By The Numbers

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

Jason Slotkin Jul 15, 2013

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.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.