Why Do Many Authors Write Under Pseudonyms?

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Many of us may not be aware that some of our most beloved authors write under another, often multiple, names. One classic example is Dr. Seuss. We all know and love him as the rhyming Dr. Seuss, but how many of us are familiar with him as being Theodore Seuss Geisel? Which is in fact his real name.

There are countless authors who publish under a pseudonym. Some of them are more famously known by their real names, while others are almost exclusively known by their alias, such as with the case of Dr. Seuss. Some that come to mind are:

  • Michael Crichton, aka John Lange
  • James Robert Baker, aka James Herriot
  • Joanne Rowling, aka J. K. Rowling (among others)
  • Nora Roberts, aka J.D Robb
  • Stephen King, aka Richard Bachman
  • Dean Koontz, aka Brian Coffey (among many others)

So why do so many do it? There are numerous answers to this question, and it tends to differ depending on the author you are inquiring about.

A majority of the authors that are famous under their real name use a pseudonym when they want to try writing something different or change genres. This is generally to prevent letting down their big fans when they buy a novel with certain expectations in mind, only to find that they are reading something completely different, something not known to them. An example of such an occurrence is Nora Roberts who writes romantic fiction novels such as Dance Upon the Air, also writes under the name J.D Robb who writes science fiction novels such as the In Death series, simply because her publisher refused to publish her name to a different genre. Dean Koontz is another example of an author who publishes multiple genres under various names.

Some of them do it so that they don’t let their audience down by only producing a single novel in a year rather than the usual two a year, or sometimes more, that they were originally publishing. This is the case for Stephen King. He adopted the name Richard Bachman so that he could feel free to only publish a single book under his real name to satisfy his true fans, while also being able to publish a second one if he wants to, without raising his fans expectations. Stephen King has published several books under the name Richard Bachman, including The Bachman Books, which is a collection of three stories including “The Running Man” which was adapted to film back in 1987.

Some authors use a pseudonym when they want to approach a different publisher. This could be due to a few reasons. One could be that they are currently under contract by one particular publisher though want to try out another, so for legal reasons they have to publish under a different name. Another reason could be that when they published a novel under their real name, it turned out to be a complete disaster, and so that when they wanted to get published again, no publishers would accept them. Therefore, they are forced to adopt a different name to encourage publishers acceptance, and so that readers don’t look at the name and assume that the book is going to be a flop. Believe it or not, this happened to J.K Rowling when she first attempted to publish a book targeted to adults which was a complete disaster, so for her second book, entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling, she published under the name Robert Galbraith.

Another, less common reason, is to write to protect the others around him, or to protect their own name in the “real world”. Michael Crichton, for example, began writing when he was a medical student, and to provide his patients with a sense of peace that their stories weren’t going to end up in the pages of one of his thriller books, he used to publish by the name John Lange such as with Odds On, which was first published in 1966.

One final reason to use an alias, which, thankfully, doesn’t tend to occur much anymore, is to hide their gender. It is not unknown for a female author to write under a male name, or to only identify themselves by an initial and their surname to avoid gender bias. Nora Roberts also writes under the name J.D Robb, and Joanne Rowling writes under the more widely known J.K Rowling and less known as Robert Galbraith. This is also the case for males writing under gender neutral names, or as female names, to attract female readers.

Some authors write under a different pseudonym for one or more of the above reasons, or even a different reason all together. Some use multiple different names for multiple different reasons. The point is, if you have a favorite all-time author, chances are there are some of their works that you may be unfamiliar with. Some of them may impress you, others may let you down.



Featured image via Siegelgale

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