When a writer first starts their career, they have to answer a simple question: What name will I publish under? These days, most authors use their real names. On other occasions, an author might use a pseudonym, also known as a pen name, instead. However, even famous authors who’ve always used their real name for their work often start publishing under a different name. They’ve found success in the industry with two different names.
There are many reasons why a famous author might want to write under a pseudonym. Often, if an author is known for a certain genre, like Nora Roberts with her contemporary romance, they might want to use a different name if they write for a different genre. This way, fans won’t pick up that new book because of the author’s name and then get confused when they’re not reading the romance that they suspected. Other times, an author will switch o a pseudonym to have a more androgynous and less feminine name or if they want the new novel to stand on its own merit.
In an article for The New York Times Book Review, Francine Prose said “Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation.”
Read on for our list of seven famous authors who have also written under successful pseudonyms. You may be surprised to find some of your favorite authors in this list, including Anne Rice, Stephen King, Agatha Christie and J.K Rowling.
7. Nora Roberts is JD Robb
Most people know Nora Roberts for her New York Times Best Selling contemporary romance novels. Over her career, starting in the 1980s, she’s published over 200 romance titles and has even won awards for her work. She’s earned seven Gold Medallion awards and 12 RITA Awards under her real name. You’d think with such a huge bibliography, Nora wouldn’t have time for any other writing. Fortunately for her fans, that’s not the case. She started writing under the name JD Robb in 1995. For this name, she writes romantic suspense for the “In Death” crime series. There have been 48 books written as JD Robb in the last two decades and there are always room for more. In fact, two “In Death” books won RITA Awards separate from the other awards she’s won for her real name.
6. Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket
Daniel Handler has a very good reason for publishing under two different names: the books under each name are very, very different. With his real name, he’s published four novels, including The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth. They are dark and gritty and definitely for adults. Once he wanted to start writing for children, using his real name just wouldn’t work. So, he created the “Unfortunate Events” series under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. It wasn’t just the funny name that made these books a hit with kids–it was the content, too. The 13 books in the series were international bestsellers and spawned a 2004 movie starring Jim Carrey.
5. Agatha Christie as Mary Westmacott
It’s hard to talk about the mystery novel genre without mentioning the late Agatha Christie. From 1920 to 1976, she wrote 66 detective novels. Many of her series have spawned movies and TV shows, including the “Miss Marple” and “Detective Poirot” series. Even before the invention of television, her works were broadcast to adoring mystery fans as radio plays. Since she was so well known–and continues to be long after her death–for her detective novels, she decided to use a pen name for her romance novels. Starting in 1930, she released six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Even though reviewers didn’t known Mary Westmacott’s true identity, they still gave her first novel lots of praise. The New York Times said in 1930 of the first book, “Whoever is concealed beneath the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott may well feel proud of Giant’s Bread.”
4. Anne Rice as Anne Rampling
It’s hard not to think of vampires when you hear the name Anne Rice. Long before vampires were seen as sparkly brooders, Anne wrote the wildly popular “Vampire Chronicles” series. The first book in that series, Interview with the Vampire, even spawned a 1994 movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Although Anne Rice has used her real name for most of her novels, she has had some success with another name: Anne Rampling. Under that pen name, she published Exit to Eden in 1985 and Belinda in 1986–both of which were erotica. Although there was a movie made for Exit to Eden in 1994 starring Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell, it differed so much from the book that even Anne Rice was disappointed in the film.
3. Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Everyone knows who Stephen King is. Even if you haven’t read one of his more than 50 novels, you’ve likely seen movies based on his work, including The Shining, Carrie, Stand By Me, Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He’s one of the most famous living American authors, and yet he still feels the need to use a pseudonym for some of his work. Stephen started writing as Richard Bachman with the 1977 novel Rage. In fact, Stephen even released two novels–one as Stephen King and one as Richard Bachman–as a set in 1996 titled Desperation and The Regulators, respectively. While Richard Bachman isn’t as prolific as Stephen King, the pseudonym has still become successful even with its own movie based on the novel Thinner.
2. Madeleine Wickham as Sophie Kinsella
This is a case where the author’s pseudonym is much more popular than her real name. Madeleine Wickham first started publishing novels under her real name in the mid-1990s with the novel The Tennis Party. After seven novels under that name, she switched to Sophie Kinsella for the “Shopaholic” series. In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Madeleine said “I chose to publish the first Shopaholic book under a pseudonym because I wanted it to be judged on its own merits. I knew that if I tried to pitch the idea to my publishers, they might be dubious, because it was very different from what I’d written before.” The Sophie Kinsella “Shopholic” series has been wildly successful and even spawned a movie in 2009 starring Isla Fisher.
1. J.K Rowling as Robert Galbraith
As is usually the case when an author first chooses a pseudonym, J.K Rowling wanted hers to be a secret. For the last few decades, J.K Rowling has become a household name for her young adult fantasy series “Harry Potter.” The seven-book series has spawned movies, theme parks, memorabilia and millions of fans. When she wanted to start writing crime novels, she decided to ditch her real name and go by Robert Galbraith instead. Unfortunately, her first book under that name, The Cuckoo’s Calling, wasn’t out for long before one of her lawyers leaked the news that she was the one behind the name. Luckily, it hasn’t hurt book sales. The book had very favorable reviews from critics–before and after her identity was revealed–and it climbed to the number one slot on Amazon’s bestseller list. She has a sequel in the series, still under the Robert Galbraith pen name, set to release in the summer of 2014.