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Another murder-mystery with a grizzly male detective, The Cuckoo’s Calling was sitting expectantly on the shelf of a London bookshop. The murder mystery indeed turned into a whodunit after reviewers found that author Robert Galbraith was not so unknown. Since the reveal that Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling are one in the same there has been enormous speculation on why J.K. Rowling would choose a pen name. Was she pining for a little creative liberty under anonymity? Did she want to play around with an alter-ego? Was it all just a big publicity stunt? The most plausible explanation stems from a history of female authors who felt pressured to switch to a male pseudonym. This highlights a major flaw in the publishing industry where a male perspective reigns supreme and female writers should stick to penning light beach fare. Covers are not the only way readers judge a book.
Female authoresses have resorted to male pseudonyms or gender neutral initials for centuries when patriarchy was pop culture. Thus, Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women was once A.M. Barnard. The entire trio of the Bronte sisters famously went under the pen name the “Bell brothers” for a collection of poetry. Held up to modern standards, the notion that a book is less worthy page-turner because the name “Charlotte” or “Sylvia” precedes a family name is blatant chauvinism. Yet there are multiple modern authors who decided to undergo a literary gender swap. Similar to Rowling, Nora Roberts switched to J.D. Robb to stem into detective writing. Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey have co-created an entire male figure by the name of Magnus Flyte for their novel City of Dark Magic. Again Ann Rule turned into Andy Stack for Detective Magazine. I think I see a pattern here.
A study done by Vida reveals that there is a bias in the book reviewing industry. According to the survey done in 2010, among authors reviewed for the New York Review of Books, 83% are men. This means books penned by male authors get more exposure and make the literature appear dominated by male voices. Although this is just one review source, the statistic are biased across other publications like Granta Magazine and the London Review of Books. Furthermore, since 1909 twelve women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, twelve. Women are also not popular among all genres like men. Mystery, Crime Thriller and Sci-fi are still dominated by men. According to the same study done by Vida, women had no preference when it came to the gender of the author. Women also do not mind reading books with a female protagonist written by a male author, hence Nicolas Sparks. There is a double standard in the publishing industry and it is hard to say it does not stench of archaic sexism.
It is clear now why J.K. Rowling decided to use a male pseudonym. The choice for the male name was in hopes of attracting the male-murder mystery audience. She could have had flashbacks to her Harry Potter publishing days when she was told a woman writing a little boy’s perspective would not sell. The underlying problem in this name game is not the author’s choice, but publisher’s pressures to pigeonhole genres by gender. That being said, The Cuckoo’s Calling could have been an ideal time for J.K. Rowling to experiment with the odds of a female-written murder mystery flourishing in a male dominated genre. And why not task the risk of a female name? All the goblins at Gringotts Bank know she has enough money to cushion a flop. On the other hand, maybe Rowling is emphasizing the forced gender swap many female authors make to this day. She has enough clout to make readers ponder why they choose who to read. Robert Gabraith was a nobody after all – until he was Joanne Rowling.
Do you choose authors by gender? Discuss below!