I'm wondering how possible anonymity is when using a pen name. I have no idea how that works with modern publishers. Your real name must be public information somewhere in that transaction. So is there any reasonable expectations of privacy if you want to remain anonymous? What do the Mark Twains and George Eliots of today do?

  • 5
    Well, recent history indicates that taking to twitter to suggest that reporters to look into a pseudonym is not a good way to maintain it's integrity.
    – wax eagle
    Jul 19, 2013 at 2:57
  • 1
    I'm guessing mostly you need to cover your tracks really really well. For an unknown, that's rather easier than for a celebrity.
    – Standback
    Jul 19, 2013 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


I've located an article that might be of some help: http://www.dsattorney.com/qa-pseudonyms-in-contracts/

The author (Daniel N. Steven, a practicing attorney in Maryland and former publisher/editor) says that you can maintain privacy by using a PO Box and unlisted phone number with your pseudonym, but that a Social Security Number would still be needed for tax purposes. (His advice obviously assumes you are in the U.S.) If you didn't want to use your Social Security Number, you'd have to establish another legal entity, such as an LLC (a limited-liability company), as the copyright owner of the work.

(His website also has a link to other legal articles on publishing that may be of interest.)

  • You should summarize the content from the linked article so that the readers only need to follow a link for further reading not to evaluate whether the content is useful. Jul 23, 2013 at 11:59
  • @PaulA.Clayton Thanks for the help :-) (I'm new and still learning the SE ropes). Additional info added to my answer.
    – C. St. C.
    Jul 23, 2013 at 15:34
  • Good edit! I can now upvote without reservation. (You probably want to avoid abbreviations like 'FWIW'. While such does not seem to be as unwelcome as text speech, it moves away from the professional tone sought by this site. Also 'SS#' might be clearer spelled out. 'LLC' is less problematic because it is given as a specific example of "another legal entity".) This is a quite decent first Stack Exchange post. Jul 23, 2013 at 15:47
  • @PaulA.Clayton Ah, I see. I've made a few tweaks. Thanks again!
    – C. St. C.
    Jul 23, 2013 at 17:26
  • Thank you, this is exactly the kind of information I was looking for!
    – grass_now
    Jul 23, 2013 at 20:53

I don’t think you can expect a pen name to be bulletproof. It is more of a camouflage than an invisibility cloak. It enables you to maintain some privacy because you are promoting the pen name instead of your real name, and so even if your pen name gets very famous, you can still check into a hotel under your real name. Notice that we know Mark Twain’s real name, but it is not famous, so relatively few people know it.

There are legal tricks you can do to further obfuscate, but still, it is not going to be bulletproof. Your name is still going to be legally connected in some way and the more famous your pen name gets, the more likely you are to be found out.

The way pen names get found out is somebody — typically a reporter — goes looking for Richard Bachman and finds that he is not a real person because he has no birth certificate and other paperwork. Then they go looking for the actual author, who turned out to be Steven King.

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