Books, Writing

The power of a pseudonym

I turned on my laptop to write my usual Sunday music post when Twitter was flooded with the news that JK Rowling had written a crime novel under a pseudonym. The Cuckoo’s Calling was published a couple of months ago under the name Robert Galbraith and has had some good reviews on Amazon and in the press and sold a respectable amount for a debut hardback. JK Rowling has said: “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”


It’s only been a year since she she published her first adult book The Casual Vacancy, which was released to huge publicity and expectations. I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of the book. Interestingly, when it was first revealed she would be publishing a adult book I thought it would be a detective novel and I was surprised by what that book turned out to be. To be fair, it’s not the kind of book I’d usually pick up and only did so because it was written by JK Rowling. I think it’s a great move for her to have turned to a pseudonym this time – not only is it another big genre shift for her (and many authors use a new name for this anyway) but it meant the novel would gets on its own merits and not her name. There was a long gap between the last Harry Potter and The Casual Vacancy being released so it seems she has written more during this time than we thought. A sequel to this detective book is due out next year.

Pseudonym’s have been a tool for writers for many years – the Bronte sisters and George Eliot used them at a time when writing was male dominated and Lewis Caroll used his to differentiate from his mathematical writing. And they are still used today by authors trying different genres or in increasing numbers self published authors. The growth of erotic fiction has also produced many – EL James is one example. Even JK Rowling was a pen name used instead of her real name Joanne Rowling. The use of initials is sometimes used as publishers believe it will encourage both genders to read a book. Using a pen name means the book can stand for itself but it can be a risky move – if you already have an established readership, you won’t have that support and if you plan to do a lot of publicity the chances are your real name will be discovered. And in this case, JK Rowling has been unmasked fairly quickly but managed to keep it a secret enough for the novel to stand on its own feet for a while.

I’m impressed with and inspired by Ms Rowling’s determination to put stories into the world – she obviously loves writing and I hope this book will continue to live on its merits and not her name as she wanted it to. An editor on Twitter has revealed the book was sent to publishers under the pseudonym and she turned it down so JK Rowling really did want it to sell on its own. I suspect a lot of copies will be purchased now though πŸ™‚

Would you ever want to use a pseudonym? Or if you do already why did you chose to?



31 thoughts on “The power of a pseudonym”

  1. I think that they are fabulous tools if you want to try out writing in different genres and don’t want to confuse your readers. Keeps it all neat and tidy.

  2. I think it was definitely wise of her to publish under a pseudonym… it would be a great way to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Harry Potter and The Casual Vacancy (which I haven’t read, not sure I will).

    I would use a pseudonym — my real name is quite common and I wouldn’t want to be confused with a large number of other people.

  3. I’m surprised she didn’t do this sooner actually! It had crossed my mind before that she should do it and I’m glad to see she has. The comparison to HP will never go away and it must be such a relief for her. πŸ˜€

    I’m thinking about doing a post on this myself…we’ll see, lol.

  4. I plan to use a pseudonym for my YA novels. I’ve indie published my adult novel under my name. For branding purposes, it makes sense to use another name so that reader’s expectations will be correct for the book. My pseudonym is my first and middle initial and my adopted dad’s last name: K.C. Tansley. πŸ™‚

  5. If I was a writer like her I would probably do the exact same thing, just to see if the book could be purchased on it’s own merits rather than the author’s :] I think it was a very, very smart move on her behalf, simply because of the hype surrounding Harry Potter and that franchise :]

  6. I like having the option, for sure. I choose to use one because it sounds better, and it is less common than my real full name. And I will use another one for a different project because the genres are so very different. On one hand, I’m writing women’s fiction and general fiction. On the other hand, I have LGBT fiction. I also have some children’s stories, so they would obviously require a different name, but I think I’ll use my real name for those.

  7. I wonder if she was ever planning to reveal the pseudonym? It’s a tragedy to think that some authors may have published work out there but none of their fans know.

    1. I don’t know – she did say she wanted it to be kept secret for longer but who knows. I think most writers say if they have another genres under different names, I’ve seen it in Twitter bios before.

  8. Yeah I heard about this, was so weird! However, it’s interesting to see how well a book sells without the author’s name stamped on it. Anything’s got to be better than TCV, that bored me! Sometimes I feel tempted by a pseudonym, you can distance yourself from your life and give yourself a funky new name! OK, that’s enough of my ramblings!

    1. Yep shows how little a debut hardback book with good reviews actually sells in the UK! I’m unsure whether to read this one because of TCV. Haha yeah a funky name would be fun to create πŸ™‚

  9. Good for her. To bad she got caught up. =) I’m using a pen name for my adult romance. I decided to because my real name is taken with YA and I didn’t want to mix the two.

  10. I can understand why JK Rowling would want to publish under a pseudonym, but I think what she did was much more than that: she published under a fake identity with a fake bio. That crosses the line, and at least in the United States (where her book have been sold), that type of false advertising is illegal (on my blog, I have more details about her bio and where it may violate the law). I love the Harry Potter books and wish Rowling the best, but she definitely shouldn’t have proceeded to deceive her readers in this way. A fake name is okay; a fake bio is not.

    1. Hmm interesting – I’d assume they made sure it didn’t break any laws and I guess by telling people in the bio it’s a pseudonym they were implying the bio was fake and there was no picture of the author either. I know some authors use a pen name and their readers wouldn’t know it was one. I don’t think it’s as deep an issue it would be if you wrote a non-fiction book and made up credentials behind it, I personally wouldn’t rad a fiction book based on an author’s bio.

      1. Yeah, everyone will be different when it comes to the factors they weigh when purchasing a book. For me, the author’s bio is important, and it wouldn’t be included on the cover or within the first few pages if it had no marketing purpose. “Pseudonym” typically means a fake name for a real author–it doesn’t give the author the ability to lie about the experiences upon which the book is based. Crime novels are more likely to sell if they are based on actual experiences. A “debut” author without any reputation would have a harder time selling her/his book if the bio was just “Robert Galbraith is a writer living in London.” I think people are making an exception here because “Robert Galbraith” turned out to be JK Rowling, but she shouldn’t get special treatment. I couldn’t write a crime novel and claim it’s based at least in part on my “experiences” with the FBI’s criminal profiling unit. The rules shouldn’t be different for Rowling.

  11. I can totally understand why she chose a pseudonym, especially after she got dumped on for Casual Vacancy (not that I read it…I can’t really judge). I wonder if she meant for the secret to get out eventually though, to help book sales? I definitely put it on my library holds list as soon as I read this post, and I’m in a long queue waiting to read it. If I ever chose a pseudonym, it would probably be completely unrealistic and ridiculous, like Lemony Snicket. πŸ™‚ What’s the point of having a fake name if it isn’t a fun one? πŸ™‚

  12. I have been thinking about this. Do I use my real name or something else and keep both careers separate….LOL that is if I ever have a writing career.

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