Over the weekend, word leaked out that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is the real author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime thriller published under the very British pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling said writing in the guise of a retired military policeman (and a male) was a “liberating” experience and that she relished being published “without hype or expectation.”
But Rowling is hardly the first writer to use a pseudonym for one reason or another. Here are some other famous names you might recognize.
- J.K. Rowling: Wait, what? Yes, technically, Robert Galbraith J.K. Rowling Joanne Rowling has published all of her books under a pseudonym. When the first Harry Potter was gearing up for release, Rowling’s publishers feared boys wouldn’t read a book written by an icky girl, so they subbed in a few gender-ambiguous initials (the author has no middle name but says the K honors Kathleen, her grandmother).
- Richard Bachman: In the olden days of the late 1970s, common wisdom had it that new authors should only put out one book a year, lest the public get over-satiated (James Patterson would ultimately have a different opinion). This rule effectively put the brakes on the mega-prolific Stephen King, so he created his alter ego Richard Bachman, fudging a bio and using a photo of his literary agent’s insurance salesman. He published four books under the pen name before the secret got out. Bachman “died,” but King brought him back after a fashion in The Dark Half, a thriller about a novelist battling his evil pseudonym come to life.
- James Triptree, Jr.: Much like Rowling, Alice Sheldon wrote under a pen name in order to avoid repelling a prejudiced audience, in this case male science-fiction fans in the 1960s and ‘70s, a time when women were thought too soft to write hard sci-fi. That pseudonym, James Triptree, Jr., is now widely-known for its namesake literary award, given each year to a work of science-fiction or fantasy that explores gender.
- Stan Lee: He was born Stanley Lieber, but you might know him better as Stan Lee, the legendary comic book writer who invented superheroes like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. When he got his start with Marvel Comics, Lee (now his legal name) used a pseudonym in order to save his reputation for more highbrow literary writing down the road. Unfortunately or fortunately, that didn’t work out for him, and he had to settle for cameo roles in a dozen movies based on his work.
- Lemony Snicket: The reason for the pen name is probably two-fold. Mostly, Daniel Handler writes his children’s books under the name Lemony Snicket because Snicket is himself a character in the books, adding a delicious, meta-fictional flavor to the books’ already pervasive Victorian trappings. Then there’s the fact that the books published under Handler’s own name, including Watch Your Mouth (which the publisher billed as an “incestuous opera”), are hardly kids’ stuff.
If you wanted to write under a pseudonym, which name would you choose?