Yesterday I received a reader question about freelance writers using pseudonyms. Given the nature of the topic, I agreed to only refer to the reader as CP. Here's the email I received:
I am in the process of transitioning into the freelance writing world, and getting my sea legs. I intend to use a pseudonym (as I have a separate, unrelated career), but am unclear about some of the business and protocol issues surrounding pseudonym use.
One method of working with a pseudonym I have read is to always use your real name with editors/clients, have them use the pseudonym for bylines (if any), and have all payments issued to the real name. The up side of this method is simplicity. The down side is editors/clients could identify me in my other career (as I have a small web presence), and slip ups can occur (and one did recently).
If instead you use a pseudonym for all communications, beginning with the initial contact or query, you avoid the above problem, but doesn't the client need to have the writer's real name and SSN at some point for 1099 reporting anyway? It's easy enough set up an email account and a DBA for the pseudonym (for payment via PayPal/check etc.), but when and how would you then reveal your real name (assuming you must)? Will clients feel misled if you have already been working with them using the pseudonym? Do they even care? What do you think is the best way handle this?
Currently the only pseudonym I use would be my initials. In my case that's an issue of not wanting certain articles to rank for my own name above other work because they're not in my traditional niches (I have one client where I occasionally venture outside of business and social media topics solely to write controversial pieces -- business purpose as opposed to business topics). It's not an issue for me in that case because I'm not really worried about hiding my identity -- only search engine rankings. I still link to a profile where my sites can be found and I can be identified, and that's okay. And the client certainly knows who I am.
On my own sites I take the approach of either writing under my real name or publishing no name at all (again, generally a niche issue and not wanting a side project to overwhelm my primary work in search engine rankings).
This is an issue I've thought about quite a bit though. For starters, I plan to get married someday and I don't plan to keep my last name. Yet I've built my entire personal brand around that name. I've also considered publishing my fiction under a different name as not to detract from my more business-related work. Ultimately, my plan is to do this:
- Use my first name and married name for everyday life.
- Use my first name and maiden name in business (with clients, the bulk of my own sites, etc.).
- Use my middle name and married name for fiction (or choosing another last name if I don't get married for whatever reason down the road).
If you didn't mind a publisher knowing you real name (as I won't), then I'd suggest taking the route of doing business with them under your real name and simply using the pseudonym as your author name. However, you do. And that does make things a bit trickier.
Now I'm not a legal expert and rules are different around the world (so please check with a legal professional before doing this), but I'd say the DBA (doing-business-as) route could be your best option. This is likely what I'll have to do with my maiden name if and when I do get married and legally change my name.
When you register your business under a name, that's the legal name for your business. You can therefore conduct business under that name (your pseudonym). You should be able to open a bank account under that registered business name for example, so publishers or clients can send a check to your pseudonym and not to you with your real name.
As for the SSN issue, when you're a registered business you can apply for an EIN (employer identification number). This essentially works just like your SSN, but for your business. In my case, I already have one of these associated with my registered business name which is based on my maiden name. That number can be used by your publisher or clients for their tax records -- after all, they're doing business with you as if you're a separate business, maybe a sole proprietorship, rather than you as an individual. And that number is associated with your business name (pseudonym), not your real name. DBA issues can vary by state in the U.S. so check with your local or state officials for more information about it. The EIN application is free and takes just a few minutes (when I applied I could do it over the phone -- painless).
You can even register your copyright under your pseudonym. Some of the terms are different if you do though, so look into that.
You can also brand yourself under your pseudonym and build a platform under it that would attract publishers. You can hide your real name on your site's domain registration by ordering privacy protection that keeps the registration anonymous, or list the company name (your DBA name) instead of your personal one.
The only area where you might run into problems is in signing contracts. It could be considered fraud to misrepresent yourself there. Keep in mind that when signing a contract people don't sign their company's name. An individual is authorized to sign the contract on the company's behalf, under their real name. This is one of those issues where you'd definitely need to consult with a contract attorney. You might very well have no choice but to let the publisher know your real name in order to sign your contract. That said, there's no reason you can't negotiate a clause to that contract stipulating that the publisher (or agent, or client) may not reveal your true identity. I've also read that some courts have upheld abbreviated signatures as valid for contract signings (do some research on this in your state, as I believe contract law can vary in that sense). If that's acceptable, you might be able to sign using your initials or your first initial and last name, as opposed to having your full real name tied to the contract. But again, this is where lawyers are your friend.
No matter what route you choose, best of luck!