If you haven’t already heard the true identity of The Cuckoo’s Calling’s author then you must either live under a rock or have been in a coma. The story is everywhere. One problem I have found from all these stories is that the reporting of it has become a little mangled. Early stories reported that Rowling was found out after readers thought the novel was ‘too good to be a debut’. If anyone read that without calling ‘Bullshit!’ I would be surprised. So what did happen?
The Sunday Times received a mysterious tweet from an anonymous account (now deleted) that tipped them off to the true identity of Mr Robert Galbraith. The newspaper then had a linguistic expert compare the novel to other of Rowling’s works along with a handful of novels by other crime writers. The expert found ‘significant’ similarities.
Who sent the mysterious tweet? Rowling and her people denied any involvement in it, before Rowling discovered that one of her lawyers was responsible for her coming out. Russels law firm made the following comment: ‘We can confirm that this leak was not part of any marketing plan and that neither JK Rowling, her agent nor publishers were in any way involved.’
It is difficult to believe that this wasn’t some kind of brilliant marketing scheme. I certainly believe that Rowling had wanted to publish the novel under a pseudonym to revel in the relief of the pressure of expectation, but after the book sold so poorly (and after so many positive reviews) it must have been frustrating for both the author and her publishers. Why not reveal the author’s true identity in order to boost sales?
Stephen King – another author whose celebrity often overshadows his published works – has praised Rowling’s desire to publish anonymously, saying ‘what a pleasure, what a blessed relief, to write in anonymity, just for the joy of it’. I completely understand the sentiment, but what does this say about the publishing industry? The story that gets thrown around a lot in creative writing courses, full of terrified hopeful writers with bitten nails and coffee addictions who want to know how to deal with rejection, is that of JK Rowling and her success with Harry Potter. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishers before eventually being published. So don’t give up hope – rejections are part of the game and they don’t necessarily mean your work isn’t good or that you shouldn’t be a writer.
While the reveal has sent sales soaring and a rush reprint ordered, not all the responses have been positive. There are a lot of bitter would-be writers huffing and puffing about how it is all in the name rather than being about quality publications. Well, sure it is, why get your knickers in a twist about it though? Reviews for The Cuckoo’s Calling that came in before Galbraith’s identity was the proverbial cat out of the bag were generally positive, while the reviews for Rowlings other recent non-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, were fairly abysmal. And what has that meant for sales (now that we know Galbraith is not who he said he was)? Jack shit. The good novel, the bad novel, they are both flying of physical and digital shelves faster than you can say ‘Why isn’t it me?’
It is really hard to get your novel noticed. There are thousands of new – and reasonably well-established – writers out there who you won’t have heard of. That doesn’t mean you are ignorant or don’t follow trade publishing closely enough, it is just impossible to keep on top of them all. What is the secret to breaking out of that constant wave of new publications and finding a popular spotlight? If we knew that, publishers would only publish the titles that would make them that kind of dough. There is no secret. Rowling, a stupendously successful writer (in terms of profits, not necessarily beautiful sentences) published a novel that sold fewer than 500 copies despite positive reviews – until her name was applied to it.
And the lesson to learn from this? We shouldn’t get bitter and cranky and say ‘bitch just used her name to get sales,’ but rather feel comforted that everyone is in the same boat. At one point in time, Rowling was in that same boat too. She had to make her name for herself and she was very lucky to have done so. If you have published novels and you are still hoping to make that successful splash, don’t give up hope just yet. Good writers and good books are out there with no one reading them; you just have to hope that eventually you will make it to the bestseller’s list.