What JK Rowling’s Cuckoo’s Calling Says About Being Discovered
Posted on July 18, 2013
The secret’s out, and it’s all over the internet. JK Rowling wrote another book! Except she didn’t write it under her own name like her first foray into adult literature with The Casual Vacancy. This time, she shopped her detective book The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
Interestingly, it took an editor playing detective to discover the true author of the mystery novel. According to an article from NPR, editor Richard Brooks from The Sunday Times felt like something wasn’t quite right. A tweet claimed Rowling was the writer of this debut novel, but vanished into thin internet air. However, it was enough to get him sniffing on the trail that included hiring linguistics professionals to compare the writing to Rowling’s style.
In the end, The Cuckoo’s Calling had sold about 500 copies since its debut in April, but has now exploded because of uncovering the real author. Rowling states on her website that “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.” But the fact that it made a huge difference in sales knowing that the “debut” novel was written by a famous writing veteran calls into question what it takes to be discovered.
On the Book Pregnant blog, Nancy Bilyeau talked about book genres and new authors being discovered. The most interesting point was that readers of genres like thrillers and mysteries liked to go with favorite authors whose works were well known and loved by readers. Genres like romance, especially with new categories like New Adult bursting on the scene, have readers that are willing to try new books from new authors.
From lurking on writing message boards, I can attest that those that seem to do well and experience immediate sales surges tend to be in the Romance category. I would like to see someone do a study about debut authors and genres to see if that observation truly does hold up. But what about Rowling as Galbraith?
It took the discovery of her true identity to make sales rocket. The reviews remain good for the book regardless of the reveal. It proves that she has the chops to write adult contemporary novels. And perhaps she truly did just want to experience the journey of a writer from a fresh perspective. She made it further than most with a deal with the same publishing house. There are articles coming out about those that passed on the manuscript when it was just Galbraith’s writing.
Rowling has the money and time to be rejected. She could have lived with just 500 copies sold in three months. Yet I can’t help but question whether or not the “reveal” of Galbraith being her wasn’t carefully planned in order to avoid the immense amount of scrutiny that The Casual Vacancy came under. With the amount of sales she has now, does it mean that it may be impossible to be discovered unless you have a famous name or already have some writing success?
What Rowling isn’t having to experience is that slow burn aspect of building a readership. For most new authors outside of genres that like discovering newbies, it takes dedication to keep putting out works to build a readership. It can also take a Herculean effort in marketing by an author to get their name seen. Clearly, Rowling got to jump right over that experience as an unknown author.
Let’s be honest. Most of us new authors flogging away would kill to reveal that no, in fact, we are actually this really famous author that will ensure our work will get seen and purchased. Heck, most of us would kill for a fraction of what JK Rowling has, which includes a lot of writing talent. With the general reviews staying positive, it looks like The Cuckoo’s Calling will continue to do well. Those of us about to publish will need to gird our loins for the battle of being discovered since we cannot cast spells to improve our chances. Someone pass me some Felis Felicis!
So it’s been further revealed that the mysterious tweet came from someone connected to Rowling’s law firm. Someone on her legal team let it slip to a wife’s friend who Robert Galbraith really was, and that person sent the tweet that then immediately disappeared. It goes to show that information – especially juicy secret info – is not safe to share if you want it to remain a secret. Guess Rowling forgot to use the Obliviate spell to cover her tracks.