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Do You Need a Pseudonym?

April 23rd, 2021

First, thanks to Simon for last week’s post. I’ve known him for a long time and if anyone can provide good tips on how to be more positively productive as a writer, it’s him!

Now for some sad news; Jimmy Hodge who tutored for us for many years died towards the end of March aged 88. Jimmy was a brilliant tutor, journalist and author – but he was also a real character. He was part of a Western re-enactment society and when his group visited Rochester, Indiana in the late 70s he was made an honorary Deputy Sheriff. He later used this in his road safety work with Kent schoolchildren – just one of the many things he did as part of his charitable work. Our condolences go to all his family – he will be sadly missed.

Many of you will be glad to hear that our 2021 Poetry Competition is now open for entries. There are prizes of £300, £200 and £100 plus each winner receives a Writers Bureau course of their choice (up to £444 in value). The entry fee is £5 per poem (£4 is you are an Association of Freelance Writers member) and the closing date is 31st July.  If you would like to read the winners of last year’s competition you can find them here.

Something I get asked from time to time is: “Do writers need a pseudonym, or a pen name? “ The short answer is No! However, you can write under any name that you choose, although it’s wise to avoid the name of a writer who is already famous. Pseudonyms are more commonly used when writing fiction rather than non-fiction, because sometimes novelists want to hide their true identity, especially if writing in a genre that many people may be surprised about. For example, there are some writers who feel uncomfortable writing erotic fiction under their own name.  Do you want your granny or your work mates to know what’s really going on in your mind?

Some writers also use two names if they are writing in a genre that is different to what their readers might expect. JK Rowling writes Harry Potter books but it is her alter ego Robert Galbraith that writers crime fiction. Cecil Day-Lewis was the Poet Laureate but he also wrote 20 detective novels as Nicholas Blake. Julian Barnes is known for his Booker-winning literary fiction but produced crime fiction as Dan Kavanagh.

Some non-fiction editors might be suspicious of a writer who wasn’t prepared to write factual text under their own name. However, some writers specialise in a couple of non-fiction subject areas and choose to have a separate name for each specialism, but there is no legal or financial reason for doing this. There is one occasion when it might be useful to use a pseudonym for non-fiction work. Most editors don’t like writers working for competing titles. So a writer might write for Magazine A under their own name, and then use a pseudonym when writing for competing Magazine B.

Think carefully about using a pseudonym. Do you really need one? It can cause problems, particularly when it comes to payment. You need to ensure that you are paid under your own name so that you can bank the cheque (although clear invoicing can help to get around this). Even if the publisher pays funds direct into your account, if the name on the payment doesn’t match exactly with the name on your bank account, your bank might reject it. Using your real name avoids all of this.

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