I have a non-fiction book about language learning, entrepreneurship, productivity and personal growth in general. The problem is: I have published this book using a pen name (pseudonym). I would prefer to keep myself anonymous, as the book is filled with personal stories and experiences that I had with other people and even real-world companies and universities.

However, I would also like to give some lectures about the topics included in the book, in order to promote it.

The question is: can I give a lecture using just my pen name, without revealing my real name and affiliations? Would it be unethical or even forbidden by law?

As an alternative, I thought about including myself as a co-author, but this also seems to be unusual.

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    Keep in mind that once you appear in public people can just take pictures of you, and Facebook will happily identify you by facial recognition. – chrylis Dec 14 '18 at 8:03


Yes, of course you can use your pen name. Your audiences need never hear anything different. None of your marketing materials need give your real name.

The issue comes when you need to do things officially. Say, you get booked for a lecture and they set up transportation or a hotel for you. You need ID for those, so they'll need to be in your real name. If it's really a secret, then you'll want to do your own transportation and lodging.

The other issue is how to get paid. For that, get yourself a Fictitious Business Name. As Amadeus points out, this is also called "doing business as" (DBA). In the United States your city or county will have the paperwork.

You need to research that no one else is using the name, and, if they are, that it's not in a field where yours might interfere. For example, if your pen name is used by an ice cream shop in another state, you're good. But if it's used by another writer, that's potentially a problem (though not a dealbreaker).

Then you do the paperwork and pay the fee. In my county, it's $45 for the first business name and $9 for any additional one (register all variations). After that, you are required to publish the notice in a local newspaper. They'll help you with that and it's not expensive, just a classified ad. Your Fictitious Business Name is good for 5 years.

Your bank will need to know your real name in addition to the FBN. Otherwise, you probably don't have to tell anyone.

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    But if you publish the notice in a local newspaper, won't everybody that reads the classifieds know who you are? – Michael Dec 13 '18 at 18:40
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    Celebrities apparently book travel and hotels with fake names all the time. – Hannover Fist Dec 13 '18 at 18:59
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    @Michael yeah. And it's the point. Because the idea behind a FBN is that you're not doing it to fool anyone. Fortunately, you're allowed to use any local paper. Including really small ones without searchable online archives. – Cyn Dec 13 '18 at 19:34
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    Not to mention that the OP could actually just be recognized by someone in the audience, and then the game's over. (Or by photo, of course.......) – user3067860 Dec 13 '18 at 19:43
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    It all depends how much of a secret it is. Most people using pen names probably don't really care. I've known some people who do it to keep two types of books they write very separate and eliminate consumer confusion. For example, if they write romance novels and also children's picture books. But some people might really care, especially if they write memoir or erotica, say. In the OP's case, s/he says "would prefer to keep myself anonymous" and has contemplated listing her/himself as a co-author. Which means someone finding out isn't a huge deal. – Cyn Dec 13 '18 at 19:49

Why would it be illegal or unethical to represent yourself as the author of the book you wrote under a different name?

I know I would go to a lecture given by John le Carre and never expect him to announce himself as anyone other than le Carre. Taking this example further, I might be disappointed should he take the podium and announce his real name. I want le Carre - oh, sorry, you just get the man who showed up. I would realize that this man was Carre, but never expect him to give his real name.

We know so many authors only by their pen names that we expect them to always go by them. Interviews with Piers Anthony were interviews with Piers Anthony.

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    Wait, Piers Anthony isn't really Piers Anthony? His back-cover bio used to go into a bunch of detail about how his parents named him that (with a couple of middle names). – The Photon Dec 13 '18 at 21:45
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    He uses part of his name as his pen name. Not like Carre, of course, whose real name bears no resemblance to the pseudonym – Rasdashan Dec 13 '18 at 22:17

I'm no lawyer, but here is a list of authors who use(d) pseudonyms. Do you suppose any of them did lectures or readings? I'm just guessing, but I bet a lot of them did: Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda, Stan Lee, etc.

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    Stan Lee's real name was never a secret (just not widely publicized), Pablo Neruda wasn't in the US (whose laws apply in this case), and Mark Twain lived in a time where names weren't even remotely as necessary as they are today. None of those are particularly good examples to follow for an author seeking to keep their real name hidden. Looking at previous authors is a good idea, but you'll need to make sure that their strategy actually applies. – Nic Hartley Dec 13 '18 at 17:52

At least in the USA, you can also file a DBA (Doing Business As) for your pen name, which gives you the right to sign contracts and do other stuff without revealing your real name. IANAL, but businesses use these all the time. It does become a matter of public record, but then somebody would have to go looking for it to learn your real name. You don't have to be a business to get one, though.


Check your local laws. My home country, for example, allows you to register an official alias name, which will even be written in your passport so that you can use it on official documents. This is specifically intended for authors, artists and religious purposes.

If you do not have this opportunity, then yes you can absolutely give a performance under a pen name. Musicians do it all the time (e.g. Cher is actually named Cherilyn Sarkisian, Alice Cooper is actually named Vincent Damon Furnier, etc.) so I fail to see why an author could not do it, both legally and ethically.

Note that a public appearance can easily break your anonymity. Someone takes a picture, posts it on Facebook, and from there it is easy to either compare it with other pictures of you (face recognition and reverse image search are both readily available) or someone simply recognizes you.

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