What’s In A Pseudonym?

BreakingNewsBreaking news!  Last week the publishing industry was rocked by the discovery that J. K. Rowling (author of “Harry Potter”, in case you’ve been living in a cave) had published a British mystery novel under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”. She was outed, and the usual hysteria ensued (here’s one of the articles – this one from the Chicago Tribune). Ms. Rowling said that she wanted to continue to write under that pen name for a while, like Stephen King did with his Richard Bachmann persona and as Nora Roberts did with J. D. Robb. Alas, this was not to be.

Okay, so the Sunday Times in London did a heck of a lot of work to uncover the fact that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym. The question is, why? Why should anyone care that J. K. Rowling wrote a book using another name?

Ms. Rowling herself cares, I assume. She has said that she wanted to release a book without all of the hype that would be associated with a book under her name. I can see why she would since, as mentioned in the article linked above, once it became known that she wrote the book, it was not judged on its own merits but on how people felt about the author.

The publisher cares, I guess, since the book sold respectably, but not spectacularly until the author became known. Now there’s even a bidding war going on for movie rights. A cynic might wonder if the publisher had a wee bit to do with the leak. Maybe Ms. Rowling changed her mind and had a wee bit to do with the leak, too (although I prefer to think that her motives really were honorable).

There are many authors who write under multiple pseudonyms, but the only time the discovery of that fact seems to cause an uproar is if the author is well known. Why? Why is it a problem if J. K. Rowling wants to not make as much money by releasing a book under another name so people won’t automatically buy it because it’s J. K. Rowling? Why is it a problem if she just wants to be a writer once in a while? Even if she changes her mind and says, “no, no – I wrote it after all”, why is that important enough to generate news? I’m honestly puzzled by this. I just don’t understand. It’s all so silly.

Me? Well, I don’t have the same issues. I used my own name because I figured it would be a good idea if my family and friends knew which book to buy. That and the fact that at the time I had to decide, I couldn’t think of a pseudonym I’d remember well enough to actually answer to it. I don’t care for my name really, but at least it’s familiar.

Now, much like Ms. Rowling, I’m stuck – although for different reasons. She’s stuck because she’s too popular. I’m stuck because the website is set up under this name now and I can’t remember what I did to get it working.

I guess I’m not going to be writing as “Xena Warrior Princess Horvath” after all.

The Sunday Times should be pleased.

                     O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet
Act II, Scene II


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