In the 'About the Author' section of Cuckoo's calling, it says that Robert Galbraith spent several years in the military etc etc. But now that we all know who Robert Galbraith is...does this not constitute a lie? Is an author allowed to lie about himself/herself like this? How is it legal?

Can any one write a book and then lie about their background to gain credibility?

  • in general, lying is legal, except of specific cases - when your lies cause some kind of damages (financial loss, etc.) In fact the whole Fiction genre is nothing but lies. In this particular case, one could make a very weak argument that the author's military background compelled them to the purchase and that it's a deceptive marketing strategy. The problem with this is that fictional author's military background has no bearing on the quality of crime novels. Had Robert Galbraith claimed to have been a police detective, the case would stand a leg.
    – SF.
    Oct 21, 2014 at 9:51

4 Answers 4


Yes, it constitutes a lie, technically speaking. Yes, it is legal.

The use of pseudonyms is an established practice in publishing. There's a wide range of reasons where writing under a pseudonym might be obviously beneficial to the author:

  • The author's real name is similar to the name of a more-popular author; readers might confuse the two.
  • The author is writing something that would be embarrassing to have linked to their real name, e.g. erotica.
  • The author has written previous books which have been commercial failures; they want to distance themselves and "start afresh."
  • The book addresses incendiary topics, and the author's identity needs to remain secret to avoid retribution.
  • The author fears they will not be taken seriously if their identity is known, e.g. a woman writing in a male-dominated field.
  • Consider, also, the practice of ghost-writing - where the publisher presents the book as being written by one author, usually a celebrity, when the actual writing was done by an author who worked for hire.

The mere use of a fake name is, obviously, a lie. Supporting biographical facts are also lies. But the acceptance of pseudonyms in publishing is long-standing, because it's generally to our benefit to let everyone publish whatever their identity and their privacy needs, and because we usually care a whole lot more about the content of the book than about the identity of the author.

At any rate, lying is not illegal. Indeed, there are special legal provisions for writing under a pseudonym (particularly to establish ownership of copyright).

There is a point at which lying about your background can be outright fraudulent - for example, if you claim your book is non-fictional autobiography, but the facts turn out to be false. I don't know if even this is outright illegal, but it certainly can provoke outrage or sever contracts.

However, simply lying about who you are, for the purposes of author information in a fiction book, is generally not seen as problematic. It's simply part of the author's brand and persona, and it's difficult to spin that as being harmful to anybody.


Preliminary Note

I'm currently reading the novel Indigo by Austrian author Clemens J. Setz. The novel tells the story of Clemens Setz, who, after studying mathematics and German, does an internship as mathematics tutor at the Helianau boarding school in the Austrian Bundesland Styria, a school for "Indigo children", whose presence makes those around them feel nausea, dizziness and headache. The author biography in the front of the book states that the author, Clemens J. Setz, born in Graz, Austria, after studying mathematics and German, worked as a mathematics tutor at the Proximity Awareness & Learning Center Helianau and is suffering from the long-term effects of the Indigo-contamination.

The truth is that the Helianau boarding school does not exist, and that the author Setz never did an internship in a school for indigo children and is not suffering from the after-effects of anything. But the whole book is a tapestry of fiction and fact, interwoven so masterfully, that without extensive research (or an uncommonly broad educational background) you won't be able to tell one from the other. There are many things in the book which I was surprised to find were actually true, and many I was irritated to find were untrue.

Quite obviously, the pretense that the book recounts factual events, is part of its concept. Also quite obviously, the author biography serves to affirm and substantiate that pretense by misusing the reader's expectation that an author biography presents the truth.

In the case of "Robert Galbraith's" The Cuckoo's Calling, while the author is not part of the perceptibly fictional story, "his" military background gives his fictional works the appearance of being based on real life experiences, similar to real-life intelligence officer Ian Fleming's tales of the fictional spy James Bond. An author who as experienced and knows what he writes about, even if it is fictionalized, is more attractive to many readers than an author how has no idea "what it is really like" and makes it all up. For the same reason, books are often published under pseudonyms with a different gender than that of the acutal writer, because readers often prefer to read about certain topics when they are written by a man or a women, believing that only men or women can really understand whatever the book is about.

The author's implicit (pseudonym gender) or stated biography is always a part of both the narrative and the marketing of the book, and carefully crafted. An author's biography, in other words, is a literary device.


The public image of public figures is largely made up or manipulated.

  • Politicians hold doctorate degrees by questionable foreign universities or are being convicted of plagiarism. Degrees signify expertise to the voters, but take time and effort.
  • George Clooney and other stars supposedly pay young women to play their spouses for some time so as to appear desirable to their target audience.
  • Every job applicant tunes their curriculum vitae and pretends to have knowledge and experience that they don't have.

The truth is that you should not trust the biography of anyone. Usually the sham isn't so blatant, but a biography is always a part of the marketing of the autor as a brand (or the neighbor as being more financially successful). Distrust it, until you see proof.


"This book is a work of fiction..."

  • 1
    Seconded. Author Darren O'Shaugnessy (Sp) writes children fiction under the name Darren Shan, which is also the name of his 1st person protagonist, and the About the Author JUST ABOUT evades the idea of his being a vampire (as the protag. is); FWIW there's also an intro swearing to us all that the story is true; Holly Black also acts as though Spiderwick is true, as is said in their introduction, yet the illustrator speaks about how he came up with parts of the books. Just examples to show that if it's in the printed volume it can be false (Black saying it's real in interviews notwithstanding)
    – Mac Cooper
    Aug 26, 2014 at 9:55
  • 1
    I'm sorry, but I have to downvote this for proving the negative. Your quote says that solely the book is a work of fiction, not that the author of the book is a work of fiction.
    – user5645
    Aug 26, 2014 at 10:27
  • The author (JK Rowling, not part of the book) is real. The attribution (part of the book) is fiction. The description (part of the book) is fiction. Aug 26, 2014 at 19:41

Note: I am not a lawyer

In Czech, we have saying: "When there is no lawsuit, there is no damage"

In other words. Someone lied to you. So what?

What can you accuse them from? What is the damage caused to you? The question is not about legality but more over about morality because the only damage caused can be, that you are not going to buy a book (movie...) from such author.

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