An interesting news story came to light in the literary world recently. It seems that back in April, a new crime-fiction novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling was printed, written by debut novelist Robert Galbraith. The book got many rave reviews, and critics were astounded that a brand new writer like Galbraith could write such an good story. Well, one newspaper in particular was really surprised by the quality of writing of this author, and decided to do some digging into his background, and they found out that Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling. She wrote this under a pseudonym. And, of course, now that this has been revealed, sales of the book have skyrocketed.

I think this was a pretty clever stunt by Rowling, a woman I’ve long admired for her success, even though I personally have not read any of the Harry Potter novels (I do have her Tales of Beedle The Bard spin-off book), nor seen any of the movies. I imagine that after having such mega-success with that franchise, and being so closely identified with this one particular set of characters, in one specific genre, she knew that there would be a lot of pre-conceived notions and biases, good or bad, when she tried something new, with critics judging the book based on the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote it. So by using a different name, the book could be judged strictly on the merits of the work itself. Smart move.

I know critics have biases, much like many fans, even the ones who try to hardest to be fair. When it comes to authors, it’s easy to fall into the trap of Stephen King writes like THIS, Danielle Steele writes like THAT, and so on. And once an author becomes truly established, all subsequent work gets judged based on their reputation. Even for new writers, I understand why Stephen King’s son Joseph Hillstrom King began writing under the name Joe Hill, because he didn’t want to immediately be compared to his father. And, of course, Stephen King himself has famously used a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, in the past.

And I’ve read many reviews, for all sorts of entertainment, where it seems like the critic already made up their mind before they even started. I’ve seen several reviews for Jay Z’s newest album, where the writer spends more time talking about Jay Z’s life, how he’s filthy rich and married to Beyonce and hanging out with influential people from Bill Gates to Barack Obama, and questioning whether that means he still has the “hunger”, or whatever, that he had in the old days, and can remain relevant in the rap industry. So you know all of that factors into how they judge his music now. Years ago, I remember Donnie Osmond released his song, Soldier of Love, and had some radio stations play it without saying who sung it, because he knew people would just automatically dismiss it if they knew it was him.

M. Night Shyamalan is another person that I think has been marked, by critics and fans, to the point where now I think they’re ready to just declare any movie he makes a dud, before they even see it. I personally really liked The Happening, and I think Devil was alright (haven’t seen After Earth, yet). But everyone jumped on those movies as being just another terrible Shyamalan film. He’s a guy who should probably see if he could make a film under a different name, to see if people would judge it differently.

Anyway, back to Rowling. Now that the cat’s out of the bag about Robert Galbraith, she has said she wished she could’ve kept it a secret a bit longer, maybe write another book under that name, first. I think she should have put a little more effort into creating the Robert Galbraith identity. Let set up a blog under that name, or Twitter, a Facebook fan page, stuff like that. But, still, in this day in age, with the vast reach of the media and internet it’s probably too hard to keep something like that a secret for long, @ least she got to enjoy the anonymity for a few months.

Now I think I’m going to buy The Cuckoo’s Calling to read it for myself.


  1. I know Stephen King said part of the reason he used the Richard Bachman identity was because he was insecure about how much his success was based on his name, rather than the quality of his writing. At first he put out the books with minimal promotion, but starting with Thinner he started getting some attention and was planning on following it up with Misery… when the story finally broke and his fans got five bonus books.

    Rowling probably ended up proving her success wasn’t a fluke by publishing the novel under an assumed name. Had critics panned the book, she would have had to face some harsh truths about her talent, but her critical success allows her to be more bold about pushing her career past Harry Potter without it feeling like a gimmick.


    • First, sorry your comment got held up, it was in SPAM folder for no apparent reason. I hate when that happens.

      Anyway, yes, I did some reading on King and Bachmann, and saw his rational for it. That was pretty interesting. And you’re right about Rowling, the fact that the book was already a critical hit, before anyone knew that she wrote it, must be quite vindicating for her. Although I did read that she did try sending the manuscript anonymously to one publisher who rejected it. And now everyone is questioning the judgment of that publisher, since he’s the one who “rejected J.K. Rowling”.


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