Today’s post takes a look at the issue of pseudonyms, and how to address them in a contract.
IT’S LEGAL TO USE A PSEUDONYM, BUT NOT TO ENGAGE IN FRAUD.
Authors often use pseudonyms (aka “pen names”) when they can’t or don’t want to use their legal names in connection with their writing. Use of a pseudonym is legal as long as the author doesn’t use it for fraud or tax evasion, or other illegal purposes.
When choosing a pseudonym, don’t pick a name that lends itself to fraud or mistaken identity. It’s fine to write as “Stephen King” if that’s your legal name…but if you’re picking a pseudonym, that might not be a smart one.
TELL YOUR AGENT ABOUT YOUR PSEUDONYM BEFORE YOU SIGN THE AGENCY CONTRACT
Your agent (if you work with one) should know about your pseudonym–and your real name–before you sign the agency contract. Contracts and other legal documents must be signed in the author’s legal name–and that includes the contract with your agent. The agency contract may, but need not, reference the pseudonym also. (For example: “Author X, writing as [pseudonym].”)
PUBLISHERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PSEUDONYMS TOO
Authors (or their agents) should let the publisher know about pseudonyms before the contract is drafted. The publishing contract should reflect the fact that the author is using a pseudonym, and wherever possible should state the pseudonym being used.
This may appear in the recitals section (e.g., “Author X, writing as [pseudonym]”) or as a separate paragraph in the contract. It’s important to mention the pseudonym in the contract, to ensure the publisher knows of its existence and approves the name. You don’t want to set your heart on a name like “I.P. Freely” and then have the publisher reject it down the line.
Publishers also need the author’s legal name for payment and tax purposes. Royalty checks can’t be cut to a pseudonym unless the author can cash or deposit them that way. Also, the publisher’s tax statements will need to reference the author’s legal name and social security number. Making sure you identify yourself by real name and pseudonym from the start will help avoid confusion and legal issues.
IF YOUR WRITING DEPENDS ON PLATFORM, YOU CAN’T HIDE BEHIND AN UNKNOWN PSEUDONYM.
Most publishers will agree to authors using a pseudonym as long as the name doesn’t cause confusion or eliminate the author’s platform. For example: if you’re famous for something, and writing on that topic, the publisher will want you to use the name that’s known.
IF YOU MUST USE A PSEUDONYM FOR LEGAL REASONS, MAKE SURE THE CONTRACT REFERENCES THAT ALSO.
If your personal safety depends on use of a pseudonym, or you must use a pseudonym for another legal reason, make sure the contract references that also. The contract should state not only the pen name, but that the publisher agrees not to identify the author’s legal name in public (unless legally required to do so). Note that no contract provision will (or should) stop the publisher from identifying your legal name if legally required to do so. You cannot use a pseudonym to break the law, and you cannot expect a publisher to shield you from legal liability.
DON’T EXPECT A PEN NAME TO SHIELD YOU FROM LAWSUITS
Publishing contracts require the author to make certain warranties about the work, including the fact that the work doesn’t violate the law or others’ legal rights. Those warranties must be made in the author’s legal name. Use of a pseudonym won’t protect the author against violation of those warranties or against third-party claims.
Pseudonyms are a privacy shield, but not a legal defense.
Have questions about this or other publishing legal or business topics? Feel free to ask in the comments!