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What's in a name? For Harry Potter author, everything

Author Stephen King reads from his novella "Ur," at an unveiling event for the Amazon Kindle 2 at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

The career of first-time crime novelist, Robert Galbraith, came to an abrupt end this weekend – that’s because Galbraith is actually the pen name of Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling.

Puzzlingly though, while Galbraith’s novel Cuckoo’s Calling, was a well-reviewed and lackluster seller, Rowling’s version seems bound for the bestseller list. Rowling is not the first major author to circumvent her fame through a nom de plume or experience the tougher road of book sales as a lesser-known name.

In fact, Stephen King published seven books under the name Richard Bachman. In the introduction to a collection of Bachman titles, King claimed sales of the book, Thinner (originally published under Bachman) increased tenfold once a Washington, D.C., bookseller discovered Bachman’s true identity.

In another instance, Nobel Laureate and British author Doris Lessing published two books under the name Jane Somers – as in Rowling’s cases, sales for the unknown name were negligible.  And Lessing has said that her publisher originally rejected her pseudonymous works.

But not every author who’s attempted an alter-ego has met with failure. Romance novelist Nora Roberts, has published a series of police procedurals under the name J.D. Robb for nearly 15 years. Both Roberts and her alter-ego routinely make the best seller list.

If only, that magic could work for Robert Galbraith.

About the author

Jason Slotkin is a reporter in Washington, D.C.
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