What’s in a name?

Authors have routinely hidden their identities, but you may be reading the works of famous writers without knowing it. I’ve compiled a partial list of well-known authors who use different names. There are literally hundreds more who could be on this list.

  • J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) – Harry Potter series, The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Joe Klein (Anonymous) – political commentator for TIME, Primary Colors
  • Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) – romance novels, futuristic science fiction books (the “In Death” series beginning in 1995)
  • Ruth Rendell (Barbara Vine) – books with excitement and sensation, books about people and the evolution of morality
  • Anne Rice (Anne Rampling, A.N. Roquelaure) The Vampire Chronicles, Exit to Eden, and Belinda, Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (adult themes)
  • Jayne Anne Krentz (Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle) – romantic suspense, historical fiction, futuristic science fiction
  • Stephen King (Richard Bachman) – horror novels
  • Evan Hunter (Ed McBain, Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams, Ted Taine) – crime and science fiction
  • Louisa May Alcott (A.M. Barnard) – Little Women, sensational narratives
  • Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell) – poetry anthologies, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights
  • Eleanor Hibbert (Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anna Percival, Ellalice Tateli) historical fiction, romantic fiction, gothic romances, contemporary novels

Most of the authors listed used different names for different genres (Rowling, Klein, Roberts, Rendell, Rice, Krentz, Hunter, and Hibbert). Some women published under male or androgynous names because ladies were not supposed to write books during their time periods (Alcott and the Brontë sisters), but Anne Rice chose to use pseudonymns to disguise the fact that she was writing erotica and BDSM. Stephen King used a pen name to publish multiple books in a year during a time when publishers wanted only one book per year from an author. They thought the public would not buy more than that.

Victoria Holt Gothic romances

Victoria Holt
Gothic romances

The most prolific author on the list is Eleanor Hibbert. I grew up reading my mother’s Victoria Holt novels during my teen years, and my daughters have read all of them that they can find. Her books feature romance without erotica – the innocent governess marries the widowed master of the house. She wrote thirty-two books in that genre alone (gothic romance) and had sold over one hundred million books by the time of her death.

Today, many writers disguise their identities because of the ease with which they can be found through the internet.

So does the author’s name sell the book, or does good writing matter? Do you want to feel a personal connection with the writer?

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5 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Susan Kaye

    I’m not fixed on any particular writers. I have read all of P. D. James but don’t even own them all. I am a consumer of characters moving through a good story. It used to be that a particular author on a book made it a “must buy.” For some readers I am sure this is still true to some degree, but, I think most people go by genre, cover art, and blurbs. There is such variety available now that readers can get their fix more simply and more often than before.

    In a side note, I had to laugh when reading a spokesman for a publishing company screeding about indy publishing and making it out that readers rely heavily big-named publishers to deliver the goods. He went on to say chummy reader/publisher relationship was being undermined by independent authors bypassing legacy publishers. This was leading to less quality books for readers. Less quality may be an issue since there is far more work available now that the Big Six don’t have a heavy hand on the spigot anymore, but I dare say the number of people who know the name of the publishing house of any given title is statistically zero.

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      I may look at a book because of the author’s name, but I will read the synopsis and an excerpt before I buy it.

      I have no idea who published any of the authors I listed, and I never check to see who published a book before I buy it.

      One thing that will keep me from buying is a high price tag – I don’t care who wrote it.

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      1. Susan Kaye

        I hear you when it comes to cost. The saying that you get what you pay for is very true, but fiction is not a couch that should last for years and trying to convince me that price is the measure of quality won’t fly.

        Indy publishing will never completely replace traditional publishing, but it will, for a while, keep it on its toes.

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  2. s0ph1ar0s3

    I tend to find a book mostly by accident that I like and then read all the person writes. I watch for books by the author, but I also watch for books like the one I read and liked. So I guess the name doesn’t matter to me. I’ve actually recommended books by the same author under two different names not even realizing it was the same person only to have someone point it out to me. ;D

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      I do the same things. Once I’ve found an author I like, I read all their books. I’ve found some of the best books completely by accident.

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Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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