JK Rowling has been unmasked this week as the author of The Cuckoo's Calling, a "debut" novel under the pen name of Robert Galbraith, complete with an author bio very different from JK Rowling's. To me, this was fabulous news. There's another book in existence penned by my-favorite-author-in-the-whole-wide-world-ever! Hooray! Did I care that it was published under a pen name with a different bio? Nope.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover her alter ego and eager to go buy the book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very excited, that whole The Casual Vacancy thing notwithstanding. I love Jo and I absolutely love Harry Potter, but The Casual Vacancy was not my cup of tea. Yes, I was secretly hoping it was really an eighth Harry Potter book in disguise, but even so, it just wasn't for me. That's okay! Different strokes and all that. I'm still super excited to dig into The Cuckoo's Calling.
So, color me surprised to learn that a whole bunch of people out in the world are upset about the "subterfuge" in her decision to publish under a pen name. They're more than upset, actually. Posts in various forums indicate they are downright angry and feeling "betrayed." One person's post I read went so far as to accuse JK Rowling and her publisher of lying. That stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps the author of the post was unaware that many, many authors write under pseudonyms, which is an old and extremely common practice. But still. Lying?
From my point of view, her decision to use a pen name makes great sense. She is one of, if not the, most famous authors of all time, with the most popular series ever to her credit. That's a lot of pressure to live up to when publishing another work, especially when switching genres. The expectations from fans alone could be crippling, not to mention the media attention, the nail-biting over advanced reviews, everything that goes along with publishing a new work when you are a BIG NAME. How freeing and refreshing for her to be able to write and publish essentially anonymously, to get honest feedback on her new work without all of the attendant stress of being JK ROWLING, and to be able to connect with the readers of an entirely new-to-her genre without their preconceptions of her as a children's fantasy author coloring their opinions of this new, very different, book.
It's clear she never expected the mystery to remain unsolved. She knew she would be outed as the author of The Cuckoo's Calling before too long. How could she not? In this information age, secrets are extremely difficult to keep. I suspect she wishes it had remained private a bit longer, but she's proven over many years that she is a realist. She'll handle whatever fallout there may be with grace, as always. But I hope most people will understand and applaud her decision (or else just not care--after all, does it really affect anyone but her?), and that accusations of "lying" will quickly fall by the wayside. Whether or not I love this new book any better than The Casual Vacancy, I am simply tickled pink that JK Rowling is continuing to write and publish and that there will continue to be books penned by her to read (hopefully) far into the future.
As a writer with several pen names myself, though, I'm also curious to know how the pseudonym practice is perceived in general, not necessarily associated in any way with Ms. Rowling. I use them for a couple of reasons. Originally, it was for privacy. Authors, like other public figures, are in the public eye, for better or worse, and I have a family. I write fairly spicy romance and worried about my kids being teased at school. However, it turns out I'm terrible at keeping my own secrets, LOL, so most people know that Chantilly White is a pen name, and my friends and family all know I am Chantilly. Secondly, I use multiple pen names because I write in multiple genres and it's easier to market to readers of those varied genres by keeping authorship distinct. A Chantilly White reader picking up one of my books under a different name would be surprised and possibly disappointed in the different styles and content, and I never want to disappoint my readers. And thirdly, it helps me remember who I'm trying to reach as I'm writing--I get into my "Chantilly Mind" when writing the spicy romance, and I know exactly what I need to do to (hopefully) please those particular readers.
So, what do you think? Are pen names a good or a bad idea? Does it color your image of an author if you find out after the fact that he or she is using a pseudonym? For example, if you're a romance reader and a fan of Nora Roberts like I am, did it upset or disconcert you in any way to discover that she was the author behind the very popular JD Robb In Death series, which is quite different from her romance fare? Why or why not, and in what ways?
Thanks so much for stopping by!