For various reasons, authors sometimes consider releasing a book without using their real name and want to be anonymous but are not unsure if there are any issues with doing this.
You can absolutely release a book anonymously or using a fake name known as a pen name. Many authors have done this for as long as books have been printed. Some reasons have changed over the decades as it is harder to keep the secret than in the past.
In the article, we will discuss why you would want to avoid your own name, how to do it, and some of the issues you may encounter.
Can I publish a book anonymously?
As we have discussed in the introduction, yes, you can absolutely be anonymous if you wish. Although it is not strongly encouraged for various reasons that we will cover in more detail shortly, the publishing industry has released many different novels under an Anonymous author name for decades.
Some people are embarrassed that they are trying to write a book and do not think their family and friends will understand and support them. Confidence in what you are doing is a massive part of keeping your enthusiasm for your project alive, and for some who know they will not get the support they need, it could be a good option to plan to use an anonymous name.
Some reasons are more related to a genuine personal concern rather than a preference as above. If you write a book about a sensitive topic, then not using your own name could be a must.
Maybe you want to write a biography that concerns sections about some intense personal things that you may not want those close to you or work colleagues to know about. Writing as an anonymous author can give you the freedom to write an open and honest story without concerns holding you back from telling the whole story.
One concern that you must think about is credibility. There are plenty of people who will look at our new book and be very suspicious about just how truthful it is or how much value it can provide if the author does not want to have their name be public.
Even if you have valid reasons for not using your own name, this is unfortunately just a fact you will need to deal with if you choose this option. You have two main choices:
Deal with it.
The first is to accept and deal with the fact that this will happen, and there is little you can do about it.
The second is to try to explain, maybe as part of an introduction or possibly in marketing materials, why you choose to remain anonymous.
A combination of the two is likely the best plan. Just be prepared to ignore and accept a certain level of criticism. It just comes with the choice of being anonymous.
There is another and better option to choose from, though.
Publish Your Book Under a Fake Name
Using Anonymous as your name is one option, but the better one is to choose another name so that your book is published with a named author.
Using a fake name, also called using a pen name, is a better option for most authors than anonymity. A pen name removes the negativity that can come from using anonymous and provides more benefits that we will cover in this section.
What is a Pen Name?
So, what is a pen name specifically? Put simply, it is a made-up name that you use instead of your own. You can use a totally made-up name different from your own, or you can just make a small change just to make a distinct name. What type of pen name you choose depends on your reason for needing and wanting to use one.
One very valid reason to use a pen name is if your real name is the same as or is very similar to an existing author or another famous person. If the name happens to be the same as an established bestselling writer or Hollywood A-lister, you may want to use a pen name to avoid confusion. This could be a simple as using your middle name or initial, for example.
Another good reason a name change has been done over the years is by an already established author who wants to write in a different genre. If you are already very successful as a romance writer, it can be very odd for your readers to buy your new book only to find a Sci-Fi novel.
It makes more sense to choose a pen name for the new series and publish it separately under this new name to avoid any confusion by your readers.
Fitting the Genre
Sometimes the genre you are writing in can push you to use a pen name to fit into what is perceived as standard for the genre. It has been common for male authors who are writing romance novels to use a female name or use an initial to remove the fact that the author is male.
Pen names used to be a lot more common, and although it does still happen, it is less common than it used to be.
Another good reason for choosing a pen name may simply be for marketing purposes. If your name is already taken as a domain name for a website or the social media accounts are gone, it could be an option to choose something available on all platforms.
This makes creating a marketing plan far easier if everyone can find you with the same easy-to-find name on any and all of their favorite media platforms.
Choosing a Pen Name
So how do you choose a pen name? There are a few things to consider about a name before choosing, so don’t just spend a few minutes making a shortlist and pick any random name you can come up with. Consider the following as you choose your new name.
Make it Age and Genre Appropriate.
First, the genre can affect what name you put on the shortlist. Romance again is a good example. Although you do get male writers, almost all use female names or initials as the readers expect a female author.
The readership age in your chosen genre also needs to be kept in mind. Don’t pick a name that clearly sounds like it is from and 1970s for a book targeting the teen market. Go online and look up the top names used in a particular period to make sure you are using something appropriate.
Easy for Readers
As your name will be used by readers to find you online and on social media, make it easy for them.
Avoid using something difficult to spell or pronounce if possible so that they can find you quickly and easily.
All these modern platforms keep you in close touch with your readers and play such a massive part in modern marketing it is critical to make this as easy as possible.
Check URL and Social Media
As you make a list of options, make sure to check the URL and all social media accounts are available. A quick easy check of all of these allows you to cross that name off your list as soon as your find any one of them is taken and move on to another option.
Make it Distinct.
Pick a distinct name to make it stand out in your marketing efforts.
Remember, the name will also become your brand you need to promote, so make sure it is distinct enough to be used as a brand. You need a unique name, but check to make it easy to spell and be memorable and distinctive.
Something that stands out from the rest will give you that little bit of an edge over your competitors.
Why Not Use a Pen Name?
We have discussed multiple reasons why you may be forced to change your name, but if it is purely optional, there are reasons you may not want to.
Publishers will understand this option if it is done for a good reason, such as writing about a traumatic event. If this is just a preference, they may not be too keen. They will likely have concerns about you doing marketing if you choose a pen name.
The reality is that most marketing is done by the writer through direct outreach to their readers and potential readers. If you use a pen name, publishers may understandably be concerned that the author would therefore not want to be very public, which obviously impacts how marketing can be done and its effectiveness.
Bestseller Follow Up
What happens if you write a bestseller? It may be unlikely that you will achieve this, but if it did happen, then you will get far more requests for an interview and media appearances. If you use a pen name to hide the fact you are a writer, now what do you do? Keep this in mind as you decide if a pen name is right for you.
Hard to Keep the Secret
Many years ago, it may have been easier to stay hidden, but with the internet, it is relatively easy for these secrets to get out. You should assume it will be figured out at some point and think about the impact. It may be easier to just avoid it in the first place, especially if this name is just a preference and not a real need.
Why Make a Hard Business Harder?
The whole publishing process is complex enough, and the marketing as a new author is even more complicated, so why make this even harder for yourself. Make sure you really have a good reason to go anonymous as you are adding more work that may not actually get you much, if any, reward.
How do Anonymous Authors Get Paid?
If you use a pen name and actually sell some books, you still need to get paid for your efforts. But how?
Via Your Publisher.
If you are being published via a traditional publisher, you can have payment taken care of in the contract. It can be written to state that you will be published under one name but will receive all payments under your real name.
Obviously, if you are trying to hide your real name, this is just one more place that is a potential for leaking your real identity.
Via Your Agent.
If you are lucky enough to get an agent, they can also take care of this for you. You can contract with them that they get paid from the publisher and pay you after taking their commission. This removes your real name from the publisher, but the agent still needs to know.
Another option is to establish a legal entity to handle all this. There are states in America that allow you to establish a legal entity and hide who the owners are, thus hiding you are the author. This can be used to take payment from the publisher, and you can then pay yourself. It is essential to get proper legal advice on this option.
The last option giving you complete control is to be your own publisher. You can self-publish very easily nowadays, so why not think about doing this? Many other authors have been very successful. As the publisher, you can use a pen name and then pay yourself.
So, there we go. Choosing to write as an anonymous author or electing to use a pen name sounds like a simple decision. As we have discussed, there are many things to consider before choosing to go this route. What did you decide?
We are not lawyers, we are not your lawyer, and this article is not intended to provide legal advice. Consult a legal expert on these topics before deciding what to do.