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Pen Names and Why I Love these Authors

J.K. Rowling

January 28, 2019

Everyone knows J. K. Rowling, the incredible author behind the worldwide phenomenon that is the Harry Potter book series. However, a few years back, Rowling also started writing crime novels under the name Robert Galbraith. She received positive reviews under this pseudonym, though she was quickly revealed to be the author.

This got me thinking. Why do already established authors write under another name? Stephen King wrote under the name of Richard Bachman, and “Why?” is one of the most frequent questions he is asked. Via his website, he explains that back in his early days (1970s), publishers felt that one book a year was all that the public would accept―in comparison to the multi-book pace a lot of authors keep these days. So adopting the name Richard Bachman gave him the opportunity to write a second book each year. Eventually, readers got wise to this because, as King said, “…you can change your name, but you can’t really disguise your style.”

Back in the 1980s, author Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel called Lives of the Twins and submitted it to publishing houses under the name Rosamond Smith. Though they accepted the work from “Smith,” her name was uncovered before it even hit the shelves. Her editor and agent, who had been kept out of the loop, were both confused. Why had she done this? Her answer, she wanted a fresh perspective from her critics.

J. K. Rowling feels the same way, stating on her website, “Being Robert Galbraith was all about the work, which is my favorite part of being a writer.”

Even Agatha Christie, the queen of crime, wrote romance under the pen name Mary Westmacott and managed to keep it hidden for almost 20 years. Plus, don’t even get me started on Dean Koontz, who is suspected of having as many as 10 aliases!

So, is there still a need for a pen name, the “nom de plume,” in today’s changing readership? I say yes, absolutely, even though readers who connect with an author will generally read everything they write. I find established authors who write under a pen name seem to take their craft one step further. It’s a disguise that changes their persona, allowing their passion for writing and storytelling to shine through without the burden of expectations.

What pen names have surprised you?

Lisa P.
Information and Reader Services Department

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