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How Can I Use A Pen Name? Ask Anne The Pro Writer

Hi Anne,

I am a technology journalist with over 20-years of experience. I am currently working full time as a senior writer with a fairly major publication. I am trying to see if I can earn some extra money doing freelance work and was looking for advice on how to go about finding it.

My biggest problem is that I am not sure my present employer would want me doing a whole lot of freelance work, and I am kind of hesitant asking them if I can. We’ve had a bunch of layoffs over the past one year or so and I am not sure how they’d react if they knew I was doing freelance work on the side.

At this stage of my career I am not interested in bylines, just the extra money. Are there any suggestions you might be able to offer on how I might go about finding even remotely decently-paying gigs, where I don’t really have to use my real name when pitching for a job?



Hi RS,

Thanks for writing.

Using a pseudonym has a long and respectable history. In the U.S. using a pseudonym is legal as long as it’s not used for illegal purposes.

There’s really no reason you can’t just pick a name, write and submit under that name.

You won’t, of course, have credits you can point to, at least not at first, but the strength of your writing should be enough.

Most U.S. banks will also make it fairly easy to set up an AKA (Also Known As) on your business account. The new banking regulations make this a bit tougher, but sit down with the bank manager and explain you’re going to be writing and accepting checks under a pseudonym.

An alternative is to write under your pen name and bill under your real name. Most publishers are happy to do this too.

As far as finding gigs, you query, submit on spec, etc. just as you did in the beginning.

Another approach would be to use your real name but write in a completely different field. If, for example, you ski, you could use your current writing credits to help get assignments about skiing. The chances of your current employer making the connection between you and articles on a non-tech topic are slim.

I’m also wondering if you have some sort of a contract or agreement with your current employer that spells out what sort of limitations, if any, they put on you freelancing for others. My hunch is they would be most concerned about your writing for competing tech publications. If you’ve got an agreement, review it so you know where you stand from a legal point of view.


I know some of my readers regularly use pseudonyms. Any thoughts about this?


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • To Anne and the others- thanks for this! I’ve been considering the idea of using a pen name, and this is good advice.
    Wish you all a very Happy New Year!! 🙂

  • I’ve been using my pen name for just about everything for over 15 years because (no surprise) it fit me better than the one I was handed at birth. A few sticky spots now and then but not insurmountable. The AKA document procurement is different in different states, sometimes through state offices, sometimes through county–and always with a cost.

    • Meet Ellie, my fellow blogger over at oldfatbroadsloseweight.com. Love this gal.

  • So an employed senior technology writer with 20+ years’ experience wants to earn extra money freelancing. What is wrong with this picture? Maybe I don’t have the full picture, but why not just ask for a raise? It seems as if you’re going to leave the producing silver mine, get a burro and a pickaxe, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/TheOldProspector.jpg and go looking for gold in the desert, off-hours. That’s an awfully big desert, from what I’ve seen. You may get lost and not find your way back the next morning. Do you already have some clients lined up? Then go for it. Maybe it’s not the money; maybe you need a vacation, something different to do for a while. Whatever you do, don’t neglect the silver mine until you find real gold. Let us know if you need help.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Sage advice Jorge, not that I’ve always followed this kind of advice.

  • I thought about writing under a “pen name.” I read a case study about a woman who wrote under a “man’s name” because publishers were not taking her work seriously. Needless to say, she’s had many books published by using her “male” pen name.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..FTC Disclosure Affects Blogs =-.

  • Another thing you can do (something I’ve requested in the past) is that your work be published under a pseudonym. This allows you to use your current credits to land gigs, but when it comes time for them to be published you can always ask that the publisher use a different byline to distinguish your freelance work from your full-time job, and avoid any unpleasantness with your current employer.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..To be, or not to be. =-.

    • Anne

      Yes, and if you add your pen name under the title but have your real name up in the corner with your address, email, and phone, they will usually honor it, but it’s a good idea to point it out.

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