There might be a few reasons why you wish to publish your book anonymously, especially if you’re exposing a shifty practice or you’re writing your autobiography. However, if your legal name is not on your book, will you lose out on your royalties? How can you get paid?

Anonymous authors get paid by ensuring that their legal name is in the contract when publishing with a traditional publisher. If you’re self-publishing, you can use your pen name on your books, but have your legal name in your account.  

Keep reading to discover why authors use pseudonyms and how they get paid without revealing their identities to the public. Make sure to consult a lawyer before acting on any legal information in this article.

Can You Make Money Using a Pseudonym?

You can make money using a pseudonym. You can publish under whatever name you like, as long as you make it clear to your chosen publishing house that you’ll use a pseudonym and use your true identity on legal and financial documents. 

Although you can’t copyright a name, you can choose to copyright your work under your pen name or legal name, as long as that’s included in your contract with your chosen publishing house.

How To Put Your Pen Name on Legal Documents

If you want to get paid under your pseudonym, that’s entirely different. 

There are a host of legal obstacles you need to overcome, and if it’s really what you want to do, then a lawyer can assist you in creating a new legal identity.

If you choose this route, be sure to do your research on the laws surrounding it where you live. If you don’t follow proper legal procedure to the T, you could end up in hot water with the IRS, and sadly, you can’t send your pen name to court in your place.

Basically, you will remain anonymous to the public by using a pseudonym. 

Still, unless you want to go through the laborious process of legally creating a new identity, you’ll never be able to remain 100% anonymous to the agency you work with. 

If you’re deciding to publish anonymously due to safety reasons, you must publish with a house or agent that you can trust. Alternatively, you can opt to create a new legal entity to publish and be paid under before even approaching a house or agent to minimize the chance of revealing your true identity. 

Legal research is laborious, but you can start by reading through this Digital Media Law Project guide on practical considerations for anonymous publishing and the legal challenges you will likely encounter.

Why An Author Might Use a Pseudonym

A pseudonym is a fake name or an alternate identity that an author chooses to publish under. Authors choose to publish under a different name or completely anonymously for several reasons. These include security concerns and deviating from the work they’re known for. 

An author may choose to publish under a pseudonym or pen name for a multitude of reasons:

  • To avoid bias: Some authors, especially those who are already published and well-known, may choose to publish a book under a different name to prevent people from judging their work before even reading it.
  • They share a name with another author: Some authors have pretty common names or share a name with an already-published author. They use a pseudonym to avoid confusion or distinguish themselves and their work. For example, there are multiple authors called James Patterson and Richard Smith. 
  • To protect themselves: Some authors write about very sensitive topics and may want to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
  • Because they want to: Authors may use a pen name simply because they want to try something new, especially if the work they’re publishing under the pseudonym is vastly different from their previous work. This method is employed by Agatha Christie, who used Mary Westmacott to explore human psychology without any expectations from her fanbase, based on her famous works of fiction
  • For a clean slate: Authors work hard to create a name and identity for themselves and their work, and publishing work outside of what the public would expect can tarnish their reputation. An example of this is J.K. Rowling using Robert Galbraith to publish comedic books or crime stories, content that is worlds apart from what made her so famous. 

These authors managed to remain anonymous, or at least separate to a degree, from their true identities for quite some time. Some were found out by linguists, some by fans, and some simply revealed themselves or weren’t overly concerned with remaining anonymous. 

Either way, these authors became successful using their chosen identities and were paid their fair share of the profits. For instance, Lewis Carroll’s net worth was $75 million before he died. 

However, to every yin, there is a yang. 

Publishing anonymously or maintaining a facade regarding your identity isn’t always some sort of mysterious main-character quest. Anon authors get no glory or public recognition for the work they publish, and unless they are outed in some way, they have to celebrate their achievements in private.

The New Yorker does an excellent job of revealing the not-so-glamorous aspects of why some authors choose to be anonymous and the potential dangers and repercussions of exposing their identities. 

The Sacrifices Anonymous Authors Make

Some extremely famous anonymous works exist, but to what degree can an unnamed person be famous? What sacrifices must you make?

You Won’t Be Remembered

Your work can start revolutions, save lives, break hearts, and inspire generations, but if you aren’t named as the author, you will not be remembered in the same way. The decision to publish anonymously or work very strictly under a pseudonym means that your work has a life that is entirely separate from you, at least in the eyes of the reader.

This is the less glamorous side of anonymous publishing, mainly when authors publish anonymously for safety reasons or to distance themselves from their story because it’s too devastating or shocking.

It Can Be Difficult To Become an Accomplished Author

While this is entirely understandable, it can make it incredibly difficult to become an accomplished writer today using this method. Publishing houses want to meet the person behind the story and know why they should give your work a chance.

So, while you can get paid without revealing your true identity, you may have fewer opportunities to publish in the first place compared to other authors who put themselves out there. 

This is especially true when you consider how much marketing and networking are needed to successfully sell a book. You can’t exactly get paid if your work isn’t selling, which is a significant issue if your goal is to make a living as a writer. 

Can I Self-Publish Anonymously?

You can self-publish anonymously. The issue arises when it comes to how you will get paid for your work. You can either create a new legal entity, or you can use your true identity, depending on your dedication to anonymity. 

Another obstacle is marketing, as self-publishing requires even more aggressive and consistent marketing from your side because it’s entirely up to you to sell your work. If you must remain anonymous to the degree where you can’t advertise your work yourself, self-publishing might not be the ideal choice. 

Are There Any Famous, Totally Anonymous Works?

There are a whole host of works that are, to this day, authored completely anonymously that still managed to become famous:

  • The Arabian Nights
  • The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes
  • The Green Knight
  • Dream of the Red Chamber
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Primary Colours
  • The Sorrows of Yamba

Final Thoughts

Anonymous authors, or authors publishing under a pseudonym, can make money from their writing just like every other published author. However, there is always the risk that an author may be unable to remain 100% anonymous or that their published work won’t make a profit. 

Categories: Funding

Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.