J.K. Rowling and the Shadow Pseudonym

When The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was released in the month of April this year (2013), it received good response for a debutant author.


The critics loved the book and it was savored by readers having a literary bend because unlike the commercial crime fiction novels we see nowadays in the market, The Cuckoo’s Calling is more of a vintage crime novel with mystery and clues.

Anyway, the going was good and in a month’s time Galbraith had already succeeded in selling some 1,500 print copies, a number that is considerable given the utter unknownness of the author. In fact Galbraith was even approached with two TV adaptation offers, an accomplishment very few debutant authors can boast of. And then a shocking tweet came on Twitter.

Robert Galbraith did not exist! It was in fact the pseudonym of the celebrity author J.K. Rowling.

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

She does not look like a Robert… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The leak was not supposed to happen and Rowling had taken a lot of measures to ensure the same, but in the end a partner of Russell’s, the law firm Rowling had employed, told his wife about the pseudonym one night. The lady could not keep it down and boasted about it to a friend, who promptly tweeted the secret out.

Well, the woman did take down the tweet and deleted her account in a while, but on a platform like Twitter word once out is out. As they say, pride cometh before a fall (although its someone else’s here…).

The whole point of creating a pseudonym for Rowling was that she wanted to escape her fame, wanted to write a book and truly know how it was without the influence of her star status on the reader’s mind. And for a while it was working, she was finally getting positive reviews without jealous third parties screaming out that she didn’t know how to write and was only famous because of Harry Potter, but too bad it did not last.

This brings us to the real point of this discussion – the effectiveness of a shadow pseudonym (my term for a false name that hides the true identity of an author).

Considering Rowling’s massive hoo-ha let’s begin by talking about the bad points of having a shadow pseudonym:-

To start with it is extremely difficult to keep the thing a secret – more the number of people in the inner circle, more the chances that someone will slip up and let the secret out.

Secondly, if you are a famous author like J.K. Rowling and are writing under a pseudonym that is selling okayish, then it is obvious that someone somewhere will definitely try to sabotage your secret just so that more books sells when the secret comes out (or in this case gives the law firm some publicity at the cost of one attorney who can be easily sidelined from the partnership on legal grounds).

Then there is the fact that if the author doesn’t have a strong enough reason to keep the pseudonym or if she is too thin-skinned, then the charade wouldn’t last for long. After all, how long can you sit on your hands and smile while someone in the room twists the knife in with every unknowing word that slips out of their mouth about your book?

But shadow pseudonyms are adopted for many golden reasons. A few of them are:-

It lets an author write without being hounded by paparazzi (or neighbors) every time she steps out of the house to buy eggs.

An author with a shadow pseudonym can take part in forums and discussions about her book and get an honest answer about how it is impacting the readers. I reckon it is somewhat like being a king disguised as a commoner and roaming the busy market streets of the kingdom.

A shadow pseudonym, furthermore, lets an already established author to branch out into a genre not associated with her name. Take Nora Roberts for example. She is known for her romantic novels, both contemporary and fantasy, but for many years no one knew that the bestselling author of the In Death series, J.D. Robb was actually Ms. Roberts working under a pseudonym. And the equal success of the other series (crime thriller/science fiction), which has romance as just an additive and not as the focusing factor, truly tells us that Ms. Roberts deserves her status as a world famous author.

in death

But shadow pseudonyms are not just for famous authors. It is a mighty weapon in the hands of a new one if the author wants mystery around her true identity or if she writes in a genre that would be weird if associated with her public persona.

Besides this, shadow pseudonyms are sometimes employed for comic relief. Pseudonymous Bosch, the author of the Secret series for Children has never disclosed his true identity, even though it is speculated that it is the author Raphael Simmons who is Bosch (a speculation that has been denied by Simmons).


Pseudonymous Bosch is the perfect author for books titled like this.

Anyway, that’s my analysis of shadow pseudonyms. I am sure there are more points both for and against them, but for the moment this is all I can think of.

Do leave a comment below saying why you chose the particular response above. I love it when I hear from you people.

So, that’s it for today. Stayed tuned for the next post (Hint: It has cave man antics in it…and promises to make you laugh till you drop), and till then, have fun.


P.S. The idea of adding a poll at the end of a post (which is going to be a staple from now on) has been taken from the fabulous blog If all else fails… use a hammer. Thanks for the inspiration!

P.P.S If you like humor, random things from life with a quirky twist to them or anything fine under the sun, then don’t forget to subscribe to The Spyglassviewer and receive FREE email updates everytime something new is posted (for more info check below).

If you liked this, you may also like:-

1. Pseudonym: To Be or Not To Be

2. 10 Tips for Writing Dialogues like a Pro


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