Writing Under a Pen Name

For my grad school requirements, each semester we have to read and review four books. (I’ve posted many of them up here before.) So every once in a while, I can’t find one of the books I want on the Barnes & Noble NOOK book shop, and I have to wander my way into a store proper. I found myself in just this scenario the other day…and witnessed something that while I probably can explain it…I’m not sure the explanation is good enough to justify doing it.

An author by the name of Robert Galbraith just released a book by the title of The Silkworm, and B&N has a great big display of books right near the door to showcase this. I’m always interested to see what books the store chooses to highlight, so as I walked past, I glanced at the cover. On the cover of each book, there is a brightly colored round sticker near the right-center edge. I had to double back to look to see what it actually said.

“Written by J.K. Rowling.”

Now, I haven’t been living under a rock. I know that it was recently revealed that Galbraith is a pen name for Rowling, where she writes books that aren’t necessarily what she would connect with her Harry Potter-inspired brand. I know who Robert Galbraith is.

That does not give anyone the right to put those stickers there.

If she wanted J.K. Rowling to be the author, she would have put J.K. Rowling on the cover. Similarly, if I wanted my birth name to be on the covers of my books, I wouldn’t be writing as K Orion Fray. If I walked into a bookshop and saw “Written by [Birth Name]” all over one of my books, I’d be furious.

Now, granted. I’m sure that this is a marketing ploy, so that people looking at the book can say “oh, Rowling, I know her–I’ll buy the book then” and do such. I don’t care. To my memory (and correct me if I’m wrong), Rowling was furious when her use of the pseudonym came out. She wasn’t looking for this to be public. (Obviously, in my mind. Again–if she’d wanted to write as Rowling, her name would be on the cover.)

Why are we doing this? Who thought that this was a reasonable thing to do to someone? Is Rowling supporting this? (If so, why isn’t she just releasing openly as Rowling?) I genuinely do not understand the rationale here, beside a blatant grab for money. Whether that’s from the booksellers, from the agents, from the publisher, or (please don’t let it be true) from Rowling herself…I don’t know. I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s reasonable, and I hate every minute of it. God help any other author working under a pen name. I hope you don’t get outed too.

What about you, readers? Do you think the stickers are reasonable? Let me know!


5 thoughts on “Writing Under a Pen Name

  1. I heard–and who knows if this is true or if what you heard was correct–that she created the pen name to see if a well written book could sell at under an unknown name and that when it didn’t, she decided to release the info because the publisher was freaking out over books sales… So, who knows. But I guess since it’s so public, they figure it didn’t matter? Also, I’m guessing B&N has to have permission before putting stickers like that on? You don’t see that happen with other authors who have pen names. It’s weird. I will say, though, I only read it because it was written by Rowling and I wanted to see what the hype was about. It was actually good and I’m not really a mystery person.

    1. From a cursory search, she was looking to find a way to write without working under the shadow of HP (my words, source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/jk-rowling-pen-name-robert-galbraith_n_3644567.html) and a reporter got an anonymous tip within the first week of Cuckoo being out and her agents eventually confirmed her usage of the name (source: http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/how-jk-rowlings-pseudonym-was-uncovered.html). Now I don’t know the truth behind the second of the two, but I’m willing to believe HuffPo.

      And I am assuming that B&N has permission, and I agree that it’s odd since other authors don’t get/aren’t inflicted with this treatment. I’m just personally unhappy with the stickers being in existence. If you know, you know. If you don’t, then the book should be able to stand on it’s own without tacking Rowling’s name onto it. Cuckoo got decent reviews, from my memory. Putting Rowling’s name onto the book outright just defeats what she was attempting to do in the first place. :/

      1. I do remember seeing those articles. I guess I didn’t get the impression that she was furious about it. *shrug* Wonder if it was the publisher that leaked it. Also wonder why I’m so quick to assume publishers will do whatever it takes to make more money…

  2. I seem to recall reading an article somewhere that the person who outed Rowling was a lawyer privy to the paperwork and not the publishers. I haven’t really followed the story since so I don’t know if he’s been disbarred for breaking the confidentiality agreement or not.

    I guess my reaction to the stickers isn’t as vehement as yours–mostly because those stickers have been placed *after* knowledge came to light that Rowling is Galbraith. It’s also a bit different because Rowling has already published books as Rowling. It’s a lot more ethically dubious if you’re revealing the real name of an author who has never published anything under their real name (like the journalist who outed E.L. James’ real name in order to bash and shame people who read erotic fiction).

    It’s also a marketing ploy that I’ve seen other bestselling authors use. (Off the top of my head I can think of Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb and Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman–both went through the same thing when first outed.) Saying the book is written by Galbraith means that it’s mystery, but also adding the Rowling name attracts buyers who normally wouldn’t have looked at the book. The reason why it doesn’t straight out leave off Galbraith and say it’s written by Rowling is because the Galbraith name signifies a different genre. If it just said “written by J.K. Rowling”, some people would assume it’s YA fantasy and that would leave many disappointed and angry fans.

  3. Sooo… I doubt it’s Rowling; it’s probably B&N, maybe the publisher, and it’s both ass & understandable.
    Part of the question is: why did Rowling want to separate the names, and why did she want Galbraith to be secret?
    This twigged a memory of another author’s blog post, which isn’t as related as I first thought, but here it is: http://seananmcguire.tumblr.com/post/87050204730/i-never-really-understood-why-authors-would-write-under

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