ve received a lot of questions about pseudonyms, mostly related to query letters or at what point in an author’s career a pseudonym should be chosen. One of the things I’m not sure many authors understand is that a pseudonym isn’t always a choice you get to make yourself. Many times when an author makes a book deal or decides to use a pseudonym, there are discussions with her editor on name choices and what they can agree on would be a strong pseudonym and suit the genre and audience you are targeting.

Recently a reader asked the following question: I'm considering writing under a pseudonym, of sorts, because my name is orally very similar to that of a wildly popular author. I'm thinking of just adding an initial somewhere, but I'm wondering what the legal ramifications of that are. I know that with normal pseudonyms, the contracts all have to be signed under normal names, but would it be requisite to legally change a name for just an initial? Is adding an initial even the best route to go? Or does it even matter if my name sounds similar but maybe it really doesn't sound like it?

It’s difficult to answer this question without knowing exactly how similar your name is to another’s and who that other author is. It seems like adding an initial might not be a big enough change, but again, without knowing how similar your name is, what your plans are for that initial, or what you’re writing I really am not sure. All that being said, there is no need to ever legally change your name to a pseudonym whether you are using an entirely new name or just an initial. No matter what you choose your contract will be in your legal name and the pseudonym will be noted as the name you are writing under.

Since you came to me with this question I’m going to assume you’re unagented and unpublished, in which case I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. Worry about writing your book. Finding the name to write under can be something you discuss with your agent and your editor. I know many authors feel they need to choose a pseudonym now so any other writings they do can be under that name, and while that’s not a bad plan, it also doesn’t mean your publisher will want you to use that name when the time comes.

My best advice is to worry more about the writing and less about the name. If you achieve name branding success before finding an agent and a publisher they will likely want you to keep that name. If not, it’s not going to be a big deal to find another.



Mark Terry said...

My question is related, actually. I am a published novelist. Of thrillers. I am agented. I'm working on a science fiction novel, which my agent doesn't handle. When I finish this manuscript, I will need to find an agent who handles SF. My assumption is to contact the agent who handles SF with my own name on the manuscript, but I would assume if it gets a contract, it would be published under a different name. Any thoughts?

Jane Lebak said...

I was told by my publisher that I would have to use a pseudonym for my novel because I had the same last name as another author, and he was going crazy on them (he even called me and left threatening messages.) But they offered no guidance in how to pick it.

Kate Douglas said...

When I first began writing I submitted using a pseudonym, but in my case my full name (including middle initial) is identical to another author who wrote in the same genre: contemporary romance. I had no choice in the matter, and since we also belong to some of the same writers' organizations and the resulting confusion made me nuts, I now use my pseudonym in those venues as well.

Mark, to answer your question, I would not assume anything--a lot of thriller readers also love S/F, and it could be your name would help you bring some of your fan base from one genre over to the other. I would wait and leave a decision like that to the new editor and your agent. I decided not to change my name when I sold a new series out of my regular genre, and I'm really hoping that my fans of the erotic stuff will follow me to paranormal. I'll find out in a couple of months!

Philangelus, I don't think anyone can force you to NOT use your real name, though I could be wrong here. Definitely something I would think you'd want to discuss with your publisher/editor. Good luck. Sounds like you're named after a nut! :-)

Voidwalker said...

I've had my own questions about Pseudonyms, but haven't focused to much on it, since I'm not quite finished with my novel.

Thank you for shedding some light on this topic. It's another bump in the road for first time authors and I know I'm one step closer to understanding the monster, that is, "getting publishing."

Unknown said...

As long as we're on this interesting topic, what are the ramifications of using a DBA (Doing Business As) name? My understanding is that if you have one, you can sign legal paperwork and receive checks under that name, but I could be wrong. Anyone have experience with DBA's?

Anonymous said...

I chose a pseudonym because I write stories with romance in them and I teach elementary school. Not a good combination :)

I wanted to start a blog, start tweeting... and I couldn't do it under my name. I realize I may have to change it again, but I'm hoping that's not the case.

Anne-Marie said...

Before I went back to my maiden name, I had the same name as another famous Canadian author. It was awkward to query because the spelling was almost identical, and agents would get confused.

Anonymous said...

What if the author is at the stage where they have an agent, and a publishing house has made an offer? When, then, do you bring up that you would like to have a psuedonym? Will it have to be before the contract has been sent and signed?

Mercy Loomis said...

A lot of what I'm reading is that nowadays one is supposed to have a platform even before you start querying - hard to do that if you haven't picked a pseudonym, assuming you want to use one.

For myself, my real name is very similar to another non-related person who lives in my area, and I thought that wouldn't be very nice to do to them, hehe. Plus, it was common. So I picked one that, when Googled, brought up almost nothing but genealogy websites for people from the 1700s and 1800s.

Anonymous said...


My publisher is slow to bring my next book out. I need to keep working.

Would you consider allowing an author to use a psuedonym to get around the "competitive works" clause? Is this viable?

Anonymous said...

If I am working on books in different genres--thriller and middle grade--is it best to seek one agent who can represent both or would you advise to seek different agents?

thanks, RC

Anonymous said...

I spent most of my 20s working in nonfiction publishing and journalism, but lately I've started some new science fiction/steampunk projects. Now I find myself nervous about using my real name online because I don't want to lose out on any new nonfiction writing/editing gigs.