Different Genres…Different Names?

Today’s post answers a question I hear a lot: What are the business and legal concerns authors face when using different pseudonyms (or a pseudonym) for writing in different genres?

We’ve already looked at the legal issues involved in using a pseudonym (What’s in a [Pen] Name) so today we’ll focus on use of different names (real or fictitious) for works in different genres.

As an initial matter, authors can legally use different names (either real or fictitious) for different published works, as long as the use is neither fraudulent nor intended to get around a legal or contractual obligation. In plainer language: you can’t get around limitations in your publishing contract simply by publishing under a different name. 

Sometimes, contracts forbid an author to publish additional works within a specified time before or after works released under the contract. Read your contract carefully. Sometimes the language leaves a loophole for works published under pseudonyms; other times it forbids all such releases. Before you self-publish, or contract with another publisher, for works published under a pen name, be sure your contract allows it.

Before deciding to use a different name (or pen name) for works in different genres, decide how strict a separation you will need between your identities.

Acknowledging that you cannot use a different name to avoid contractual or other legal obligations–why do you want a different name for those works?

One of the most common reasons for different names, or pseudonyms, is a need to keep the author’s genres–and identities–distinct. For example, authors who write erotic and mainstream works often use different names to avoid reader confusion.

Once you decide how separate to keep the names, you can decide whether separate websites, marketing, and other efforts are required. It can be expensive and time consuming to create a completely “separate” identity for other genres. Different names in different genres often means managing multiple websites, blogs, and social media accounts. The more identities you develop, the more time you’ll have to spend on maintaining them.

Some thoughts to keep in mind before deciding to use multiple names or pseudonyms to publish:

1. Is the benefit really worth the time, money, and effort you must spend to create and maintain the separate identities?

2. The more openly you acknowledge writing under multiple names, the less benefit you get from having them.  If you’re going to acknowledge both names publicly, and admit that both of them are you, you’re probably better off not bothering.

3. Using a second name will cut hamper (or eliminate) your ability to cross-promote your works in different genres. Once you start acknowledging both names in the same circles, you lose the benefit of separation.

4. Sometimes, having a single website with clear demarcations between your genres (different templates, colors, etc.) may be enough to “separate” them.

5. Remember that pseudonymous works must be registered as such with the copyright office, and that you may need to disclose your legal name in copyright registration.

6. Think through the logistics of using separate identities before you decide, because it’s harder to unravel once you’ve done it. This is particularly true for copyright registrations – once the registration is finalized, it’s hard to change. 

As long as you don’t intend to use the names for fraud or illegal purposes, it’s perfectly legal to use multiple names when publishing. However, it’s inconvenient to build multiple identities, and often requires far more work than authors anticipate. Before you decide to use multiple names (or pseudonyms), think through the logistics carefully. If the cost-benefit analysis weighs in favor of multiple names, make sure you keep good records & plan well.

Have questions about this or other publishing legal and business issues? Feel free to ask in the comments, or on Twitter (I’m @SusanSpann).

Have you used multiple pseudonyms to publish? Would you? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!

2 thoughts on “Different Genres…Different Names?

  • March 25, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    I’d be interested in an analysis of any legal or economic issues that could arise from signing with a literary agent or agency based in Canada or elsewhere outside of the U.S. Thanks

    • March 29, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks Chris! I’ll put that on the list for sure!

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