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Using Pseudonyms
by Dawn Copeman

Return to The Business of Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

The Inquiring Writer had an interesting question from Vanessa, who wanted to learn about using pseudonyms. She wrote: "How do you pay the taxes with different names? Must they be separate? How do you keep your identity private and separate when you are sending things via e-mail? Do you have different e-mail accounts in different pseudonyms? How do you keep it all straight with different pseudonym e-mail addresses?"

Personally, I've never used a pseudonym, so I can't advise on this topic, but many of you do or have done and you all had lots of advice for Vanessa.

Barbara G. Tarn (pseudonym) has this advice for Vanessa. "It is quite obvious that you pay taxes under your real name. I don't know if and how you should register the pen-name or pseudonym, but I do know that when you register with the copyright office, for example, you put your real name and then the pseudonym if you publish under another name.

"I have many e-mail addresses, but as author I use one with my pen-name and one with my real name (and the same signature) because payments go to my PayPal account that is under my real name.

"Contracts with editors stated My Real Name (writing as Barbara G.Tarn) and I signed with my real name. On the sites where I publish (Lulu, Smashwords) they pay through PayPal. Amazon sends a check, so I made sure I registered with my real name.

"If you plan on going the traditional route and submit to agents and publishers, simply state in the query letter that you write as... so they'll make the payments to the correct person!

"If you really want to keep your anonymity, I guess PayPal is the only way to go. But again, I doubt you can pay taxes under a pen-name."

Sandra Fitzpatrick has experience of pseudonyms from both sides, both as someone helping others with their taxes and as a writer who has used them. She writes: "I do tax for folks, and you will have to let the magazine/publisher know your real name, SIN or SSN and so on. You will pay tax (after writing off any expenses) on the same form as you use for general tax. There is a business section to the form. If in doubt, ask a professional tax preparer for advice.

"Re the e-mail - you're going to be e-mailing the publisher, not the readership, so you shouldn't need a separate e-mail. If you think you'll be getting e-mail from readers, yes, set up a Google or Yahoo account with the other name. Remember to actually check the account or set it up to forward to your usual e-mail.

"I did use a pseudonym when I also had referred papers in biochemical journals, but don't bother any more. It added to the confusion and didn't solve any problems."

Geraldine Walker offers another possible solution to Vanessa. She wrote: "I applied for another social security number under which I do freelance business and to which I have checks deposited; my bank account for that EIN (Employer Identification Number) reads Geraldine Walker dba Walker Industries.

"That way money made as an independent contractor is deposited in that account, keeping it separate from money from regular job source and making it simpler at tax time for me to know from whence various monies come. For instance, eBay sales monies are deposited in this account so I use this account for mileage reimbursement, that is, driving to and from post office for eBay shipments. Sounds piddly, I know, but we all have to be accountants sometimes, just another hat we wear, right? Don't know if this might be of some help to the person wondering about using a pseudonym. You can apply online for this EIN."

Sometimes, pseudonyms choose the writer, as Colin Hall explains. "When I retired, my wife and I moved to Spain, living on a campsite. I got into singing (something to do), and the compare would introduce me as 'Colin from the campsite.' One night he slipped up and said, 'The next singer is Colin Campsite.' It stuck, and when I started writing, (for something else to do), I used the pseudonym, 'Colincampsite'.

"People come up to me and say, 'You are Colin Campsite.' (My picture accompanies my regular newspaper columns.) I have often been asked if I ever thought about moving, but Colin Apartment or Colin Villa has not got the same ring to it.

"You can see that even I am confused. I don't know whether I am one name or two. So if I should ever start getting paid for my writings, which is a very unlikely event in Spain, heaven help the taxman, I say.

"I know this doesn't help Vanessa, but I thought you might like to know."

Michael Bracken has lots of experience of writing under a pseudonym. He wrote: "I've sold almost 900 short stories, and many of them have been published under pseudonyms. Every payment is made to me, not to my pseudonyms, because I do not hide my identity from my editors, and have never had a reason to. (In fact, several times the use of a pseudonym has been an editor's decision rather than mine.)

"So the question back to Vanessa is: Why does she want to hide her identity from editors? How would she benefit by doing this?"

Good point, Michael, and one that is taken up by Moira Allen. Moira kindly agreed to write a piece on pseudonyms for the column.

"The first thing Vanessa needs to consider is her goal in using a pseudonym in the first place. Why does she wish to write under a different name or identity? There are many reasons for using pseudonyms. Some authors write in different genres, and use different names to keep their different writing areas separate. For example, a writer who writes both mysteries and romance novels might write each genre under a different name.

"Even within a genre, a writer may use different names for different 'series' or types of books. Mystery author Cleo Coyle comes to mind.

"Some writers use pseudonyms because their writing may conflict in some way with their personal or professional life. A professor of Literature at a prestigious university might not want to be known as a writer of torrid erotic romances (though that's less an issue now than it might have been a decade ago).

"Some writers use pseudonyms to disguise their gender. You'll rarely see a romance novel written by 'Michael Smith' - but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of men writing romance novels!

"Another common reason for pseudonyms is to present a single identity for a writing team or collaboration, such as a husband-and-wife team (again, Cleo Coyle comes to mind, as she writes with her husband). Maan Meyers, another mystery 'author,' is a pseudonym for a husband/wife team.

"Finally, some writers use a pseudonym because they don't feel their own name represents them effectively in the writing field. 'John Smith' might prefer something more dramatic; if, conversely, your name were Stephen King, you might want to change it for your own writing.

"Note that most professional writers don't use a pseudonym simply to 'conceal their identity.' If that's a writer's primary reason, it suggests a hint of paranoia - why don't you want people to know who you are? Is there a reason why you don't want anyone to be able to identify you? Is it a valid reason or is it an issue of insecurity?

"Since most writers aren't concerned with actually concealing their identity from the world, the 'legal' issues of pseudonyms raised in this question generally don't enter into the picture. The only people that the writers want to 'fool' with an alternate identity are readers. They aren't concerned about concealing their identity from editors, publishers, banks and the IRS. There is generally no reason to do so.

"Thus, if you use a pseudonym, generally all you need to do is inform the editor that you wish the work to be published under the byline you have chosen. The editor needs to know who you really are. Your contracts need to be signed under your legal name. Checks are issued to you (not your pseudonym) and you pay taxes under your own name. In short, all the 'behind the scenes' stuff that goes on in the writing business is done in your own name; the pseudonym is only a 'front,' a stage name that you project to the readers (who have nothing to do with your taxes and contracts). "If you have a profound reason to write under a false identity, you would need to set yourself up as a business entity, which would involve getting a 'doing business as' identity in the name you wish to use, paying for a business license, setting up a bank account under your business identity, and paying taxes for that business. But generally this is far more than you need to worry about!"

Find Out More...

Everything You Wanted to Know About Pseudonynms - and Weren't Afraid to Ask! by Moira Allen

Pseudonyms: 10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Pen Name, by Adrienne deWolfe

Should You Use a Pseudonym? by Moira Allen

Copyright © 2011 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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