As I've been going through the steps to get my first magical novel Sonji ready for publication, I've been learning about more than where to put my commas and how to listen to my editor. (If you came to my new website through my old website (silvermistauthor.com), you know more than the person choosing this entry randomly from my blog.) Using a pseudonym or penname—especially when it's not connected to my given name—doesn't help me protect my work. Instead, it leaves me open to problems.
One such problem is someone with the actual name I've picked for my penname claiming I've stolen his or her work. The work is mine, but I've put someone else's name on it ... and left it open for them to possibly benefit from my hard work. The files on my computer or backup system or whatever I've written in a notebook will look nice in court but because the name on the story is not the one I sign on my taxes or put on my schoolwork as a kid, it doesn't legitimately look like it's mine.
Another issue is that if your penname is too similar to that of a well-known story character (like Silver Mist the fairy from Disney Fairies), you could have a big company peering over your shoulder. There are several people (like J. K. Rowling) and companies (like Disney) who have released stories under the names of their well-liked characters. Fans flock to these writings—and if the fan finds that story is not written about what they expect, they’ll complain to who they think released the piece. This can in turn get the company or established writer to come after you for infringing on their creative property. Here’s another thought: if what you’ve written is well liked and making money, the company or the more established writer could go after you to get the money you’re making because they feel you’re taking away from their bankroll.
Overall, when establishing a penname, play with your name—the name your parents gave you. Look on Google or whatever your favorite search engine is to see if anyone is writing under a possibility for you to help you figure out just how you want to sign off on your writings. By taking this precaution, you’ll have skipped my problems (like money lost on a bad idea and having to rethink branding and feeling like you’ve smacked into a wall).
PS—Friends and family thankfully pointed out the flaw in my penname before a company or established writer could come after my work. I feel sorry for anyone this may have happened to and hope it didn’t kill your love of writing or willingness to rebrand and go forward.