In 2015, writer Catherine Nichols wanted to do a little experiment. She wanted to see what kinds of responses she'd get from agents as a man and a woman. So Nichols sent out her completed manuscript to various publishers under her own name and also a male pseudonym called George.
Within 24 hours, Nichols’ male alter-ego received five responses: three manuscript requests and two friendly rejections which "praised the exciting project." Later under her own name with the same query letter and pages, Nichols received only two manuscript requests.
“George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book,” wrote Nichols. “My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.”
History has shown us that many female writers have written under a male pseudonym for the sake of making progress in a male-dominated industry. In honor of Catherine Nichols’ honest investigation and Women’s History Month, here are 5 female authors who used male pseudonyms to hide their identities.
They were famous as Currer, Ellis, and Anton Bell, but their real names were Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë
The Brontë sisters were quite aware of the reactions they’d receive if they attempted to publish their books with their names attached. So, they created pseudonyms that closely matched their real names and went on to publish famous works like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Professor, and Agnes Grey.
“We were as resolved as ever to preserve our incognito—We had only confessed ourselves to our publisher—in order to do away with the inconveniences that had arisen from our too well preserved mystery—to all the rest of the world we must be ‘gentlemen’ as heretofore,” wrote Charlotte to a friend, Mary Taylor, in 1848.
After the sisters’ brother Branwell passed away from drug and alcohol addiction in 1848, Charlotte expressed deep sorrow, wishing her brother knew the success of his sisters.
Two years after Branwell’s death, the Brontë sisters stepped forward and confessed to being the Bell brothers, chalking the anonymity to shyness and being “averse to personal publicity.”
She was known as Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling, but her real name is Joanne Rowling
When Harry Potter became popular, everybody assumed that the author was a man who just preferred his privacy. After all, there was no face to put to the name.
So when J. K. Rowling was outed as a woman named Joanne, everybody was shocked. People didn’t understand why this successful storyteller wanted to hide behind a name that wasn’t totally her own.
“[The publisher] said to me, we think this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls. And I said, oh, great. And they said, so could we use your initials?” said Rowling, describing that her publisher believed half the demographic may be put off picking up a book about a young boy if they knew it was written by a woman.
After Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy, a man with a similar writing style named Robert Galbraith surfaced with a book called The Cuckoo’s Calling. Alas, it was Rowling again, trying a new male pen name.
Rowling recalls her editor’s reaction when he read The Cuckoo’s Calling -- not knowing it belonged to Rowling -- by saying he “never would have thought a woman wrote that.” So, Rowling went onto publish the book under a male’s name.
She was famous as George Eliot, but her real name is Mary Anne Evans
Mary Anne Evans started out working alongside a man named John Chapman who owned The Westminster Review, becoming the assistant editor in 1851.
Although Chapman was the editor, Evans did much work producing the journal, which included production and contributing essays and reviews.
Evans continued to contribute pieces to the Westminster, but also decided to become a novelist. Her first story published under George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, was well-received and many readers believed it was written by a parson.
Evans went on to publish Adam Bede which instantly skyrocketed in popularity -- but people were dying to know who this mysterious George Eliot was.
Mary Anne Evans was eventually outed as George Eliot, but surprisingly, this did not really affect her readership. She continued writing under this pseudonym and went on to sell thousands of copies of her books.
She was known as J. D. Robb, but her real name is Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts did the pseudonym thing somewhat backwards.
Roberts started out using her given name as a female author writing more than 200 romance and erotic thriller novels. In the mid-nineties, she started a series called In Death and decided to "challenge" herself by using a male pen name to separate her reputation from the new series.
For years, J. D. Robb remained the author of the In Death series. In 1995, Roberts came out as Robb after publishing the twelfth book in her series.
“With a phenomenal career full of bestsellers, Nora Roberts was ready for a new writing challenge. As her agent put it, like Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and caffeine-free Pepsi, a pseudonym offered her the opportunity to reach a new and different group of readers,” reads J. D. Robb’s website, pictured next to a photo of Nora Roberts.
She was famous as A. M. Barnard, but her real name is Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is one of the most popular books in American literature, but author Louisa May Alcott had experimented with a couple of pseudonyms before publishing the novel.
Alcott decided to use pseudonyms until she decided to commit and get serious about writing, where she felt more comfortable using her real name. Before her love of writing really stuck, she wrote several juvenile stories, poems, and thrillers under the pen name Flora Fairfield.
In 1862, she also adopted the pen name A. M. Barnard, where some of her melodramas were produced into plays onstage. It wasn’t until she wrote Hospital Sketches in 1863 that Alcott realized she wanted a career out of writing, so she decided to use her real name for her next novel, called Little Women.
Here’s a fun fact: Alcott’s family was friends with Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Theodore Parker. She informally studied writing with them through her adolescence.