Discussion: Authors Using Pseudonyms

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Last July, there was a bit of a debacle as it was revealed that the quiet little mystery The Cuckoo’s Calling by unknown author Robert Galbraith, was actually the work of highly renowned author J. K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter saga. This little mystery that had only a handful of reviews — albeit, most of them pretty positive — suddenly shot up to being a bestseller, with thousands of reviews and ratings.

the cuckoo's calling

This is something that irked me to no end. I’m pretty sure that the story went that Rowling wasn’t the one who leaked the name, but it happened and then all of a sudden, J. K. Rowling’s name is attached to the book and retailers are re-releasing the book using Rowling’s name to sell it. I was seeing it in emails, at the bookstore — everywhere!

When it comes to an author having a pseudonym, I prefer to NOT know what’s going on. I think back to when I first started enjoying Sophie Kinsella’s works. They were fun and cute reads — perfect for a day in the sun or a fast read by the fire on a winter day. Then, it was revealed that Sophie’s real name was Madeleine Wickham, a name she had published several titles under. I thought that it was too good to be true, so I picked up some of her books as Madeleine and gave them a go. While they were okay reads, they weren’t Sophie Kinsella. They were missing that certain something  that makes a Sophie Kinsella book a Sophie Kinsella book.

While it’s hard to keep in the dark about an author having a pseudonym, I prefer it to be kept a mystery. Nothing bothers me more than going to a bookstore and seeing the author’s giant name SO AND SO WRITING AS … and then the small pseudonym underneath. I mean, why even bother if you’re just going to use your real name, or the name that got you famous, to sell your alter-ego’s books?

wait for you

In the end, if a book looks good I’m going to read it, regardless of who wrote it, but I still maintain that if you’re going to write under a pseudonym, do try to keep in under wraps, or else what’s the point in using one?

What do you think of authors writing under pseudonyms? Do you think they should be kept a secret? Should the author’s bestselling name still be on the cover? 

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12 thoughts on “Discussion: Authors Using Pseudonyms

  1. I’m mixed in on this but I think it’s more of a timing issue. I think it’s nice to find out a favorite author has more books, such as King/Bachman, but it’s definitely something I’d rather find out long after those other books are released. I think it would have been interesting to see if I would have stumbled upon The Cuckoo’s Calling without knowing it was Rowling – that novel barely had time to breathe before it was revealed. I know there are also authors that have well known pseudonyms and still write under both their names but they use the other name to explore a different genre, meaning that the readers can expect somewhat different brands and styles from the different names. I think that’s interesting as well and can be helpful.

    • Timing — yes! I am so curious how Rowling would’ve done had the ball not been dropped so soon. I do get the idea of exploring other genres with another name, BUT these days it’s so easy to find out everything about an author that it’s not so surprising anymore. And I find that publishers are always quick to put on their bestselling name on the books to boost sales. It just bugs me.

  2. For someone like Rowling, I totally get writing under a pseudonym. I can only imagine the pressure of writing “the next HP” and how writing under a pseudonym would relieve some of that pressure. It would be nice to hear what people thought of the writing/story, without the shadow of her past hanging over her and the inevitable comparisons to HP.

    But for someone like Armentrout, who’s real name is bigger than the pseudonym on the cover you posted, I’ve got to wonder what the point is?

    • Yeah, I can’t even imagine the pressure of writing the next Harry Potter! I feel like now that they know her pseudonym that there will always be those comparisons now. Unless you’re living under a rock of course, but now they probably put J.K.’s name on the book, too.

  3. I think the issue is that, for many people, pseudonyms are about marketing. Authors might use different names for different genres to “brand” their work–because sometimes people won’t take a bestselling romance novelist seriously as an author of literary fiction, or because the authors want to clearly distinguish between their adult books and their children’s books so a twelve-year-old doesn’t accidentally pick up their erotic. So, because these names are used for marketing purposes, if one name becomes far more popular than another, of course the publisher is going to put that name on all the books because, like it or not, it will sell more books.

    Some authors legitimately use pseudonyms for some type of anonymity of course, which is an entirely different issue. There’s an English professor somewhere who used a pen name for her romance novels for awhile because she was afraid (probably correctly) it would somehow hurt her career to be writing “trashy romances.” That makes sense to me, and in those cases, the real name is generally kept under wraps for a decent amount of time. In the case of J. K. Rowling, I think it was just too big/good of a secret to last long.

    • Good points. I think I just prefer it when it’s completely anonymous. I know that the cat will be let out of the bag at some point, but after you’ve gotten to know books by an author under both names, it’s always a fun surprise to find out the truth. I guess that’s what happens now that we’re living in the digital age … less surprise!

  4. I dunno, it kind of bugs me, especially when you find out the “truth” later on. It kind of feels like you were duped. I also think that nowadays, with social media and the internet, it’s pretty tough and silly to have a pseudonym because it seems it’s only a matter of minutes before the secrets out, so really, what’s the point? I can see how, 10-20 years ago, a pseudonym would work a lot better.

    • Exactly! Back when it wasn’t so easy to find out everything about an author it would’ve been way easier. I feel like these days it’s almost unnecessary.

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  6. Sometimes i is never meant to be a secrete. Rachael Aaron’s new series was pubbed with the last name Bach because publishers though it was a bit steamier and needed a distinction.

    But I guess I don’t mind either way. It was cool that Rowling’s sell power was proven, despite the circumstances of the release.

    I am not sure bout stuff like Danial Abraham using MLN Hanover for his UF series though. It isn’t hidden, and I am sure it is done for marketing sake.

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