Intellectual Property

Jam & Judicious Advice


A pseudonym or pen name may be used by an author of a copyrighted work. A work is pseudonymous if the author is identified on copies or phonorecords of that work by a fictitious name (nicknames or other diminutive forms of one’s legal name are not considered “fictitious”). —U.S. Copyright Office (emphasis added)

Why use a pseudonym?

  1. You don’t want to be identified as the author of the work by anyone other than your publisher–generally done to protect privacy and/or prevent embarrassment (writers of porn/erotica use pseudonyms more often than not).
  2. You write in more than one genre and want to use a different name for each genre (publishers sometimes encourage this).
  3. You don’t want people to know your gender–this used to be more common with women, but presently, men who write romance use a female pseudonym more often than not.
  4. Your name is overly common and/or you have the same name as someone else who is already well-known, particularly in your field.
  5. You have a famous/infamous last name and want to avoid being associated with your family.
  6. You’re writing with a partner, but you just want one name to appear on the book.
  7. You’re writing for an established series that is written by a number of authors who all use the same pseudonym.
  8. The pseudonym is your favorite name and this is your chance to use it.

There’s a problem with my name, but I want to avoid using a pseudonym. What can I do?

  1. Use your full name: First Middle Last
  2. Drop your first name: Middle Last
  3. Use one or more initials: First M. Last, F. Middle Last, F.M. Last
  4. Use a diminutive of your given name: Diminutive Last
  5. Use your maiden name (or conversely, use your spouse’s name): First Maiden, Middle Maiden, First Maiden Married
  6. Add a hyphen: First Maiden-Married, First-Middle Last, First Middle-Last
  7. Drop your surname: First Middle
  8. Use a nickname in place of your given name: Nickname Last
  9. Add something extra to your name (a nickname, your mother’s maiden name, etc.): First Extra Last

Legal Name: In Canada, your legal name is the one on your birth certificate. A married surname is considered an assumed name. A person of either sex is legally entitled to use her/his spouse’s surname upon marriage, if s/he chooses, but s/he is also free to revert back to her/his birthname at any time. A legal name change only takes place when a “change of name” application is made and a new birth certificate is issued. Your local laws may differ. Check your government’s website for more information. Note: The legal system in Quebec is civil law, whereas in the rest of Canada, it’s common law, so what holds true for most of Canada (and other common law countries) may not be applicable in Quebec.

Examples of Pseudonymous Names

  • Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Clemens
  • Currer Bell, pen name of Charlotte Bronte
  • George Eliot, pen name of Mary Ann Evans
  • George Orwell, pen name of Eric Arthur Blair
  • Richard Bachman, pen name of Stephen Edwin King

Examples of Names that are not Pseudonyms

  • Madeleine L’Engle, short for Madeleine L’Engle (Camp) Franklin
  • J.K. Rowling, short for Joanne Kathleen Rowling
  • Pat Conroy, short for Donald Patrick Conroy
  • Toni Morrison, short for Chloe Anthony (Wofford) Morrison
  • Stephen King, short for Stephen Edwin King

A Brief Explanation of Copyright

Automatically Yours

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression, including literary works. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created in fixed form. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work.

The use of a copyright notice is not required by law, but it can be beneficial to use it. The notice informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner and shows the year of first publication. If a work is infringed and a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, they will not be able to claim innocent infringement (when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected). The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

A copyright notice should contain the following three elements: The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; the year of first publication of the work; and the name of the owner of copyright in the work or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized. Example: © 1999 John Doe An author may also wish to place a copyright notice on any unpublished copies that leave his or her control. Example: Unpublished work © 1999 Jane Doe

To get the © symbol in Word, hold down ctrl and alt and then type c.

A Brief Explanation of First Serial Rights

When you submit a story to a magazine, for example, the magazine will usually want “First Serial Rights” or “First North American Serial Rights”. A writer selling First Serial Rights is selling a newspaper, magazine or periodical the right to publish the story, article or poem for the first time in any periodical. All other rights remain with the author. If your work has been previously published, you can not sell First Serial Rights.

This is where we get into a gray area. While most of us wouldn’t consider posting to a critique group message board to be publishing, some publications MAY consider it to be, particularly if the boards are open to the public. This is why the forums at Toasted Cheese will be password-protected–they will not be open to the public, only to people participating in the forum.

You may also want to ask the publication you plan to submit to what their policy is on critique group posting and refrain from posting final drafts.

Toasted Cheese claims no rights to any work posted on its forums. All rights remain with the author.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice.

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