Why did J.K. Rowling Write under a Pseudonym?

Buy Cuckoo's Calling from Sellers on Junglee.com “JK Rowling secretly wrote a book under a different name. How very Half-Blood Prince of her." – A tweet soon after it was revealed that JKR was writing under a pseudonym.

A storm brewed up last month in the publishing industry worldwide as a moderately successful but critically acclaimed crime novel- The Cuckoo’s Calling by “first-timer” Robert Galbraith was revealed to be actually written by J. K. Rowling.

Very few authors have tasted the kind of commercial success, critical adulation and unswerving love from readers as J. K. Rowling has. Her Harry Potter series has created a generation of fans who eagerly awaited every instalment with bated breath, took to discussing and writing about her clues and theories in elaborate detail and spawned a fan fiction factory that none can rival. From movies, merchandise to even music; Harry Potter became and continues to be a phenomenon that defies all known limits of popularity and acclaim. But as JKR signed off with the Deathly Hallows, and the last movie came and went a couple of years ago, there was a distinctly large-sized Rowling void in the reading world.

She obliged, and out came The Casual Vacancy, a satire on simmering small town political conflicts set in the fictitious parish town of Pagford in England. While the characterizations and eye for detail were vintage Rowling, the book got mixed reviews and proved to be quite a change for the loyalists who had grown up on a diet of magic and fantasy. However, the wait for her next book was thankfully short lived as she came out with The Cuckoo’s Calling in April this year. Rowling chose to write under a pseudonym because she wanted to free herself from the expectations and pressure that came with her name. In her words, she found the experience extremely liberating and would have loved to continue with one of the best literary deceptions of recent times for a little longer.

When the book was released; the critics lapped it up and some of the most renowned crime writers hailed it as a throwback to old school detective fiction, and found a potential iconic character in Cormoran Strike, the main protagonist and private-eye. A few voices were raised here and there about how the book was too nuanced and well-written for a debut; especially because Galbraith’s bio made him out to be an ex-military man with experience in civil security- basically a guy with no inkling of a writing background.

The book, centred on the suicide of a young, successful model in the glittery showbiz world and Strike’s investigation into it, as a possible murder, had sold some 1,400 copies in hardback since April and another 7,000 odd in digital format before the big secret tumbled out. The Sunday Times did its own bit of investigative journalism to figure out that Galbraith is in fact Rowling writing under a pseudonym. The fact that her publisher and agent were the same as The Casual Vacancy’s was a little bit of a giveaway. But the main reason behind the revelation has been attributed to a rogue tweet by Rowling’s lawyer’s’ wife’s friend. She sued her lawyer for breach of confidentiality and the firm, in contrition, donated a substantial amount to her choice of charity.

While the whole way the secret came out was nothing short of dramatic, it proved reason for cheer, as the book climbed a steep 4,700 spots on Amazon to become the number one bestseller, and sales within 2 days of the reveal jumped by a mind-boggling 500,000%. But then again, it’s J.K. Rowling and such stats are trivial numbers when it comes to her literary prowess and ability to command success. Maybe it’s the anonymous kind of success she was after though, considering the lengths she went to in order to hide her identity. More than one publisher rejected her manuscript as she sent it under Galbraith’s name; reminiscent of her pre-Harry Potter days when several publishing houses made possibly the biggest mistake of their lifetime in rejecting the first part of the Harry Potter series-The Philosopher’s Stone. Even her actual publishing house was kept in the dark, with only her agent in on the secret and acting as the perfect partner-in-crime. There were several rumours about the whole stunt being orchestrated as a publicity gimmick to boost the not so stellar sales figure of the book, but as a Rowling fan myself, I’d like to believe that the author has enough self-assurance and sheer love for writing, to be above such PR-seeking antics. She has also announced that for the next 3 years, the royalties from The Cuckoo’s Calling will be donated to The Soldiers’ Charity and that that was her plan all along.

The latest buzz is around a supposed bidding war for movie rights for the book. While the jury is still out on what’s fact and what’s rumour; JKR has confirmed that the second instalment in the series is finished and ready to be out later this year. From Rowling- the author of fantasy, to Rowling- the author of detective crime, she has made quite the smooth transition, and critics and readers alike seem to like it. As long as it means that one of the most prolific and talented authors of our generation is out of retirement and hibernation, no one’s complaining!

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