Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rowling, Pseudonyms, and Writing in Multiple Genres

The recent buzz in the literary world is all about a detective novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling and its author, Robert Galbraith-- or, as has recently been revealed, J. K. Rowling. The novel was apparently well-received critically before anyone knew that the beloved Harry Potter author was behind it, and now that she has come clean, the book is flying off the shelves. For more on the story, check out this article or this review.

Pseudonyms are nothing new, of course. But what makes an author choose to use one? In Rowling’s case, it seems to have been a desire for reviews and reactions that were not constantly comparing her new work to the Harry Potter series. I can understand wishing to avoid that pressure. Other authors use pseudonyms in order to protect their own or their family’s privacy, to avoid connections to other famed authors (like Joe Hill, son of Stephen King), or just because they don’t feel that their own name is appropriate or interesting.

Personally, I sort of fall into that last category. When I submit work or do anything else in my "professional writer" capacity, I always use “K. J.” Neal instead of Kiley Neal. It’s not because I’m seeking anonymity or because I’m trying to mask my gender (which I always fear I’ll be accused of), but because I think “Kiley” sounds like a little girl’s name. Is that just me? Maybe. But ever since I decided to be a writer around age 15 or 16, I’ve always intended to be published under K. J.

I’ve been following the conversations about Rowling/Galbraith on Twitter, and someone mentioned that it was no big deal: Popular authors use pseudonyms all the time when they want to write in a different genre. They do this because people expect a certain type of writing from them, and are likely to be overly critical when they go a new direction. (I think we saw this with Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which is probably why Galbraith was born.) This got me thinking about myself and my own work. I’m currently editing a light sci-fi manuscript, but my heart-- and virtually ALL the other writing I’ve ever done-- lies in the fantasy genre. Does that mean I should use two names if I’m ever published in both genres? I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but it’s interesting to think about. 

What about you? Do you/would you use a pseudonym or abbreviated version of your name? Do you write in multiple genres? And while you’re at it, do you think Kiley sounds like a little girl, too?

Comment below!


  1. I'm using an abbreviated form of my name for my fiction. I've been published under my full name already for nonfiction. I don't think Kiley sounds like a little girl. People have all sorts of names; i.e., Curtis Sittenfeld.

  2. I find this so interesting. It's like a "chicken or egg" thing. She felt "liberated" by being able to write and receive feedback under a different name, she wanted to keep it secret awhile longer, but now that she has been revealed as the author, NOW the book is selling. I have to give her credit for willingly taking that risk and not simply banking on her name to sell the book.

    I read that she doesn't have a middle name. Her name is Joanne and the K is from a grandmother named Kathleen. And the reason she went with the initials was to mask her gender--at the request of the publisher. Interesting.