Recently, a white man revealed that he had been publishing poetry under a pseudonym that sounds like an Asian man in order to be published more. At least one of his previous publishers said they had no idea that he was writing under a pseudonym.
I come from a nonfiction background, where fake names are a very dicey business, so it blew my mind that a writer would not inform his editor that he was writing under a pseudonym. But a friend argued that in fiction, pen names don't carry the same baggage as in nonfiction. And many write under names that are not their legal names (trans writers, those who have been married or divorced, etc.) Putting that man's deceptive intentions aside, what's the legal situation around pseudonyms?
Am I just out of touch/wrong to believe that all writers inform their editors and agents of their legal names? What happens if they sign a contract in the fake name (not an LLC/DBA situation, but posing as a nonexistent individual) - isn't it unenforceable? What if someone were to get lawyer-y about a work of fiction and the publisher finds out they signed a contract with someone who doesn't exist?
I'm not going to weigh in on the situation with the poet using the pseudonym. There are enough raised voices about that now.
From a non-fiction standpoint, the name you write with is much more important since the book's gravitas is partly a function of who you are.
Writing a book about the Buttonweezer family and using the nom de plume "Felix Buttonweezer" is going to create some problems if you're not actually Felix.
With fiction, not so much.
Publishers don't sign contracts with someone who doesn't exist. You exist, no matter what name you use. Your concern is getting PAID. I can't pay you unless I have an authentic tax ID and a name to match.
More important, you can't cash a check unless you have an account and ID to match the name on the check.
The problem sorts itself out not in legalities but in practicality.
I have had several clients who write under names not their own. With one of them, I wouldn't have known unless she'd told me. Fortunately she likes to err on the side of propriety so she did tell me. We paid her under her pseudonym because she'd set up her bank account to handle those payments.
Which brings us back to the poet using the pseudonym. My only question is how did they pay him?