Anonymous blogging is thrilling.
If you’re a nervous, new blogger who’s terrified by the idea of putting your words out into the world for strangers to dissect, it’s much easier to find your courage under an assumed name.
Even if you’re comfortable with having a spotlight on your writing, it can be immensely freeing to write for an audience that can’t associate your words with you.
You can vent your innermost thoughts; discuss topics you’d never speak aloud; rant about your colleagues with impunity.
People might dislike what you write — or they might adore it. But with the protection of anonymity, it’s easier to deal with the emotional impact of throwing your work under the gaze of others.
While there are different kinds of anonymity online, here I’m talking mainly about writing your own blog under a pseudonym.
Ghostwriting can be another form of anonymous blogging, but ghostwriting for clients differs from writing anonymously on your personal blog. As I’ll discuss a little later, it can be a tricky identity-juggling act, but doesn’t involve quite the same problems.
If you’ve been writing a personal blog under an assumed name for a while, one day you might decide that you’d like to make a living from this blogging malarkey, as you’ve been pouring your heart, soul and time into it. Actually, you’ve become pretty good at it. Perhaps you should start blogging under your own name for other people — and getting paid.
Unfortunately, if you start freelance blogging and you think it’s a wonderful idea to use your anonymous work for clips, writing under a pseudonym might put your freelance blogging career in jeopardy.
Clients won’t trust you, and here’s why:
You can’t prove your experience
Last year, I set up an anonymous blog where I documented my experiences of a particular environment, and discussed leaving it behind. I rapidly found kindred spirits and connected with a significant online community.
I loved it. I was proud of my writing, and at the time, I didn’t consider my writing to be anything to do with work.
That changed when I decided to pursue freelance writing work. I needed proof that I could write. I needed published clips. I needed blog posts.
All I had was my anonymous blog. I tried to use it as proof of my ability to write, playing a game where I only revealed my identity to potential clients.
Predictably, no-one took the bait. I soon realised that I would have to start getting pieces published online from scratch.
When you blog anonymously, it’s difficult to show that the thousands of words you’re so proud of were written by you.
Ghostwriting is another common form of anonymous writing, and if you ghostwrite for blogs, you face a similar problem — your words go out to the world under someone else’s name.
At least if you’re writing for clients who are willing to acknowledge that they use a ghostwriter, you should be able to get around it with some carefully chosen testimonials.
But if you’re an anonymous blogger who goes pro, you face a dilemma: either you reveal your identity and claim your work, or accept that your anonymous work can’t effectively demonstrate your ability to write for blogs.
Clients wonder if you’re a liability
Imagine you convince a potential client that your anonymous blog belongs to you. Or imagine you prove it by revealing your real identity on your blog.
Imagine that your writing impresses them, and that you’re a brilliant fit for their blog or publication.
Despite your amazing writing skills and understanding of their niche, they might still have reservations.
Think about it from the client’s point of view:
- If you like writing anonymously, perhaps you’ll keep doing it. Maybe you have another anonymous platform.
- If you’ve previously written about your work, you might write about your clients. What if something goes wrong, and you complain about them?
Sure, that’s not a problem if you’re going to remain incognito, but it can be very easy to unmask anonymous writers online.
Why should your client take the risk?
It looks shady and secretive
Because, well, it is!
If you can convince a client that your blog belongs to you, your secrecy will prompt questions.
Why didn’t you write under your real name? Why won’t you stand behind your own words? What did you have to gain by concealing your identity?
These are valid questions, and ones that might cross the mind of even the least paranoid client.
You have to put yourself into your potential client’s shoes and consider why they would hire you over someone who publicly acknowledges their own work. What’s in it for the client?
So, what are your options as an anonymous blogger who wants to pursue freelance blogging professionally?
Option 1: “Come out” as a blogger
If your blog has a large following, you may benefit from a big reveal.
Dr. Brooke Magnanti weathered a storm of controversy when she revealed that she was the blogger known as Belle de Jour, but has since published books that draw on both her experiences as a London call girl and her work as a research scientist.
Dr. Magnanti’s deft handling of different identities resulted in further success and opportunities as a writer, but this approach won’t necessarily work for everyone.
Coming clean is a gamble. You might upset people mentioned on your blog, but at least you can claim your work. However, you’ll probably have to deal with client questions and concerns when you reveal your authorship of anonymous pieces.
Option 2: Learn from it and move on
I quietly abandoned my blog once I realised that I couldn’t prove it was mine. While I regret having to desert something that I worked on, it was important for me to make a clean break and start putting my name to my words.
If you leave your anonymous blog behind, you’ll still have learned a lot from the experience.
In mastering the basics of WordPress, figuring out the mechanics of a blog post, and recognising the importance of transparency in connecting with audiences, I laid the foundations for future blogging and writing work.
It’s sad to abandon writing that you enjoy, but at least if you intend to make money from freelance blogging you can channel your experiences into work that will be both enjoyable and lucrative.
Option 3: Keep it as a secret outlet
It’s tempting to keep writing on your anonymous blog, even if you can’t use it to display your blogging skills. I considered it, but I personally find that the public/private writing divide is a little head-wrecking.
