The Story Behind Richard Bachman

If you follow Stephen King in the press and social media, you will see he has passion for many topics. The author is politically vocal and not a fan of the 45th President. He is highly supportive of other writers, especially those starting out. He shares tips on the craft of writing and is delightfully self-deprecating, “I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

King is amazingly well-known, having sold over 350 million copies of his 61 novels. It is fair to say, his name is synonymous with the term, “bestselling”. He and other contemporary mass market novelists like Patterson, Picoult, Roberts, and Stine, pump out novel after novel.

When King’s career took off, publishers limited authors to one book per year. It was thought that the public would tire of a more active author. King has always been prolific so decided to write under another name. The idea was to avoid over-saturating the King “brand”.

Signet Books agreed to print a series of novels under the pseudonym, Richard Bachman. King used this opportunity as an experiment. He wanted to find out if his success was due to talent or luck? Would Bachman be as big as King? The Bachman novels were released with little marketing support. Unfortunately, the experiment ended too soon to come to a conclusion. King was linked to Bachman. Consider this though, the novel Thinner sold 28,000 copies under Bachman and then ten times as many when people found out it was King.

Here is the name dissected. Richard came from crime author Donald E. Westlake’s pseudonym Richard Stark. Bachman was inspired by Bachman–Turner Overdrive, a band from my hometown of Winnipeg (Randy Bachman was a founding member of The Guess Who). King was put on the spot by his agent for a last name and had been listening to BTO at the time.

King went as far to provide faux biographical details for Bachman, a task I am sure he enjoyed. Bachman was born in New York, served a four-year stint in the Coast Guard and ten years in the Merchant Marine. He settled down in rural New Hampshire, running a dairy farm and writing at night. Bachman’s fifth novel was dedicated to his fake wife, Claudia Inez Bachman, who was credited with the bogus author photo on the book jacket. King dribbled out more of these “facts” to breathe life into the pseudonym.

King’s experiment ended when Steve Brown, a bookstore clerk in Washington, D.C., discovered similarities between the writing of King and Bachman. He thought, Thinner, was unequivocally a King work. Brown was tenacious, he located publisher’s records at the Library of Congress, including a document identifying King as the author of a Bachman novel. Brown wrote to King’s publishers with his findings. Two weeks later, King personally telephoned Brown suggesting he write an article about the discovery.

When all this broke in 1985, King was writing Misery, set to release as a Bachman book. After the true identity was revealed, later publicity dispatches and the ‘about the author’ writeups revealed that Bachman died suddenly in late 1985 of “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia”. The inside jokes kept coming.

Bachman’s publishers released The Regulators in 1996, claiming the book’s manuscript was found among Bachman’s leftover papers by his widow. It was released as a companion novel with King’s Desperation. The two book cover designs could be placed together to form a single picture. If that didn’t confirm the link, nothing would.

Here are more Bachman facts:

• The next Bachman book to be “discovered” was Blaze. It was really an unpublished novel by King, written before the creation of Richard Bachman. King rewrote, edited, and updated the entire novel.

• King has taken full ownership of Bachman by writing, “Why I Was Bachman” and, “The Importance of Being Bachman”.

• Bachman is referenced in The Dark Tower series.

• King had a cameo on the show Sons of Anarchy. His character, named Bachman, quietly disposed of deceased bodies.

Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, tried the same sort of experiment. She wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime novel published under the pen name, Robert Galbraith. This deception was outed the old fashion way, people couldn’t keep their mouths shut. The secret identity was revealed after a partner at a law firm told his wife’s best friend who then revealed Rowling’s identity to a Sunday Times journalist. Rowling writing as Galbraith sold only 1,500 copies of the crime novel prior to be outed.

Both Rowling and King’s pen names have controversy attached. Rowling’s pseudonym has been criticized for a link to a controversial conversion therapist, inciting people to further believe that the author has issues with LGBT rights. Meanwhile, Bachman/King’s novel Rage, details a school shooting. King has ensured the book stays out of print reflecting his stance on gun control.

This leaves the question, could Bachman have rivaled King? The answer remains a mystery. However, one reviewer at the time, hinted at Bachman’s future, “This is what Stephen King would write like if Stephen King could really write.”

Business, Brand & Writing Strategies. Former CMO at Interbrand, Chief Communications Officer at DDB Worldwide, Principal Consultant at Price Waterhouse.