16 July, 2013

What's in a Pseudonym?

You can get your own copy here.
In May, I wrote a post about author names - which authors I'd appear next to in a bookshop, and whether it's ever a good idea to write under a pseudonym. I gave Richard Bachman as a good example of why some famous authors - in this case Stephen King - might want to write under another name. Well, in the last week we've discovered that one of the most famous authors of the last century has done a Richard Bachman on us. JK Rowling released a crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, under the name Robert Galbraith.

The Cuckoo's Calling sold 1500 copies before JK Rowling was outed by the Sunday Times, after which it shot to the top of the Amazon Bestseller list with a rise in sales of 507000%. This does rather prove her point that people buy any book with her name on it, regardless of the quality. But she can at least take comfort in the fact that her pseudonym was discovered because people were amazed at how mature and "scintillating" this book was for a debut author, and started investigating the man behind the title. (Although, at least one publisher (Orion) has admitted to rejecting the book when it was offered to them.)

After the rise in sales Waterstone's on Oxford Street tweeted: "SPECIAL OFFER: For today only, ALL of our books were written by JK Rowling!" Brilliant.

So how much do you know about other author pseudonyms? Who do these pen names belong to? Answers at the bottom so no peeking ahead!

  1. Barbara Vine
  2. Boz
  3. Clive Hamilton
  4. Ellis Bell
  5. Mary Westmacott

How about this lot? With these authors, their pen names are more famous than their real names. Here are the real ones - can you guess the names we know them by?

  1. Theodore Seuss Geisel
  2. Mary Ann Evans
  3. Eric Arthur Blair (I'm probably the only person who didn't know this already, but I had no idea this guy wasn't really called by the name he wrote his books under!)
  4. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
  5. Daniel Handler

I didn't know all these before writing this post. Of the ten I knew four of them, and could probably have guessed another two. How did you do?

What do you think of JK's decision to write under a pseudonym? Will you be buying A Cuckoo's Calling now you know it's written by her?


Barbara Vine - Ruth Rendell; Boz - Charles Dickens; Clive Hamilton - CS Lewis; Ellis Bell - Emily Bronte (her sister Charlotte, more famously wrote under the name Currer Bell); Mary Westmacott - Agatha Christie.
Theodore Seuss Geisel - Dr. Seuss; Mary Ann Evans - George Eliot; Eric Arthur Blair - George Orwell; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - Lewis Carroll; Daniel Handler - Lemony Snickett


  1. I think that's kind of cool she did that. I'm sure even successful authors question if their work is good, and this would be a great way to test it.

    The thing that bothers me about all this is that so many people were saying, I don't think a debut writer could write that well.

    It's like, huh? Granted, most debut writers are not at their best, of course, but it's almost like they're saying, you can't be a great writer until you've successfully published for years. And that kinda irks me.

    Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but still.

    1. Yeah, that irked me a bit, but actually I think it's probably true. Not at all that debut authors don't write well, but I think - I hope - writing matures as you produce more books and I'm sure in some ways that does show. I know my first book is quite naive in many ways, but somebody believed it enough anyway. I bet there are debut authors whose writing is already mature, but I don't think I'm one of them and I think they're probably the exception.

  2. I knew shockingly few of those, some of them rung bells, but I still couldn't have told you who they belonged to!

    1. I guess in a way that's the point of pen names though! they'd probably be delighted.

  3. I'd have been more impressed if she'd tried submitting to agents or publishers anonymously herself rather than going through her existing agent.

    Jealous? Moi?

    1. We all know it's hard to impress you, billy. Or, indeed, hard not to actively unimpress you! ;)

  4. When I've worked out what that means, I suspect I'll be fuming.

  5. I think many celebrities prefer to use their stage name rather than their real name for publicity and popularity. Sometimes few people have changed their names, as their real names were difficult to pronounce.


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