Stop Hiding, J.K. Rowling

What Women Really Think
July 15 2013 4:40 PM

Stop Hiding, J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling in disguise

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

In 1997, first-time author Joanne Rowling's publishers asked her to use her initials rather than her name because they thought her gender might make it hard to sell a fantasy novel about a boy named Harry Potter who discovered that he'd been born a wizard. To make them happy, Rowling borrowed the "K" from her grandmother Kathleen, because she had no middle name, and so J.K. Rowling was born.

Rowling's made headlines again this week with the revelation that she'd taken on another male name, Robert Galbraith, to publish a crime novel called The Cuckoo's Calling. Rowling went to considerable lengths to stay secret, inventing not just another name but a full biography for Galbraith, so he'd be more plausible as a real person.


It makes a certain amount of sense that Rowling would want to publish under another name, simply to keep developing as a writer and to see how well her work would sell and be reviewed on its own terms. (The answer to the sales question is: not well. The Cuckoo's Calling only sold about 1,500 copies prior to the revelation of its real author. But things are picking up.) "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name," she wrote in what seems like it will be her main public statement on the pseudonym.

But isn't there something sort of self-flagellating about this process, especially since Rowling once again chose a butch pseudonym and a butcher-sounding biography—"Galbraith" is a retired cop—to match it? Maybe Rowling saw the reaction to female writers like Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James—who, despite huge sales for the Twilight franchise and the Twilight fanfic-turned-franchise Fifty Shades of Grey respectively, did not exactly get critical respect—and decided she had to prove herself not once, but twice. Maybe she genuinely wanted some feedback and felt she couldn't get it if she was dealing with editors as herself. Instead, though, I wish Rowling could have bifurcated the process, submitting her book anonymously or working on it with an editor who didn't know her real identity to benefit from constructive criticism, and then publishing under her own name.

Now that Rowling's proved that her gender is no obstacle to her sales—purchases of The Cuckoo's Calling spiked 150,000 percent in the wake of the revelation—she might as well have a little fun with her influence. There's nothing remotely gender ambiguous about J.K. Rowling, and it would be nice to see one of the most famous literary women in the world embrace the power of the name she made her own.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.