Chris A. Baird | January 19, 2024
Can You Self Publish Under a Pen Name in 2023-Blog

Have you ever used a pen name for your books? Can you self-publish under a pen name in 2023? Learn about the answer to this very question today.

So you're getting ready to publish your book, and you're trying to figure out what name you should use for the author's name. But are you required to use your name on Amazon and these other sites? Isn't it dishonest to use a pen name?

When you're trying to make decisions like this, we're going to get into this in today's article. In today's topic, we are going to discuss: Can you self-publish under a pen name in 2023? 

Understanding the concept of pen names

So, the first thing we're going to look at in the introduction is understanding the concept of pen names, and this is such an important one. They're also known as pseudonyms nom de plumes or fictitious names.

They're just fictitious names used by authors to publish a work under a different identity. And you might be thinking, "Why exactly would somebody do this?" They choose pen names for a whole pile of different reasons.

Reasons for using a pen name in self-publishing

One of them is they want to put their books into different genres, and they don't want to water down their genre. This is one of the most important reasons. It's that when you're getting into it, and you're going to say, "Okay, you're doing one series of books on, I don't know, taking care of your dog," and then your next is going to be on science fiction.

If you have those books blended in the same thing, when a person clicks on the author's name, they're all going to show up blended in together. This creates a bit of a challenge for your readers because they're like, "Well, what kind of author are you exactly?"

If you're all over the place, it decreases your expertise and the focus on that specific genre. That's one reason why when you mention most authors' names, they come up, and they say, "Oh, that's the one who does like Stephen.” You don't think, “Oh, he loves poetry. No, he does horror, right?"

That's what he does, and so there's no confusion. Or, for some of the others, like JK Rowling's or something, "Oh, I got it. It's fancy, whatever, right? Yeah, young adult fantasy." And so you know exactly what that author does. Now, it doesn't mean they can't write other books and stuff, but sometimes they use pen names to go about doing that.

The thing is, pen names have been used throughout history by a whole pile of renowned authors, and that includes Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), and JK Rowling (Joanne Rowling). These writers are using it to express themselves freely while still having a separate identity, so their public persona and their private life don't have to overlap with each other.

Which is a really good reason to do this. Now, reasons for using a pen name in self-publishing. The first thing is for privacy and personal protection. When you use a pen name, it establishes a little bit of distance and shields your actual identity from the stuff you're writing.

So maybe you're writing something controversial, or maybe you're not, and you don't want your fans to be able to look you up on Google and figure out where you live, so they can just come and visit you. Or find your phone number or your social media account and then start asking for fake friend requests or whatever it might be on that platform. You're trying to keep these two separate, so this is a great way to do it.

Another reason is the idea of genre diversification. That is to say, again, we have multiple genres that we're targeting, so we're going to make sure that they're split between the different pen names. This way, it doesn't blend the two and it keeps those people who are interested in specifically one genre from going into a second one.

Then we have experimentation and risk-taking. It gives you the ability to put books out there that maybe people are going to hate, and you don't want to associate them with your initial brand. This is one of the reasons why it's fantastic as a new author when you're putting books out because the consequences are relatively small.

But as a big author like Stephen King, if he puts out a book on love poetry, what if people hate it and it's a bomb? Whereas he could use a different name and be associated with that. And so, he takes no risk on that. 

Legality and Considerations

Now, regarding legality and considerations, let's look at the legal aspects of self-publishing under a pen name. 

Legal aspects of self-publishing under a pen name

The first is freedom of name choice, and authors have a legal right to use a pen name for self-publishing without requiring specific permission or registration. So, you can just go about using that as long as you're not engaging in fraudulent activities. For example, using the name of a famous author and putting that name on your book with covers that look like theirs can get you in trouble on Amazon. So, I don't recommend doing that.

The other aspect is copyright ownership. Authors retain copyright ownership over their works published under a pen name, so it doesn't make a difference. I just need to make it clear that you still maintain that ownership; you don't lose it just because it's not your actual name.

