Robert Galbraith, a first time crime novelist who served with Great Britain’s Royal Military Police in the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), before leaving the military to work in the civilian security industry, received stellar reviews for his first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which came out in April.
Here are some of Robert’s reviews:
"Combines a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime...A stellar debut." Publishers Weekly
"Plenty of twists...Totally engrossing...Galbraith's take on contemporary celebrity obsession makes for a grand beach read." Library Journal (Mystery Debut of the Month)
"Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can't wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it's hard to believe this is a debut novel." Mark Billingham, author of The Demands.
As it turns out, the reason this debut novel is so skillfully written is because it isn’t the author’s first book. It’s actually book number twelve, and the other books have been quite successful--selling over 450 million copies!
The author's real identity is no longer a secret… Robert Galbraith is the pen name of Harry Potter’s creator, J. K. Rowling.
When London's Sunday Times broke the news on July 14th, the book's original print run of 10,000 copies quickly sold out. An additional 300,000 copies of The Cuckoo's Calling went to print immediately and began shipping within a week. The "leak" turned out to be a partner at the law firm Russells Solicitors, who couldn't resist sharing the secret he was privy to with a trusted friend. That friend then turned around and tweeted the news to someone else, and the secret quickly unraveled.
Pen names are as old as writing, itself, and are used for many reasons:
Living in a time or place where gender makes it difficult to publish under your own name
Believing that "authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice,” sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë became brothers Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (they chose these names in order to keep their actual initials). They published a book of poetry together, and then used these names to publish novels individually, including "Jane Eyre" by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë), "Wuthering Heights" by Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë), and "Agnes Grey" by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë).
A sense of modesty
Not wanting to embarrass his family, Eric Arthur Blair published his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (which described his life as an impoverished and often homeless English writer living abroad during the early 1930s), using the pen name George Orwell.
A desire for privacy
Wanting to maintain his privacy, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. He even refused to accept letters addressed to Carroll that came to his office.
Concerns about book buyers' gender
Bloomsbury, the publisher of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone felt that young boys might not embrace the book if it was written by a woman, so Joanne Rowling became J. K. Rowling. Because she doesn't actually have a middle name, Rowling used Kathleen (her grandmother's name) for her middle initial.
To avoid overexposure
Publishing one book a year by an author is considered optimal by some publishers. That’s how Richard Bachmann started writing. Once word got out that Richard Bachmann was actually horror novelist Stephen King, the prolific King declared Bachmann dead of “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia.”
To avoid confusion
Howard Allen Frances O'Brien was the name given to a beautiful baby girl. Rather than trying to hide her gender, this author chose the name Anne Rice to clarify it.
To dodge parental disapproval
Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto's first poem was published when he was only fourteen. Upon learning of his achievement, Neftali's father became so upset that he lit the boy's poetry on fire. To avoid further conflict, the poet adopted the name Pablo Neruda.
To keep track of bar tabs
“By the mark, twain” was riverboat slang that Samuel Clemens picked up during his years of work on the Mississippi River. It meant the water is two fathoms deep ("twain" is a way of saying two) and it’s safe to pass. Legend has it that after drinking at John Piper's saloon, in Virginia City, Nevada, Clemens would tell Piper to "mark twain," meaning, "mark two" more drinks on my bar tab. Clemens also used the pen name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, for humor sketches, before finally settling on the pseudonym, Mark Twain.
So what was the reason that J. K. Rowling became Robert Galbraith?
According to Rowling, publishing under a pseudonym has been liberating. "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."
The Cuckoo's Calling, described as a classic crime novel in the tradition of authors P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, is the first of a series, with the second book expected next summer. Now that everyone knows Rowling is the real author, The Cuckoo's Calling will be reprinted with a revised author biography.
Do you use a pen name? If so, let us know why.
Other WritingSpirit Posts featuring J. K. Rowling: