Why I don’t think J K Rowling’s unmasking was part of the marketing plan for The Cuckoo’s Calling

July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

So, this happened.

J.K. Rowling

In the early hours of the story, there’s been some speculation that it was the publisher who leaked the author’s true identity.

I think that’s nonsense.

First of all, The Cuckoo’s Calling was released at the end of April. If it’s a deliberate leak designed to miraculously turn a flop into a smash hit, it’s late. The book has lost its front of store placement, if it ever had it, and stores were about to start returning copies to the publisher anytime now. Never mind that if you’re the publisher of J K Rowling’s pseudonymous mystery novel (Mulholland Books, a member of the Little Brown group of publishers, responsible for Rowling’s first non-Potter book, last year’s The Casual Vacancy) you’ve been dying to play this card since you paid the advance, and what’s held you back is that it’s the most powerful author in the world who’d rather you didn’t.

If the leak of Robert Galbraith’s true identity was deliberate, it should have happened the week before TCC was released. This would ensure that all bookstores would blow easily through their initial buy (and stores that had passed would have a chance to get a late order in) and the reprint (or overstock, cannily held by the publisher) could be rushed to stores while the story simmered. Come May, millions of copies sold. Slam dunk.

Instead, it’s Saturday night nearly 90 days after the book landed in stores; not where you’d put your pin in the calendar if you were being strategic. We’ll soon see just how much stock was sitting in the publisher’s warehouse as bookstores experience a flash stockout over the next 48 hours, but I think this is going to be another case of the wide availability and infinite supply of ebooks picking up a portion of the slack while the physical supply chain scrambles to catch up. That means customers will go home from stores empty handed, and only a fraction will get the ebook instead or come back later for the hardcover or paperback. If the objective of the leak is to sell as many copies as possible, this timing won’t likely achieve that. Unless Rowling herself laid out this plan and baked it into her contract, I can’t see a publisher coming up with it.

I think Rowling was sincerely trying to get out from under the weight of her name, having seen the Potter-blinded reaction that greeted TCV last fall.

If there’s one thing that gives me pause, it’s the ease with which the Telegraph appears to have gotten this quote from her:

“I had 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 under a different name.”

I guess we’ll find out something near the truth in the coming days.

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