Lastly, when entering into publishing contracts or agreements, authors should disclose their legal identity to avoid any potential legal issues. So, that is one way in which your pen name may not fully protect you when signing legal documents. Because that pen name has no legal identity. I hope that makes sense. 

Copyright and intellectual property considerations

Then, you have copyright and intellectual property considerations. Like ownership, comes to mind; authors automatically hold the copyright ownership over their original works from the moment of creation, regardless of whether it's under their name or any of the pen names they choose to use. Or if you paid a Ghostwriter to write your book for you under that name, it all plays out the same in copyright registration.

So, and this is important, while copyright protection exists without registration, authors may still choose to register their books with the appropriate copyright office to establish their legal ownership. This has become more and more important on Amazon specifically because whenever you put a book out there, a claim may immediately come in that it was taken from somebody, which is impossible.

Check out this related article: Amazon Kindle Self Publishing Guidelines for Authors in 2023

Then you have pen name protection. They should ensure their pen name is associated with their legal identity in copyright registration. So, that's another aspect that's worth considering.

Addressing legal obligations and contracts

Next, we have to address legal obligations and contracts. So, the key issue here is clarity in contracts. When entering into legal agreements or contracts, authors should ensure their legal obligations are clearly defined. This can prevent any issues on the contract side.

Lastly, the disclosure of a pen name. They should disclose the use of a pen name to relevant parties when entering into contracts so that they're clear that this isn't my official legal name. Just so they know it, whether we're talking about publishers, agents, or distributors. And you may also wish to be protected from them revealing or releasing your actual name.

Then, contractual compliance: authors should ensure that their actions and responsibilities under a pen name align with the terms and conditions of their contracts. This is to make sure that everything's properly in alignment with many of the companies that you're working with.

Self-Publishing Process with a Pen Name

Now, let's talk about the self-publishing process with a pen name. There are a couple of things here. 

Selecting and researching a pen name

I'll start with selecting and researching a pen name. You're going to want a meaningful connection, some sort of a name that people will be able to resonate with the style of writing you're doing.

An easy way to find this is to look at your competition in that same niche. Do you notice a pattern? For example, if you're writing a book on yoga, it might be useful to choose specific names that might match those top-selling authors in the yoga field. The same goes if you find it's mostly women or men or whatever type of authors are doing these books – matching that can also be very helpful.

You have the originality and availability. Make sure you're using a pen name that isn't common, so when readers click on it, it will pull up only your books. You can put a middle initial in there if you need that distinction. What you don't want is to discover that your pen name matches someone else's name.

They might be using it, and it's not the type of book you want to be associated with. If they get blended, it can be confusing for Amazon and other websites to keep track of which name is yours. You want to make sure it's really easy, and that the domain name for that pen name is available. You're going to want to buy that. I talk my clients through this, and I can also help you. You can book a Discovery Session and we will have a chat on that exact subject.

Then, we have to register and associate the pen name with your work. You're going to have your copyright registration under your legal name, but include the pen name to make sure it's associated with your work. Your author's bio and promotional materials are going to use the pen name.

Consistent author identity is crucial to ensure that it's uniform throughout. Consistency is crucial, and I'm going to tell you why. When it comes to self-publishing, consistency is one of the most important things you can do.

So, make sure your books are, in fact, consistent with what you're doing and the use of the pen names. You should avoid swapping them around. You don't want to confuse your readers because they won't buy your books if you do.

Communicating with publishers, platforms, and distributors

Next is communicating with publishers, platforms, and distributors. You need to ensure you have a pen name disclosure. Communicate your use of a pen name to the publishers, platforms, and distributors, so they are aware that this is not your legal name and it's part of your contractual agreements.

Make sure that all agreements explicitly include both your legal name and your pen name, and maintain professional communication to ensure consistency. Use the pen name consistently when communicating.

Building an Author Brand

When building an author brand, establish an online presence under your pen name, not your name. 

Establishing an online presence under your pen name

Your author's website should use your pen name. There's no reason to flip between your pen name and your actual name; it makes no sense whatsoever.

