There is something mysterious about a book that was written under a nom de plume, or pen name. For whatever reason, the author using a pen name has made the decision to keep his or her true identity hidden.

Can you publish a book anonymously? Yes, absolutely! There are many examples of famous authors taking the anonymous writing path. Let this handy guide show you how to participate in anonymous writing.

What Is a Pen Name?

So, what is a pen name, exactly? A pen name is a name an author adopts as an alternative to their real name when publishing a book. Pen names go by various terms, including nom de plume, pseudonym, fictitious name, or literary double.

An author may use their pen name exclusively for their published works, or they may use it — or multiple pen names — in addition to their actual name.

Are Pen Names Legal?

Pen names have been used for hundreds of years. Even so, if you are wondering, “Are pen names legal?” The answer is a resounding yes. When publishing, whether traditionally or self-publishing, you simply enter the pen name in the metadata author field and also on the cover design and interior title page.

To be paid royalties by the online retailer, you set up your banking information 1) to be routed to an account established in your real name or 2) to an account with a DBA (doing business as) in your pen name.

Here are some items to consider when deciding on a pen name:

  • Check Amazon authors. Make sure there are no other authors who have the same name as your pen name.
  • Check trademarks. Check the U.S. Trademark Office catalog to ensure you are not using someone’s trademarked name.
  • Avoid the same name in your state. Do an online search for your prospective pen name along with the name of your state, so you can avoid duplicating the name of a person who resides within your region.

Why Publish Anonymously?

Using a pen name or nom de plume can provide you with the freedom of anonymity if you have concerns about people knowing that you have written a particular book.

It may be as simple as not wanting your straight-laced colleagues at the law firm to know that you secretly write bodice-ripping romance novels. Or, it’s that you are writing on a sensitive subject that could get you unwanted attention. The use of a pen name will help you to keep your identity a secret.

There are many different reasons why an author might want to consider publishing their book anonymously, including:

  • Sensitive Topic. An author may wish to conceal their identity due to the controversial nature of their topic, storyline, or genre. Topics such as politics or religion or genres like erotica may generate undesired pushback or scrutiny.
  • Freedom of Anonymity. The author wishes to write books without revealing to friends and family that they are a writer. Some authors who use pen names may be public figures who simply wish to write books under the radar.
  • Common Name. When an author has a generic name, such as John Smith, they use a pen name to distinguish their work from other authors with the same name.
  • To Fortify Their Brand. An author may want to use a creative pen name that corresponds with the genre.
  • Their Last Book Bombed. An author may attempt to seek representation under a totally different pen name to avoid being associated with a prior book that was commercially unsuccessful.
  • Develop a Different Style. Some authors desire the freedom to expand their range into totally different writing styles or genres and thus take on a pen name. A nonfiction author may be renowned in a certain industry but wants to explore an entirely different field. 
  • Gender Bias. Some industries still favor one gender over the other, which may prompt a writer to assume a pen name of the opposite sex. Just as J.K Rowling did, an author may want to write under a pen name so they can be perceived as a different sex.
  • Royalties Still Apply. Because the author will still receive the exact same royalties whether they use a pen name or their real name, they may opt to recreate themselves with a nom de plume.
  • Switching Genre. An author who is known for writing romance novels may want to begin writing sci-fi or nonfiction, so they take on a new identity.

Keep in mind that you may encounter some marketing issues when publishing under a pen name. Traditional publishers expect you to be willing to promote the book in person. This may pose a problem if you truly want to conceal your identity, as these promotional events are likely to include your being photographed and the photos to be posted online.

For this reason, self-publishing is a better option for authors using pen names who wish to keep their identity entirely private. In fact, when obtaining a copyright, it is possible to register using only the pen name. This way, if someone is determined to reveal your identity and looks up your copyright data, you are already two steps ahead.

How To Choose a Pen Name

Unless you are specifically writing a humorous book or maybe a silly children’s book, you should take your choice of pen name seriously.

It may be tempting, especially for creative writers, to adopt a deliberately funny or flamboyant pen name. However, if the point is to be anonymous, then it’s probably best to choose a realistic one.

That doesn’t mean it has to be boring — try to think of a name that stands out. You could also consider choosing one that might have some personal meaning to you (your mother’s maiden name, for example).

Here are more tips for choosing a pen name:

  1. Use a pen name generator. Reedsy provides a free pen name generator. It is fun and easy to use, and the possibilities are endless.
  2. Make sure the name fits the genre. Try to select a name that suits the tone of your book, whether fiction or nonfiction, as well as the genre.
  3. Avoid a pen name similar to another author. Do a search on Amazon for the desired author name to make sure the name isn’t already used.
  4. Keep it clear and simple. Pick a pen name that is easy to pronounce and spell and is memorable as well.
  5. Pick a name consistent with author age. Once you know your target audience, come up with a pen name for that will resonate with that cohort. Do not attempt to use a much younger name. If you are writing for Baby Boomers, avoid using names associated with millennials, for instance.
  6. Check for domain name availability. Remember that creating a pen name also means building an online presence via an author website. Always check to see if the domain name is available.