While it’s cathartic to use your old blog as a journal or creative outlet, you still risk being unmasked — even more so as your freelance blogging profile rises.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’re willing to take that chance.
If you write anonymously online while pursuing a freelance blogging career, you may find yourself in odd and dangerous situations when your public and private writing lives collide.
Revealing your identity is a gamble that might impress clients with your writing, but it’ll also make them wonder why you needed to hide.
Ultimately, if you’re an anonymous blogger who wants to be a professional blogger or writer, it’s important that you face up to your various online personas and consider carefully how you’ll negotiate the tricky waters of secrecy, proof and identity.
Have you blogged anonymously? How did affect your freelance blogging work? Let me know in the comments!
Patrick Icasas says
I followed a couple of other anonymous bloggers whose situations were as you described. One was a bouncer in a London night club, the other was an employee of the TSA. The bouncer since came out and released a book (and got a non-bouncing full time job), and the TSA employee eventually came out as well (after he quit). From what I recall, they were both happy to have done so.
Gwen Boyle says
It can work out quite well for some people, definitely – especially if you manage to get a book out of it! I think it’s key that the people you mention “came out” after quitting, rather than being exposed for their secret blogging while working, as it can be quite the dodgy situation.
Sabita Saleem says
Its an insightful post indeed. I have been ghostwriting for nearly 2 years but as per my experience anonymity has not helped me end up in high paying writing gigs. Definitely there are other associated factors, predominately approaching a client who pays better.
I have soon realized that this cannot pay off in the long run. You have to make a deliberate move to boldly appear. I fell short on this since I did not network well with the professionals in the business.
And everyone keeps improving so owning your work is a wise choice. The sooner one does the better it is.
Gwen Boyle says
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I think ghostwriting is slightly different, in that you can get testimonials from clients if they’re agreeable, but some of the issues are the same. Invisibility is a big problem – if you’ve worked for people who don’t want the world to know they use ghostwriters, it could be really frustrating trying to move on to better clients with no proof of your former work.
I agree that you have to make a “deliberate move to boldly appear” – nice way to put it, and best of luck doing just that 🙂
Sabita Saleem says
Thanks for the like 🙂
I am talking to one of my clients for recommending me on LinkedIn ( its a big corporate giant for whom I did website content and catalog – 2 projects). If my client really puts it there, it would be literally a hard earned recommendation I must say.
I am struggling with guest posting these days. I have a long list of websites now, I have to write query letters and at the same time grab hold of better paying clients as I sit at the bottom rung of earning through freelancing and its just a recent awakening for me.
In need of advice and references for better paying gigs.
Cherese Cobb says
Gwen, Thank you for this post. I have never blogged or written anonymously because I believe that it is important to put your name behind your words, for better or worse.
However, I can totally see the appeal of anonymous writing, especially poetry or journal entries. I agree that “it’s cathartic to use your old blog as a journal or creative outlet”, but writing is almost like a finger print and sometimes its really easy to indentify the author.
I have a question. How do you get testimonials from your past clients? Should you email or call them? Should you use feedback (I have worked on content mills in the past.)
Cherese R. Cobb
Gwen Boyle says
Glad to hear you enjoyed the post 🙂
I absolutely agree with you about writing being like a fingerprint – people have stylistic tics that they don’t consciously recognise, and its too easy to let something slip that could give away your identity.
As for testimonials, I think email is best. I have testimonials on my website that were based on feedback from a broker site. I now work with that client outside the broker site, so I emailed her and asked if I could use her feedback (which was very complimentary) as a testimonial. However, if you can’t put an identifiable name to the feedback, or if you can’t find a way to get their permission through the content mill, it could be tricky…a case of anonymous clients!
Hope that helps,
Cherese Cobb says
Thanks for the reply. 🙂 I am going to email my clients. I am also very lucky in the fact that most of my “content mill” clients actually shared their names with me.
Cheers and God bless,
Cherese R. Cobb
I think the face of blogging has really changed in the part 7 years or so.
In the past people were fearful of losing their privacy and also of possible workplace repurcussions if the revealed their identity online. Now – being online establishes your authority.
I understand that new bloggers may want to test the waters anonymously – especially because their first posts won’t be as polished as their later works.
But once a blogger starts to put their best foot forward it’s probably best to go with his/her real identity.
Gwen Boyle says
Absolutely, I agree. Blogs have moved on so much in the last few years from being extensions of personal journals or diaries, and if you want to establish your presence as a professional writer online, I think it’s really important to put your name to what you write.
Xavier Em says
In all those stories all those people came out much later because you can’t always start blogging under your real name and maintain a normal life so it’s when you are well established that you know there are no repurcussions. Can you really come out as a part time call girl and still maintain a normal life as a med student ? Won’t you also scare off potential clients who don’t want to be written about ? How long would the bouncer or TSA agent last with some of their articles criticising their working locations, colleagues and bosses? If the employer really wants you can’t you offer to send a confirmatory E-mail from the address you use on the blog ?
