How to Pseudonym in Non-Fiction Book Publishing, by A. N. Onymous
January 24, 2017 6:11 AM   Subscribe

I've had an idea for a zeitgeist-y non-fiction/popular-science book. Well, it could be considered a polemic in addition to a fact-based piece of writing. Think something in the realm of politics. In light of the current political (read: troll-infested) environment, however, I have GRAVE concerns about using my real name. BAD PEOPLE will NOT like the book or me one bit.

One set of questions focuses on the feasibility of using a pseudonym, both at the book-proposal stage AND the book-marketing stage: How do I pseudonym? Does one use the pseudonym at the book-proposal stage? If so, how then does the agent/publisher know that the author is well-positioned to be writing the book? Or do you tell the agent/publisher your name and then expect 'protection' from them at the marketing stage?

How do writers who use pseudonyms manage their pen-name at the interpersonal level? Do all of their friends and acquaintances know, or only a small handful of people, or just their spouse/partner?

AND, backing up, CAN and SHOULD I pseudonym? How do people - women especially - who write about hot-button political issues protect themselves from physical and psychological harm? I think I can withstand criticism based on the actual merits of the arguments and the data I present (this type of criticism is never easy, but it is to be expected), but I think it likely that I would be called every derogatory name for women under the sun (and some new ones), potentially stalked via the internet and in person, and perhaps physically threatened.

Geeeez, now that I've written that down, I wonder about writing this book at ALL. :< But I truly think it would be salable, not to mention make me feel as if I have achieved something substantial, both personally and politically.

Tl/dr: Your advice and expertise re: if/how to use a pseudonym for the purposes of writing a likely controversial popular-science-type book would be much appreciated. Thank you.

[To set a potential derail aside, please assume that I have the background/credentials to be writing the book I am thinking about, though my previous writings are in the academic domain.]
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the way these books are often marketed is based on authority--specifically, the authority of the author. Which is difficult to do with a pseudonym.

The only thing to do would be to approach agents with your idea, as yourself. You wouldn't be able to keep your identity secret from everyone -- someone will have to pay you. And people talk.

You could self publish, but again--someone needs to pay you.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2017

I don't know the details myself, but you might look into the publishing of Primary Colors. Joe Klein was able to remain anonymous for a long time, despite the book being nationally popular and of intense political interest. I'm not sure how he and his publisher managed his identity, but it seems like it might be instructive to you.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:39 AM on January 24, 2017

Don't put the cart before the horse, here. Work on creating a polished manuscript first; worry about these details later.

If you sign on with an agency, and if you get a book deal, you will need to use your real legal name for the contracts. And there will still be parties to whom your publisher would have to disclose your identity (like the IRS.) Send proposals with your real name "writing under the pseudonym [blah]" or "writing as Anonymous." Your public anonymity can be a contract term, happens all the time--but you have to actually get the deal to make that happen. Your academic credentials will only help legitimize your work in the publishing community.

Agents and publishers have thousands of manuscripts of varying levels of controversy in their slush piles and legally it would not be in their interest to leak anything. So don't worry about exposing your identity within the publishing community.

I think you're overthinking this and possibly overestimating your reach at this stage. I agree the environment is insane but nobody is going to knock down your door for submitting a manuscript under your real name. This is a polemic, not an exposé, right? If you are leaking CIA secrets, get an attorney before you shop your MS. If you are writing your opinions, don't worry about trolls (yet.) I have to caution you that if you are cagey with agents and publishers at this stage, you will turn them off.

Your aim now should be to get published; and if you can manage that you can certainly insist on publishing anonymously, and your publisher will take that seriously.
posted by kapers at 7:39 AM on January 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

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