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At the beginning of Stephen King's career, the general view among publishers was that an author was limited to one book per year, since publishing more would be unacceptable to the public. King therefore wanted to write under another name, in order to increase his publication without over-saturating the market for the King "brand". He convinced his publisher, Signet Books, to print these novels under a pseudonym.
In his introduction to The Bachman Books, King states that adopting the nom de plume Bachman was also an attempt to make sense out of his career and try to answer the question of whether his success was due to talent or luck. He says he deliberately released the Bachman novels with as little marketing presence as possible and did his best to "load the dice against" Bachman. King concludes that he has yet to find an answer to the "talent versus luck" question, as he felt he was outed as Bachman too early to know. The Bachman book Thinner (1984) sold 28,000 copies during its initial run—and then ten times as many when it was revealed that Bachman was, in fact, King.
The pseudonym King originally selected (Gus Pillsbury) is King's maternal grandfather's name, but at the last moment King changed it to Richard Bachman. Richard is a tribute to crime author Donald E. Westlake's long-running pseudonym Richard Stark. (The surname Stark was later used in King's novel The Dark Half, in which an author's malevolent pseudonym, "George Stark", comes to life.) Bachman as inspired by Bachman–Turner Overdrive, a rock and roll band King was listening to at the time his publisher asked him to choose a pseudonym on the spot.
King dedicated Bachman's early books — Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982) — to people close to him, and worked in obscure references to his own identity. These clues, not to mention the similarity between the two authors' literary styles, aroused the suspicions of horror fans and retailers.
King steadfastly denied any connection to Bachman and, to throw fans off the trail, dedicated Bachman's 1984 novel Thinner to "Claudia Inez Bachman", who was, supposedly, Bachman's wife. There was also a phony author photo of Bachman on the dust jacket, credited to Claudia. He also has one of the characters describe how the strange happenings are like a "Stephen King novel" in the book.
The link between King and his shadow writer was exposed after a Washington, D.C. bookstore clerk, Steve Brown, noted similarities between the writing styles of King and Bachman. Brown located publisher's records at the Library of Congress which included a document naming King as the author of one of Bachman's novels. Brown wrote to King's publishers with a copy of the documents he had uncovered, and asked them what to do. Two weeks later, King telephoned Brown personally and suggested he write an article about how he discovered the truth, allowing himself to be interviewed. This led to a press release heralding Bachman's "death" — supposedly from "cancer of the pseudonym", and an article written by Brown in the Washington Post. At the time of the announcement in 1985, King was working on Misery, which he had planned to release as a Bachman book.
In 1987, the Bachman novel The Running Man inspired the Paul Glaser film of the same name. King insisted that his name not be on the credits, and the screen credit for the film went to Richard Bachman.
King used the "relationship" between him and Bachman as a concept in his 1989 book The Dark Half. In the novel a writer's darker pseudonym takes on a life of its own. King dedicated The Dark Half to "the late Richard Bachman." Originally there were plans to make the book a collaboration between the two, although this was later scrapped.
In 1996, Bachman's The Regulators came out, with the publishers 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 novels took place in different universes but featured many of the same characters. The two book covers were designed to be placed together to form a single picture. In the foreword by King included with Desperation he said that there may be another Bachman novel left to be "found."
The next Bachman book to be 'discovered' was Blaze. Blaze was, in fact, an unpublished novel of King's written before Carrie or the creation of Richard Bachman. For its publication King rewrote, edited, and updated the entire novel. It was published in 2007 under the Bachman pseudonym, with a foreword by King under his own name.
King has taken full ownership of the Bachman name on numerous occasions, as with the republication of the first four Bachman titles as The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King in 1985. The introduction, titled "Why I Was Bachman," details the whole Bachman/King story. (In 1996, the collection was reissued with a new King essay, "The Importance of Being Bachman.")
Richard Bachman was also referred to in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series of books. In the fifth book, Wolves of the Calla, the sinister children's book Charlie the Choo Choo is revealed to be written by "Claudia y Inez Bachman." The spelling discrepancy of the added 'y' was later explained as a deus ex machina on the part of "The White" (a force of good throughout King's Tower series) to bring the total number of letters in her name to nineteen, a number prominent in King's series. In the next novel of the series, Song of Susannah, Stephen King briefly discusses his Richard Bachman pseudonym.
After the Heath High School shooting, King announced that he would allow Rage to go out of print, fearing that it might inspire similar tragedies. Rage for a time continued to be available in the United Kingdom in The Bachman Books collection, although the collection now no longer contains Rage. In a footnote to the preface of Blaze, dated 30 January 2007, King wrote of Rage: "Now out of print, and a good thing." King's other Bachman novels are available in the US in separate volumes.
In 2010, King appeared on the FX television show Sons of Anarchy in a cameo role. His character, named Bachman, performed contract work quietly disposing of deceased bodies.
In issue 29 of the comic adaptation of The Stand, Richard Bachman appears as one of the top lieutenants of Randall Flagg, replacing the character of Whitney Horgan from the original novel. He is drawn to resemble King.
In the 2013 Grimm episode "Nameless", Richard Bachman, being a pseudonym of Stephen King, was a plot point. King's novel, Rage, had its title page used as a prop for the killer to write a note to the police.
King wrote a short story, "The Fifth Quarter", under the pseudonym John Swithen (the name of a character in the book Carrie), that was published in Cavalier magazine April 1972. The story was later reprinted in King's collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993 under his own name. In the introduction to the Bachman novel Blaze, King claims, with tongue-in-cheek, that "Bachman" was the person using the Swithen pseudonym .