The same goes for social media profiles. Ensure they are up to date, and be cautious about setting up multiple accounts, as it could lead to problems. I've seen people get their accounts shut down because they're using a name that isn't their actual name.

They may be involved in content creation, regularly producing content. We need to ensure that it falls within a specific niche and genre, using this exact pen name consistently. We shouldn't switch back and forth between our actual name and our pen name during this entire process.

Consistency in branding and marketing materials

We need to maintain consistency in branding and marketing materials, particularly in pen name usage. Ensure that you consistently use the pen name wherever it appears in all your branding and marketing materials. Your visual identity should also align, including choosing a particular picture, the appearance, color scheme, and typography associated with your pen name.

Additionally, the tone of the messaging under this pen name should remain consistent. It may have a specific way of communicating, which could be your style or not. There's no ethical obligation to communicate in a particular way; authors often adopt different personas in their writing.

They shouldn't be restricted to being their true selves in their books. You can be whomever you wish to be, for goodness' sake. Allow authors the freedom to explore different voices, as many have done over the years. 

Managing author identity and personal privacy

Managing author identity and personal privacy is crucial. Maintaining a clear distinction between your pen name and personal identity is essential to protect your privacy. So, people aren't able to figure out who you are. This includes managing your online presence to ensure that you understand how you're logged in and with whom you're interacting so that others don't get confused.

It's essential to set clear boundaries for communication, allowing you to decide if they're interacting with you as a person or with your pen name. Keep these email accounts separate because mixing them would defeat the entire purpose of having a pen name. 

Promoting and Marketing with a Pen Name

Next, when it comes to promoting and marketing with a pen name, you should develop strategies for promoting books and engaging readers.

Check out this related article: When Are You Planning To Get Started With Content Marketing

Strategies for promoting books and engaging readers

First, identify your targeted audience and determine their expectations regarding your use of a pen name. Utilize compelling book marketing materials such as trailers and eye-catching content that incorporate your pen name to captivate your readers. Enhance your reader engagement.

Dealing with interviews and public appearances

Now, dealing with interviews and public appearances, this starts to get really tricky. Preparation is key, you need to be prepared because you're using a different name. It means people will interact with you in a way that may be different from how they interact with you in real life.

So now, you've got two different names. Do you have two different personas? Then there's the question of authenticity. How can you be your authentic self when you're using a different name? You can go along with it as long as your pen name persona is the same as your actual persona, just with a different name.

And here's where the first name issue comes in. When someone calls out your pen name, you might not even turn around. That can be a bit of a challenge. You also need to maintain poise and confidence.

This involves using your body language and other techniques as you respond and get comfortable in the skin of your pen name, especially when you're doing book signings and other public appearances. Using a pen name plays an important role, but it also makes it harder for people to track you down and figure out who you are. 

Legal Considerations and Professional Advice

Finally, there are legal considerations, and you'll want to seek professional advice. Consult with legal and publishing professionals to ensure you have the legal guidance you need.

Consultation with legal and publishing professionals

When it comes to your pen name, ensure that you have control over it. Preventing any legal issues such as violating trademarks or copyrights held by others. Consult with publishing professionals to make sure they respect your pen name and are willing to proceed with it. 

Check out this related article: Why Hybrid Publishing Is Wrong For You

Obtaining proper contracts and agreements

Additionally, conducting a contractual review with your lawyers might not be a terrible idea to ensure that all your 'i's' are dotted and 't's' are crossed in the contract, obtaining proper contracts and agreements.

The first step is seeking legal advice. Do not try to handle this on your own. You'll want to involve a lawyer, an accountant, and the right people who can provide you with the advice necessary to understand the terms and conditions of using this pen name and the associated consequences.

Engage in clear communication with all these different professionals to ensure that everyone is on the same page as you when it comes to using the pen name. This way, we can avoid potential issues that we'd need to address later.


Now, my question for you today is, have you ever tried using a pen name for your books, or do you feel that it might not be ethical or a good idea to use one? I'd like to know your thoughts. Please share in the comments below, and otherwise, check out my other blogs and videos for more answers to your self-publishing questions.

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