How To Write Anonymously

Maintaining your anonymity is not as simple as slapping a different name on the front of your book.

If you are writing a book that includes events that occurred in your real life, for instance, that could give your identity away to anyone who knows you. To avoid exposing your identity you may have to also change names, locations, character descriptions, and ages.

If you are already an established writer and have a very original writing style, then people might make the connection that way. So, as you prepare to write your book, always be thinking about both style and content and be sure not to make any choices that will accidentally reveal the true authorship.

Can You Publish a Book Anonymously?

Yes, you can publish anonymously, and many authors prefer to publish some or all of their books this way. But you should make sure that it is the right choice for you.

Are you okay with the idea that maintaining anonymity will mean you can’t take part in many important marketing and author events? (Is your publisher okay with that?) The choice to remain anonymous could negatively impact the marketing of your book. For example, if you wish to keep your identity hidden, you will want to avoid public book signing events or book readings where your photo could be taken and shared on social media. 

The same issue impacts whether you’d be willing to participate in an in-person or on-screen interview about your book. This is something you will need to discuss in early talks with your potential publisher or also consider if you are self-publishing the book. Remaining anonymous will mean missing out on some book marketing and promotional events.

And what if your book is a huge success? Will it bother you to not take credit for writing it? After all, basking in the glory of success can be an enjoyable part of being a successful writer! And even if you later start admitting to people that you wrote it, at that point, many won’t believe you.

Can you publish a book anonymously? Yes, but these are considerations to review before you make that decision.

If you decide to go ahead and use a pen name, then it is easy to enter the pen name on the Kindle publishing platform. When entering the book details, you are given the option of providing the name you want to publish the book under. Amazon will know your true identity, but customers will not.

Famous Authors Who Have Written Under a Pen Name

Many people are surprised to learn that a favorite author is writing under a pseudonym. However, the practice of anonymous writing is more common than you might think. Consider these authors who have made the decision to use a pen name:

  1. Stephen King. Being a prolific writer, Stephen King used the pen name Richard Bachman alternately in an effort not to oversaturate the market with his books.
  2. Agatha Christie. While Ms. Christie was known primarily for her crime novels, she ventured out to write some romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott.
  3. Mary Ann Evans. Ms. Evans used a pen name of the opposite sex, George Eliot. In doing so, she hoped to avoid any scrutiny of her controversial relationship with a married man.
  4. Theodor Seuss Geisel. Theodor decided to leverage his middle name  “Seuss” because it rhymed with Mother Goose and would thereby be associated with children’s books. He decided to add “Dr.” to his nom de plume because his father had wanted him to become a doctor someday.

How To Get Paid Under a Pen Name

Getting your earnings is the aspect of publishing anonymously that you need to be most careful about. After all, anonymity does not mean that authors work for free!

While you might be okay with “Jane Doe” getting credit for your book, YOU are going to want to be the one who receives the money earned from the book sales.

That means you need to be clear on what name will be written on the checks, along with other legal, contractual, and copyright considerations.


Self-publishing options can be the easiest for facilitating the use of a pseudonym on your book. For instance, if you are self-publishing on Amazon’s Kindle platform, you can enter the pen name you want your new book to be published under, and that is separate from the author’s account (established under your real name) that you get paid under.

Traditional Publishing House

If you are working through a more traditional publishing house, you should make sure that your contract makes it clear that though you are publishing under a pseudonym, you are still to be paid under your legal name. Your agent ought to be able to help you in handling this process.

Copywriting Your Work

When you copyright your writing work, you can also establish that you are using a pseudonym. Keep in mind that the name itself cannot be copyrighted. The U.S. Copyright Office gives you the option to provide both your legal name and your pen name on the application or even to copyright the work solely under the pen name.

Paid Under a Pen Name

If you want to know how to get paid under a pen name, that is a bit more complicated. It will require you to create a legal entity under the pen name. There are a few different options to consider, like a DBA (Doing Business As) registration. Also, you may consider getting a Certificate of an Assumed Name. The rules for these vary state by state, so you will need to do some research about how the process works where you live.

Legal Help

It may be wise to seek legal assistance if you are looking for advice on how to get paid under a pen name. (A company like Legal Zoom may be able to help if you can’t afford a lawyer.) It is important to make sure that you do everything according to the letter of the law. In the end, performing this process accordingly will ensure you get paid, maintain anonymity, and avoid running afoul of the IRS.

The Name You Choose Matters… And So Does Your Publisher!

Now that you know how to publish a book anonymously, decide what publisher you want to work with. Gatekeeper Press offers a wide array of services for editing, artwork, publishing, distribution, and more. You can also schedule a free 30-minute consultation to get your important questions answered.

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