Some believed JK Rowling wanted to try her hand at something without the huge burden of expectations that comes from being one of history's most financially successful authors. Some thought the "discovery" of her alter-ego to be too convenient, as, predictably, the book's sales shot through the roof after the revelation. Some felt deceived that they had read/purchased/critiqued something without realizing who really wrote it.
I have every confidence that Rowling truly wanted to make a fresh start. There's no way she can ever publish anything under her name without having it compared to Harry Potter. There just isn't. Her publisher, on the other hand, may not have been as altruistic. My issue isn't with the pseudonym or keeping that a secret. It's with the falsified biography.
Here is what was published as the biography to accompany the pseudonym:
Born in 1968, Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years with the Royal Military Police, he was attached to the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for protagonist Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who have returned to the civilian world. 'Robert Galbraith' is a pseudonym.
I admit, I was a little dismayed to see many authors I respected were not only of the opinion that fake biographies were okay and "business as usual," but that reader concern about their authenticity was misplaced and something to be made fun of. Oh, those silly readers with their expectations of respect and trust...
This isn't about the fake name or the gender switch. For me, it's entirely about Rowling claiming to have skills and expertise she clearly did not.
Here's why I think Rowling made an error in judgement when she decided to craft (or allow her publisher to craft) this entirely fake persona.
- Claiming experience you don't have misleads readers/buyers.
- I, as a reader, place a differing level of trust on books based upon that expertise.
- Claiming to be a cop, with specific previous assignments, takes this offense further, because cops (and EMTs, doctors, nurses, firefighters, or members of the military) are people who do difficult/dangerous jobs, are our "first responders," and information shared as this persona may be taken as "fact" by someone reading the book and misapplied.
- In the US, it is a criminal act to impersonate a police officer. Granted, she's not donning a uniform, flashing a badge, or false imprisoning anyone, but she is using that status to assume the authority and level of trust granted to someone in law enforcement.
So what this brings me around to is...what does a biography give you as an author? What is its purpose? Are fake personas (rather than simply fake names or switching genders) the norm? Am I that naive? And what about all of those thriller/crime authors who are really who they claimed to be? Shouldn't they be upset that someone is claiming that same level of experience without paying her dues? Or that as a result, readers are going to be very skeptical going forward, of anyone who claims to tell an authentic story because of their occupational insight? Because right now, I'm wondering if Barry Eisler has the credentials he professes to have. Or if Tess Gerritson was ever a physician and Kathy Reichs a forensic anthropologist...
And if the author bio has all of the veracity of a fellow-author blurb, why bother, really?