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February 2, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Top Ten Famous Author Pseudonyms


Published 20/10/09 at Arts Hub

10. Carolyn Keene: Prolific writer of the never-ending Nancy Drew girl-detective series, Keene is actually the invention of the Stratemeyer Syndicate in New York, who commissioned Mildred Wirt Benson to write the first 23 titles. Paid a starting fee of US$125 with no royalty, Benson’s authorship was not publicly acknowledged until her identity was revealed in a court case during the 1980s.

9. George Eliot: originally born Mary Ann Evans, she was the writer of classics such as Middlemarch and The Lifted Veil. Dying in 1880 at the age of 61, Evans continued to write under the pseudonym until kidney failure removed George and his female associate from all worldly writing influence.

8. ‘By a lady’: Although not strictly a pseudonym, Jane Austen was notoriously private and often only acknowledged that her books were written ‘by a lady’. Her authorship of books such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility was kept so secret that many of her closest friends and family were unaware she had written novels.

7. Richard Bachman: Possibly the most boring pseudonym ever chosen, Stephen King submitted his earlier works to the public under the Bachman pen-name because his publishers didn’t think that the reading public would accept an author who produced more than one book a year. Credit must be given where it’s due, however; the pseudonym was whipped up on the day King’s new book was ready to go to press. Finding the former choice of Gus Pillsbury unsuitable for a pen-name, Stephen saw a novel by Richard Stark on his desk (a pen-name for Donald Westlake) and was listening to ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so one half of each felicitously combined to become his alter-ego.

6. Lewis Carroll: Perhaps Alice and Wonderland would not have felt nearly so magical if we had known that the author was actually Reverand Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics professor from Oxford University. Sounds a little drab, surely?

5. Lemony Snicket: Master of the darkly comic children’s book series An Unfortunate Series of Events, Snicket plays into the hyper-reality of his characters. The only person through which Snicket will currently communicate is his ‘representative’, Daniel Handler, who is author of relatively-unknown adult books The Basic Eight and Adverb. It may be complete coincidence that representative and author happen to be the same person.

4. James Patterson, well-known Australian author, has become so prolific that he has numerous ghostwriters at work in order to maintain the hectic pace of his book production. Releasing as many as eight books in a year, Patterson is living proof that an author can actually make money from his writing ventures, particularly when it becomes possible to hire writers to write for you.

3. George Orwell: Surely this takes the prize as the most ironic pseudonym of them all. George Orwell, famous for his socio-political musings in Animal Farm and the Big-Brother theory of 1984, was actually a figment of Eric Arthur Blair’s imagination. Now that the secret’s out, we’re just thankful Blair/Orwell died in 1950, meaning he didn’t hang around long enough to see the rise of the internet and instant messaging.

2. Robert Ludlum: Like many in the arts industry, Elvis’s prosperous post-mortem story has become the standard way for investors to continue making money out of their most famous assets. Ludlum died in 2001, but his novels are still being written by ghost writers and Eric Van Lustbader, who has continued the Bourne series. And let’s not forget the multi-pseudonym habit of some popular authors; Ludlum also wrote under the names Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd.

1. J. K. Rowling: The infamous author of the Harry Potter series really deserves two spots on this list, given she has to keep track of two separate pseudonyms. Her given name is Joanne Murray (her maiden name is Rowling), and her second pseudonym runs the risk of being the worst-kept secret in the world as Rowling has often asserted she is sure the press will discover her other pen-name in seconds. Murray/Rowling has released other children’s books under this second pseudonym, perhaps to prevent that writer’s name from being forever connected with The Boy Who Lived.

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2 Comments

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  1. yomindblown / Dec 1 2011 11:45 AM

    What about Dr. Suess or Mark Twain?

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  1. ABC radio interview: famous author pseudonyms | .ReviewMania.

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