Not just J.K. Rowling: Best-selling female authors with male monikers

Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-16 19:01:40-04
By Charlotte Lytton

for CNN

(CNN) — Following this week’s revelation that J.K. Rowling penned a crime thriller under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the “Harry Potter” creator has joined a long line of women who have written novels under a cloak of masculinity.

While some authors choose to write under a pen name as a form of artistic expression, many female authors purposefully opt for a male pseudonym to appeal to a wider audience, says Carmela Ciuraru, author of “Nom de plume: A (secret) history of pseudonyms”.

“Sadly in certain genres, it still helps to be a man — particularly in crime or science fiction,” Ciuraru told CNN.

“Sometimes it’s easier to be taken seriously as a man, and J.K. Rowling is in a difficult position as her reputation means that her work can’t be judged on merit alone,” she adds.

With Rowling’s book “The Cuckoo’s Calling” climbing the charts on Amazon bestselling list, CNN takes a look at renowned female writers, past and present, who have adopted male pen names.

Louisa May Alcott (A.M. Barnard)

Best known for her seminal tale “Little Women”, Louisa May Alcott, spent much of her early career writing under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard.

Featuring feisty women who did not conform to the ideal of the 19th century female, her early novels “A Long Fatal Love Chase” and “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment” were hidden beneath an ambiguous pseudonym, giving Alcott the artistic license to explore different conceptions of the fairer sex without fear of disapproval.

This darker literary alter ego confronted racier themes, and was discovered more than 50 years after Alcott’s death by book dealer Leona Rostenberg in 1942. Letters between the author and a Boston publisher in 1855 and 1856 read, “We would like more stories from you … and if you prefer you may use the pseudonym of A.M. Barnard or any other man’s name if you will.”

Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb)

After a highly successful career as a novelist under her own name, Nora Roberts decided to adopt a more elusive tag for her “…in Death” collection: a canon comprising of 43 published works, with three more set for release later this year.

Unlike J. K. Rowling’s quick reveal — a mere three months after joining the literary world as Robert Galbraith — Roberts kept her pen name under wraps until the 12th installment of her romantic thriller series.

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)

Famed for her novels exploring psychological realism, Mary Ann Evans — better known to the literary world as George Eliot — was not short of opinions on fellow female writers. Publishing an essay in 1856 entitled “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” Evans lambasted the glut of unremarkable work produced by women in the era, which she believed diminished the credibility of female writers as a whole.

It was this that spurred the “Middlemarch” writer on to use a male pseudonym, musing: “By a peculiar thermometric adjustment, when a woman’s talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when it attains mediocrity it is already no more than summer heat; and if she ever reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point.”

Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey (Magnus Flyte)

“City of Dark Magic” came across as a rather intriguing debut novel from novice author Magnus Flyte when it was published in 2012. But it was soon revealed that the brains behind the book were Meg Howrey, an actress and author, and Christina Lynch, a journalist and TV producer.

Citing themselves as Magnus’s ‘wranglers,’ the duo maintains his existence as an mysterious enigma, even ‘interviewing’ him for their blog. Explaining their decision to adopt a single fictitious name for themselves, Howrey said: “We had both read a raft of articles talking about how men don’t buy books written by women.”

They may have been proven correct, as their first novel has spawned a successful sequel with the male nom de plume still intact.

The Bronte sisters (Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell)

Perhaps the most successful literary dynasty of all time, Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte collectively produced some of the world’s best loved novels during the 19th century. Publishing works under male names beginning with the same first letter as their own, Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell produced their first offering — a collection of poems — in 1846, before going on to publish individual novels shortly after.

“Charlotte really believed in their talents, and was actually very controlling about the publication of their work,” says Ciurara. “She was incredibly bold for an unmarried woman, but she was determined that they would publish as men in order to get reviews that wouldn’t be condescending.”

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