You’ve just penned your first sci-fi, and you’d be thrilled to share it with the world if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re painfully introverted? You’ve written a memoir about a traumatic childhood that you know can help others, but you’re terrified that the fallout of publishing it will stretch well beyond your coping abilities? Your erotic stories are steaming hot and just begging for eager readers, but you don’t want your company’s board of directions to find out about your exciting but stigmatizing side gig?
In other words, you really want to publish an ebook, but you dread what might happen if you were to do so under your own name?
You’re in good company. J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, Ann Rice, and Mark Twain are all pen names — and even through these authors didn’t rise to fame under them, the likes of Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, and Agatha Christie have all played around with pseudonyms, too. Just as publishing your manuscript digitally, in ebook form, is a perfectly valid choice in the 21st century, there are plenty of reasons to use a pseudonym. What are the pros and cons of publishing your ebook anonymously, and can you even do that?
Can you publish your ebook under a pen name?
Yes, you can! Although you can be traditionally published under a pseudonym, too, the process of self-publishing an ebook using a pen name is actually considerably easier. If you self-publish your ebook using the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, you’ll automatically be offered the chance to publish under a pen name. Your author account will likely still be in your true name, meaning you can get paid for your work — though, if privacy is your top priority, you may be able to go even further by establishing an anonymous LLC in your pen name to make it harder for serious diggers to find out who you are.
It’s also perfectly possible to copyright your work under a pseudonym. The US Copyright Office offers you the choice between copyrighting your book under your pen name and real name simultaneously or doing so solely under your pseudonym.
The advantages of publishing your ebook anonymously
If you write your ebook under a pen name, your work can speak for itself. Done right, your true identity will not color the lens through which your readers enjoy your work, and your ebook will not come back to haunt you in your “real life”. As a new, camera-shy, author, the low stakes of publishing your ebook anonymously may give you the confidence you need to actually get your work out there. If you’re tackling controversial topics, or if you’re afraid of hate comments, publishing your ebook under a pseudonym can protect you.
What to consider before publishing your ebook anonymously
No matter how brilliant your manuscript is, your audience won’t magically show up — to get people to actually read your book, you have to learn how to market your ebook. Like it or not, your best marketing opportunity lies in allowing your target audience to connect with you as an author. By self-publishing your work under a pen name, you rob yourself of a great opportunity to promote your work.
Anonymity is also surprisingly and increasingly unsustainable in today’s world. You’ll have to choose your pen name with care, so that nobody can connect it back to you, and make sure your manuscript isn’t accidentally littered with small details that offer glimpses into your true identity. Thanks to social media, you’ll also either want to have extremely trustworthy friends, or keep mum about the fact that you are self-publishing an ebook. It only takes one person to spill the beans!
The more successful your ebook becomes, the harder it will be to maintain your anonymity. If you’re not aiming for your manuscript to become profitable and you’re content sharing it on writers’ groups, it’s going to be fairly easy to keep your real name out of it — but if you self-publish a successful ebook, you may eventually want to take credit for your work or be faced with sleuthing experts who dox you.
Should you publish an ebook under a pen name? That is, ultimately, a very personal question. Authors who would eventually like to be credited for their work should strongly consider publishing under their real name from the get-go, while those who fear that their personal life or professional reputation could be ruined if the fact that they anonymously published a book came out would be advised to seek legal counsel before proceeding.