It’s a question that plagues most writers when first starting out: Do I do business under my legal name or a business name?

Or, what if you’ve started using your legal name and want to change down the road?

For example: You’ve established your business under your legal name, and then your name changes due to marriage or divorce. Or maybe you want to start using a pseudonym (also called a pen name or nom de plume).

What’s the best way to handle your dual identity?

Here are a few helpful hints for setting up shop under a name other than your own and for handling a legal name change.

When to Use a Pseudonym

There are many reasons to use a pseudonym in your writing business. For example:

  • You’re a banker or elementary school teacher who writes erotica on the side, so you write under another name.
  • You use your legal name for some writing, such as copywriting, but want to use a pseudonym for your fiction.
  • Your legal name is long, difficult to spell, or otherwise cumbersome, and you want to use something shorter.
  • Or the opposite: Your name is John Smith, and you want to write under a more memorable name.

If you’re just beginning your writing career and aren’t sure if your pen name is here to stay, you simply can tell your publisher or client which name to use when you’re published. There’s no need to take any further, more official, steps.

Just be sure your invoice states — or their accounting department knows — to make checks payable to your legal name, not your pen name. You’ll have a hard time cashing a check for Roman Studly at your local bank.

File a Doing Business As (DBA)

If you’ve decided to make your pseudonym official, your next step is to file a “Doing Business As” (DBA) form with your county or state. (A DBA is also called a Fictitious Business Name statement or FBN).

A DBA is a legal document that makes your business name official. It gives you legal rights to that name, as well as the right to set up a bank account, open credit cards, and cash checks in that name.

In addition to making your pseudonym official, you’ll also want to file a DBA if you operated your business under your legal name, and then your name changed. If you want to continue to do business under your previous name, you’ll need to file a DBA for that name.

This is the route I took. I started my business under my legal name, Amanda Foxcroft. About a year later, I got married and changed my last name. I wanted to continue writing under my previous name, so I filed a DBA for “Amanda Foxcroft.”

To find out how to file a DBA where you live, search online for “doing business as [your state name]” to get specific instructions.

Register Your Domain Name

A domain name is your website address, and if you don’t have one already, you’ll want to get one for your writing business as soon as possible.

You don’t have to wait until your DBA is filed to register your domain name. In fact, you should make sure your business name is available online before you register your DBA.

To find your new domain name, do a search for “buy domain names” or “register domain names” and see what’s available. If you’re choosing a pen name, research available domain names first so you don’t accidentally choose one that’s already taken.

If you’re planning to use your legal name as your domain name, be aware that it may be taken. If this is the case, you still can use a variation of your name using underscores and hyphens, such as www.Ficticious-Example.com. Play around with what’s available and see what you think works best.

Fees for domain names usually are paid annually. Costs vary per registrar, so shop around before you make your final purchase.

Invoicing

Once you’ve filed the DBA and registered your domain name, you’re ready to start getting paid!

Invoicing your clients when using two names can feel a little tricky, but it need not be. Here are some ways to keep your invoicing clear:

  • Put your pen name or DBA name at the top of the invoice, as you would a company letterhead.
  • Toward the bottom, include a note in bold and/or large font that says “Please make checks payable to [your legal name].”
  • If you have a bank account in your DBA, you can include both names in the note.

Once you file your DBA, register your domain name, and get your website up and running, you’ll be able to handle both, or all, your business identities with ease.