Continuing last week’s discussion on pseudonyms, this post will cover the legal reasons some authors chose a pen name
In the past, when a creator signed up with an agent or publishing company, that entity would have sole access to future projects for a number of years (usually five, but sometimes the contracts lasted for 20 years). That’s increasingly less common nowadays, but the practice of “securing” an artist still happens.
The newspaper I (Editor Joe) worked for had a clause that said I couldn’t write/photograph content for another newspaper or magazine. I could submit work not done during company time to contests, associations and other organizations but there was a weird murky ground on what was acceptable and what would have gotten me fired.
With that in mind, sometimes young artists don’t know how to protect themselves and are trapped in horrible contracts that drain them without much profit. To get around that, some creators will sell work to other agents using a pen name. It’s not a legal loophole, but it is a way to afford a good lawyer.
(This may seem like something out of a movie, but writing mills are still heavily present and a lot of post-college writers find themselves creating lots of work but not getting paid for it. Read this 2010 article from New York Magazine for a more in-depth look to how writing mills work. Remember, read every contract thoroughly and ask questions before signing anything.)
Every writer dreams of having passionate fans tell you how the characters you created changed their lives; how your story inspired them to chase their dreams and achieve greatness.
No writer dreams of having upset fans threat to kill you or you’re family. Yet that happens – and more often than you think. People are crazy. Stalkers exist. We hear about them for actors and singers, but famous writers also attract unwanted attention – and in this is day and age, it’s easy to find someone’s home address. It just takes a quick Google search.
Having a pseudonym doesn’t stop creators from attending readings, having their photo taken or managing social media accounts, but it does provide a thin layer of protection from the die-hard fans that don’t understand personal space.
Living a double life
The final legal reason a creator might want to use a pen name is their art is weird or unusually and if co-workers knew about it could have negative repercussions on their careers. This may seem a little “out there” (and it is) but let’s talk about Christie Sims, an Amazon writer with over 300 titles to her name – and they’re all dino porn.
Dino porn meaning the stories focus on a prehistoric woman having sex with a dinosaur (and the occasional dragon). With titles such as Taken by the T-Rex, In the Velociraptor’s Nest and Ravished by the Triceratops, it’s all very clear what the stories are.
Christie Sims is not her real name and, in multiple interviews, she’s refused to share her birth name because she doesn’t want others to know her as the “dino porn lady.” A pseudonym works for her because writing is not her only means of revenue – she has a life outside the realm of writing.
And while dino porn is an extreme, there are professors, business leaders and other professionals who write “less-than-professional” content and don’t want to miss professional opportunities because of it.
Full disclosure: I write gay porn under a username for a website that I didn’t share on anything with my birth name attached to it because I’m exploring career options and I don’t want potential bosses to see my name attached to something that will prevent me from getting an interview.
Pseudonyms don’t work for everyone – there are plenty reason to use a birth name – but for some people it might be the perfect solution for a problem. It’s something to discuss with an agent or a curator before agreeing to work with them. Keep it in the back of your mind next time you experiment with your art, you might just want to credit Sally Micheals for your next piece.