Is Your Copyright Notice Undermining Your Pen Name?

Part 1 of 2 (Pen Names & Copyright Notices)

What’s in a pen name?

I’m going to admit, the issue of consistent use a pen name, even in a copyright notice, may seem trivial to some. For me, however, it’s about the little things that can have a significant impact depending upon an author’s mindset and goals. I originally shared a version of this post on my author blog years ago, around the time I published my first novel. But I thought the concepts covered were important enough to revisit, with a few updates and additional how-to advice.

The topic of potential anonymity via a pen name becomes especially important today given the current online social climate where abusive behavior and dangerous entitlement are so common and harassing communications are often directed at authors, creatives, and other personalities or media entrepreneurs. So let’s dive in.

Preliminary Pen Name Questions

First, let’s start with a question: Do you write under a pen name?

Yes? (Then read on.)

No? (Then this won’t apply to you, but you may know someone to whom it does. So read on.)

Next question: If the answer to the first question was yes, why did you choose to write under a pen name?

👉🏽 Did you want to shield your identity for privacy?
👉🏽 Was it strictly a marketing decision?
👉🏽 Did you want to remain incognito due to writing in a genre not common for your gender?
👉🏽 Perhaps you wanted to separate your personal life from the public in general?
👉🏽 Or maybe you wanted not to deal with any negative public perception possibly attached to your genre of choice (however misguided)?

Whatever the reason you chose to write under a pen name, did you do so and then use your legal name on the copyright notice included with the front matter of your book?

I’ve seen it time and time again.

The cover of a book lists the author as Monica Dare (fictional author), for example, and then the copyright notice reads: © 2024 Monique Reynolds. Huh?

Many writers take the time to coordinate their author brand across multiple social media platforms… [but] give no thought to having a copyright holder name inside their books that doesn’t match the author name on the cover.

Lisa R. Brooks

“Oh, okay. That’s her real name,” I think to myself.

Then I scratch my head and wonder why she bothered. In fact, I just picked up a book in which this occurred written by an author new to me. Thus, an updated version of this post topic.

Of course, if you don’t care whether or not someone knows your real name and your pen name, my comments won’t apply to you. I know many authors like this; I’m one of them. We chose pen names for other reasons. For example:

  • to separate our day job brand from our author brand;
  • we have a legal name that’s hard to pronounce, doesn’t fit our genre, or someone else was already using for the type of books we write;
  • maybe we have young children we don’t want to have to deal with our public persona/brand (because they’d share the same last name as the one on our books);
  • or whatever.

You get the idea. All the same, as I wrote earlier, you may know someone who could benefit from this information, so note the following…

Copyright Notice Coordination with Pen Name

Okay, I’ll admit I’m one of those detail-oriented people (or weirdoes?) who read the author notes, acknowledgments, et cetera at the front (or back) of a book. But, I suspect more of your readers than you think are doing the same.

Sometimes, readers may look at the copyright page to determine which book to read first. If you write series or have a substantial back list of titles, readers often want to read them in order. If the order of the books is not easily ascertainable from the covers of the books, then readers may glance at the copyright page to see if the publication date of one book is earlier than the other. I’ve done it hundreds—maybe even thousands—of times.

Many writers take the time to coordinate their author brand across multiple social media platforms, cover art, and book marketing. Yet, many of those same writers give no thought to having a copyright holder name inside their books that doesn’t match the author name on the cover.

I have to wonder why so many authors would make it obvious that they’re writing under a pen name. For many, I suspect they don’t realize that a person can file a copyright application for a work using a pen name without affecting the scope or duration of the copyright. (You can.)

For others, maybe they don’t think any readers bother to look at the copyright page. (However, they do.)

Copyright Applications and Pen Names

If you’ve selected a pen name for privacy or other reasons for shielding your real name, putting your legal name inside the book defeats the purpose. If you’ve selected a pen name so that your neighbors or the parents of your kindergarten class don’t know you write titillating erotic romance, why give that away by putting your legal name inside the front of the book? Little Sally’s parent may be an avid erotica fan, and she (or he) just might be one who actually reads the front matter of a book (then opts to share your secret with other parents in the school).

Once upon a time, educators, public employees, and others who wrote books could be a little more maverick about what they wrote about and not care what parents, the school community, or their neighbors thought of their chosen genre. But in today’s era of book banning and library policing and entitled parents thinking they can decide what everyone’s children read (and not just their own), that blasé attitude might affect your ability to keep your day job.

Let’s be honest. With today’s technology putting an information smorgasbord at the tips of our fingers, it can be challenging—if not impossible—for some people to completely keep secret a pen name. But why make it obvious or easy if you’d at least like to try?

When you think about building your author name awareness and branding your written works, your copyright notices are another “platform” of sorts across which consistency should be considered. If you’re going to write under a pen name, why not go the extra step and use that pen name consistently—even on something so (seemingly) small as a copyright notice?

Interested in learning how to file a copyright application using a pen name or other pseudonym (like a stage name)? Check out Part 2 of this post, coming soon.

In the meantime, for an overview of the general principles of protectable copyrights, check out our post on Understanding Copyright Basics.

Copyright © 2024 Lisa R. Brooks. All Rights Reserved.

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