Seldom has there been a celebrity female author like J. K. Rowling.
Growing up, while other girls were putting posters of Britney Spears and Dawson’s Creek on their walls, I was clinging to the precious few interviews that this author gave, hoping to learn as much as possible about her and her craft. I loved what she did, I loved what she wrote. And she was a successful adult that I could relate to (probably only because we are both female – there’s little overlap between the two of us).
She’s a woman that I grew up admiring. And yet, she didn’t necessarily flaunt that she was a woman.
There have been successful female writers for hundreds of years. Some have published under male pen names. Some have abbreviated their first name, and some have thrown caution to the wind, owned their identity, and put their full first name on the cover of their book.
And the heroine of this blog chose: J. K. Rowling.
That’s still how people know her, despite her incredible success. Not by her name, but by her initials, leaving the gender of the author of her incredible Harry Potter series ambiguous. She’s the biggest female author star of our time, and she isn’t known by her first name. Dan Brown never had this problem. Tom Clancy never had this conversation with his publisher.
Maybe she just prefers her initials, you may say.
Why, then, when it was time for Joanne Rowling to publish her new novel, breaking away from the Harry Potter series, did she chose the pen name Robert Galbraith? I understand the need for a fresh slate, but come on!
She’s one of the best-selling authors of all time and not once, but twice, she hid the fact that she is a female from the quick glances of the general public.
Does this matter?
Why yes, yes it does.
I, myself, have chosen the pen name J. Mackenzie. If you don’t understand the inspiration for this, then you haven’t been paying attention to this article.
So (insert introspection time) how is it that I can be frustrated with her for not putting her first name on her books, but then I do something very similar when it’s time to claim my own name? Simple: I want a fighting chance.
I know that my first name, Jenna, dates me. Think of a ‘Jenna’ you know. She’s probably between the ages of 25-35. If you don’t personally know a Jenna, you probably think of a stereotype: blonde, skinny and ditzy. And my last name makes people uncomfortable because they can’t pronounce it. But J. Mackenzie is gender-ambiguous, is actually my name, (first initial, middle name) and people can easily read it and pronounce it. It’s branding 101. And today, more than ever, your name is your brand.
To bring this back to J. K. Rowling, I’m not upset with her, just like I’m not mad at myself. But, I am frustrated with the overall system that makes these decisions prudent. It’s 2018 and a book written by a Tom, Mike or Joe will more than likely be taken more seriously by a Tina, Mindy, or even Jane or Joanne.
Think about how you literally judge a book by a cover (it’s okay, we all do it). When your eyes glance over the author, what does that mean to you? Does it mean anything? Let’s take a moment this month to weigh this in our minds and challenge our unconscious (and conscious) biases against these names on these covers:
If it’s written by a man, it’s probably for anyone.
It’s written by a female, it’s probably chic lit.
I challenge you this month, when you hear this dialogue in your head, to acknowledge it, ignore it, flip open the cover, and give the first paragraph a try.