When I reviewed J. K Rowling’s book, The Casual Vacancy, in September, 2012 for Booklist Online, I noted Rowling said she’d considered publishing the book under a pseudonym. Had she done so, I wrote, “Rowling probably would have learned what it’s like to be a midlist author—unpublicized, unnoticed, and unhappy.”
As everyone knows by now, Rowling did publish a detective novel under the identity of retired military policeman, Richard Galbraith. Rowling loved the experience, calling it “wonderful” to publish without hype or expectation. But the true name of The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s author did not stay hidden for very long. A friend of someone on Rowling’s legal team tweeted about it. Rowling was not amused.
So how did I do with my predictions? Well, unlike what happens to many first novels, the book did get reviewed. Even without Rowling’s name on the jacket, I’m speculating that the marketing department of publisher, Little Brown, was told from above to give it a push as a promising first novel. In any case, it got quite nice reviews, even a star from PW. Some reviewers, however, like The Bookseller‘s Cathy Rentzenbrink, tossed it aside. She said she had a lot of new fiction to read.
But while the book was given some attention from publishing sources, the public yawned. In the first four months since its publication, The Cuckoo’s Calling sold only 1,500 hardcover copies. One could hardly buy a butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with the royalties from that. Since she doesn’t need the money, perhaps Rowling wouldn’t have minded the slow sales too much. Still, had her identity stayed hidden, the book would have probably sold a few thousand more copies and lived out its life on library shelves. Now it is has shot to number one on bestseller lists.
So I stand by the assessment of the plight of the midlist author, who, unlike Rowling, does get tired of writing without hype or expectation. What’s in a name? In fiction, it’s everything. Rowling’s fame and fortune are well deserved. But, hello publishers, why not share the publicity budget (and marketing staff time) with those a few rungs down the ladder? It might work out well for everyone.