Gwen Boyle says
That’s very true – people who successfully “come out” as anonymous bloggers usually have some kind of security before they do so – they’ve left the job they complained about, or they already have a book deal, or they’ve moved on in other ways.
You could always send a confirmatory email from your blog if you wanted to prove to a client that you were the author – but they might find all the cloak-and-dagger stuff a bit weird!
Jenn Flynn-Shon says
Great post here, you’ve made so many valid points about the pros & cons of staying anonymous as a blogger. As a professional ghostwriter I find a couple great pros – no need to worry about having my work stolen, minimal research needed because I specialize in a specific industry. But there are definitely drawbacks when it comes time to land another client. I ask up front if I can use the pieces as part of a portfolio so I have the chance to gain more client work in the future. Thanks for reminding me I should be asking for more testimonials!
Lauren Tharp, BAFB Community Manager says
Hi, Jenn! As a ghostwriter/ghostblogger myself, Gwen’s post certainly caught my attention as well! 😉
Thanks for stopping by. And good luck getting those testimonials!
Gwen Boyle says
I think it’s great that you ask upfront to put your work in your portfolio – that way, you can make sure you get acknowledged! I’ve done a tiny bit of ghostwriting, and found the experience a bit strange (but quite enjoyable) – linking to a blog post in my portfolio without my name on it was odd! But at least I had permission to do it. And as Lauren said, best of luck getting more testimonials – it’s something I’m working on too 🙂
Wolf Bailey says
I read what you to say and read all the replies and have a question for you. I am a newbie to blogging and have yet to post the first in what I hope to be a series, I am a retried peace officer of almost years, I want to start writting on the issue of the number of police involved shootings of young blacks and the underlying feelings of a majority of peace officers towards blacks, especially young blacks who distrust the police. I feel that this is an issuse that has been overlooked by law the enforcement administration, and the news media. My intention was to write under an assumed name as I know that this will raise anger in some police officers especially here on my home town. While I am not to fearful for my safety I do worry about the safety of my immediate family. Your thoughts please.
Gwen Boyle says
I don’t know if I can really advise on a situation that might affect your safety, or your family’s safety. Your blogging project sounds very interesting (and relevant at this time!), so I suppose it depends on whether you want to be known as a blogger, or whether it is more important to you to get your inside perspective and information out into the world, regardless of whether or not your name is attached to it. Are you planning a career as a writer, with this blog as evidence of your writing abilities? If not, and if you’re concerned for your family’s safety, writing anonymously but honestly about your experiences may be the better option. I hope that helps, and good luck!
Wolf Bailey says
Thanks Gwen. O am talking this over with the family and will make a decision shortly. You input is greatly appericated.
Abel Negas says
I am planning on starting a Tech/common man and technology blog, but I am a current Law Enforcement Officer, and in the Military reserves. I am leery about using my name due to my main occupations but everyone tells me to start a blog due to my love and desire to share my experience with tech. I don’t plan on talking about topics central to my occupations but if they come up I wont shy away. I wonder if I am better off under a pseudonym or should I be “loud and proud”. I am not writing for the money, just the love of sharing what I enjoy about tech. I have to disclose outside employment to my Law Enforcement occupation if it (blog) was to become a money making site.
What if you choose to do freelance writing under your pseudonym? Will there be legal complications if I go down this lane? My primary profession is very different from my “alter ego” writer.
I am a single, newly separated mom re-entering the freelance writing field out of financial need. I work part-time in the environmental field and will be moonlighting with the writing late at night after the kids are in bed. I am a long-time writer. I have wr itten on several of my own blogs over the years and currently write on 2 personal blogs. I have published 3 articles but 2 of the articles don’t exist anymore because they were published on a now-defunct website. One of my current blogs is an aggressive sex & dating blog that was written under a pen name. I used a pen name for obvious reasons, as I wanted to protect the privacy of my ex-husband, my children, and my dates. However, I think it displays some of my best writing. I don’t know if I should link to the anonymous blog as a writing sample when querying. I have not so far but wonder if this would be a good idea under certain circumstances. What do you think?
I recently discovered a personal finance blog, budgetsaresexy.com, written by J. Money. When he started blogging in 2008 he was working a full-time job, but he has been blogging full time for several years now and has started, bought, sold multiple blogs/websites according to a podcast interview I heard. I’m not sure if he does freelance work, but if he does, it’s probably under his J. Money name as well. I’m sure he is one of the few anomalies that made it work, but just thought I’d share.
Sarai Payne says
Thank you. I was actually frowned upon for wanting to publicize myself. Being told “perverts would have a chance to bother me”, seems really dumb at this point. I should stick out. And I understand the reason now.
Being new to BAFB, You helped me a lot.
Xavier Em, i’m a prove that you really can be a part time call girl and still maintain a normal life as a student . Although i just started 10 months ago, by now i have been a good experience, and i like what i do.
In the start i had no presence in the web (i have good clientes just for “word of mouth”), Just recently i decided to be in Radar Sensual, and that’s all.
Offcource it may be too soon for my words seems valuable, but that’s the experience i would like to share with you.
I have to write anonymously for the blog I want to set up because it will include controversial political and social opinions I don’t want associated with my name.