Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dear O'Abby: Can I Use a Pen Name to...

Dear O'Abby,

I read your piece about pen names last week with interest.  I have been toying with the idea of using a pen name because I am currently contracted to a publisher I'm not enjoying working with.  The contract I signed gives them the right of first-refusal on all my future books, but I don't really want to give them any more of my books.  Can I use a pseudonym to query agents or submit a new book to different publishers?



Dear Changing,

Please do not do this.  It is dishonest and will likely land you in a world of legal trouble further down the track.

It sounds to me like you have a bigger problem here than choosing whether or not to use a pen name, and rather than trying to avoid that problem, you need to face it head on.  If you're unhappy with your publisher, you need to let them know that.  It may be that by opening the lines of communication, whatever your issues are with this publisher, you may be able to resolve them.

If not, then you need to terminate your contract with this publisher.  Only once this has been done can you offer your books, whether written under your own name or a pseudonym, to another publisher.

Using a pen name to try and avoid fulfilling a legal contract will never work because even if you do write and publish under a different name, any contracts will need to be signed using your legal name.  Royalties will be paid to an account associated with your legal name, even if you set up a separate 'trading as' account for your alter ego.  Even legally changing your name to match your pen name (which is a fairly extreme step to take) will leave a paper trail leading back to you.

Better to be honest and upfront with your publisher, get your grievances out in the open and move on with your career and your reputation intact.  And your name, which if you have already published books, may have a following you don't want to lose.




  1. Question: Correct me if I'm wrong, but right of first refusal does not mean an automatic contract for the next book, correct? All that means is that you have to give that publisher the first opportunity to either offer a contract for the book or reject the book. If that is true, even if they want to offer a contract for the book, as the author you should have the option to sign or not sign the contract, correct? So, if they offer a contract, the author could refuse to sign it (no one is forcing the author to accept the contract), and then the author should have the right to shop that book around for another publisher, right? (full disclosure, I have the same stipulation in my contract, where my publisher has the right of first refusal, but I do not have a contract with that publisher for the next book, so if they offer me a contract, I don't have to sign it. At least that's my understanding).

  2. I get new knowledge about contract with publisher...
    Thank you for sharing this useful information.

    Have a great day


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