Are you interested in being a freelance writer, copywriter, or author but not sure if you want to use your own name?
Whether for business or pleasure, there are a variety of reasons why authors and freelance writers choose to use a pen name or pseudonym for their published work.
Perhaps you aren’t sure if you should use a writer alias or aren’t aware of everything that goes into picking and using fake writer names. Or, maybe you’re current boss might get wind of your side hustle and you don’t want your boss or co-workers to know what you’re doing.
There’s a lot that goes into using a pseudonym for your freelance writing business so don’t be rash when thinking of this option. Okay, so let’s see what this is all about.
In this article, you will learn:
- Why writers choose to use a pen name (or names)
- How you can come up with a good pen name
- Some pen name generators to help you come up with the perfect nom de plume
- How you can still get paid when using a pen name
- The legalities that go along with writing under a pseudonym
- How to be a successful freelance writer when using a pen name
- How to maintain anonymity in your writing
Why Use a Pen Name?
Here are a handful of reasons why writers choose to use a pseudonym other than their legal name when publishing their work:
- Separation from personal and professional (or side gig) life – you feel that your business has to be completely different than your personal life. For example, you are feminist writer but in your personal life you, you don’t identify as a feminist.
- For protection against retaliation on themselves or their family when writing about controversial issues – as a writer sometimes you want to talk about sensitive topics and you don’t want your friends and family know it’s you who is writing it.
- Their legal name is difficult to spell or pronounce – you don’t want the spelling of your name to be the reason why no one can contact you for your freelance writing!
- Their legal name is boring or too common – to stand out, you need a name that is unique and if your parents decided to stay in the lane and name you a popular name, you may need to have a pen name.
- Legal name is too similar to a famous author – if you become wildly successful as a freelance writer or author, you don’t want any confusion if your name is similar to another famous author.
- Can’t brand their given name as the URL and social handles are already taken – sometimes your name online is already taken. It’s up to you if you want to branch out and create a pseudonym or just use your middle name or parts of your name for your URL and social handles.
- It’s all about the marketing! They want something catchy for marketing purposes – that’s right! No more Jessica Smith – here comes Ivory Case!
- Their legal name doesn’t fit the genre in some way (age, gender, nationality) – depending on your name, you may found it it’s hindering your success as a freelance writer.
- The author writes for multiple genres and doesn’t want to confuse or mix audiences – This doesn’t really relate to freelance writing but if you author books then this can help with helping your audience know each pen name.
- Just because…why not!
No matter the reason you choose, I’m sure you have many questions about writing under a pen name, so let’s get down to it!
How To Come Up With A Pen Name or Pseudonym
There is quite a bit to consider when you create a pen name for freelance writing. The new name must also be unique, be available to use, and it’s taken by someone else that’s already popular.
Plus, there is a very large advantage to creating a pen name or pseudonym that many writers overlook.
When you are preparing to create a pseudonym you must consider that this name will likely be your website and url name, your social media handles, and will stare all of your potential readers and loyal fans in the face on the cover of your book, if you decide to publish a book.
So when choosing a pen name, take care to pick something that will lend itself to a killer marketing plan as well.
A pen name should be something that sticks out to your readers that they will remember rather than just having to remember the titles of your book.
As an author and freelance writer, you are creating a brand.
Here are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a pen name:
- Make sure the name is available for a URL and social media handles
- Pick something that is easy to spell, pronounce, and remember
- Choose something that is catchy and or memorable
- Make sure that it is not too similar to other well known authors
- Pick something that fits the genre and age of your readers
*Pro tip: If you are writing for more than one genre, you can pick more than one pen name to fit each genre. For example, JK Rowlings of the famed Harry Potter series real name is Joanne Rowling. She chose a more masculine pseudonym to appeal to (at that time) a preteen, male audience. She then took on the pen name Robert Galbraith when writing crime novels to get away from the pressure of writing under JK Rowling.
How to Create a Pen Name or Pseudonym
Need a little help coming up with pen name ideas? Sometimes coming up with the right pen name can stop you dead in your tracks and no action is performed. Don’t let that stop you from freelance writing or becoming a writer!
Let’s say you write romance novels based in Italy. Picking an Italian name would be preferred.
But how do you come up with good pen names?
With the magic of the internet of course!
Fake Name Generator allows you to pick the gender, name set, and country you would like the name to be.
Reedsy pen name generator is a simple way to pick a pen name by entering a first letter, gender, and country of origin.
Get real creative with the Masterpiece pen name generator. It allows you to put in a completely random set of info or fill in things like the street you grew up on and generates a ton of different names for various genres.
From general names to hard-hitting crime pen names and science fiction. This name generator also helps you pick things like character names and has a plot generator!
How To Get Paid Under a Pen Name
While there are a few steps that you need to take, you can certainly use a pen name and get paid for your writing!
There are a few different routes that authors take when using a pen name or pseudonym and getting paid for their work.
If you are self publishing: Simply enter your pen name on the self publishing platform for whatever you are publishing. This is separate from the author’s account with your real name and banking information. This can be done for any type of self-publishing that you earn money from, from Amazon to a blog.
If you are using a publishing house: Work with your agent and clarify in your contract that you are using a pen name but should be paid under your legal name.
If you are copyrighting your work: You can clarify with the US Copyright office that you are using a pen name and include that on the application.
If you want to get paid under a pen name: If you prefer checks and payments to be made out to your pen name you can fill out a Doing Business As registration and get paid under any name, just like you would with any other business.
How to Use a Pen Name Legally
Luckily, when it comes to the whole legal issue of using a pen name, there isn’t a lot to know and it is pretty straightforward.
Is it legal to publish written work under a pen name?
Yes, it sure is!
It is perfectly legal to publish work under a pen name and often a smart business decision for authors. All publishing platforms allow authors to use a pen name for written and published works.
While you can legally sign documents using your pen name, this will not shield you from any legal issues, taxes, lawsuits, or other liabilities.
How Can You Be a Successful Freelance Writer with a Pen Name?
Using a pen name when freelance writing, for say blog posts and articles, is a little different than if you are writing books and novels. The marketing aspect of things looks a little different.
A freelance writer might choose to write under a pseudonym for a few reasons. And while it is not impossible to build a brand around a pen name as a freelance writer, it can be a little more difficult.
Often freelance writers are sharing who they are in some capacity or another (unless they are ghostwriters). This means actively connecting to their readers through social media and other means.
Readers often become invested in the person behind the writing. It can be a lot more difficult to build a brand and the trust of your readers when you are using a pen name and stay behind the curtain, so to speak.
However, there are many valid reasons why freelancers might choose to write under a pen name.
Freelancers might choose to write under a pen name if their legal name is already taken by another writer.
Or, perhaps their day job strictly prohibits moonlighting and they want to remain anonymous. Revealing their true identity (much like superheros) could jeopardize their relationships and their everyday lives.
How to Write Anonymously
If, as a freelance writer, you choose to write under a pen name, there are a few other things to consider when maintaining your secret identity.
You can’t just plug in a different name in an article and expect to remain anonymous. If you are writing about events in your life that people are aware of, this may give away your identity. Or if you have a very specific writing style that others could recognize, then this could also reveal who you are.
So whether you are freelance writing a book or an advice column, be aware that just because you are using a pen name, this does not guarantee your anonymity.
What is Your Pen Name?
There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing and writing under a pen name.
Jot down some of your favorites and do some research on what is available for those names.
This is a decision that requires your time and attention and should not be done half-heartedly. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up and brand a pen name, so pick something that really resonates with you.