BOOK NEWS: The Robert Galbraith Subterfuge

If you’re a J.K. Rowling fan, you’ve probably heard the buzz over the last few days since it was revealed that a relatively unheard-of crime novel by a first-time author called Robert Galbraith was, in fact, a product of the pen of none other than the Harry Potter creator herself.

My first reaction to the news was to say “Why?” Why would an author whose books are guaranteed success go to the trouble of hiding her identity just to tackle a new type of novel? Particularly when she just did so openly and in her own name with The Casual Vacancy? Is she worried it won’t be well received, or worried that it will?

Though the book did alright on its own, news that its author was the creator of the universally-loved Potter series predictably shot sales through the roof.

The Guardian has this to say about it:

“When JK Rowling published a crime novel under a pseudonym earlier this year, she didn’t have to worry about sales. The book did quite well for a piece of fiction by an unknown author; it got some good reviews and sold 1,500 copies, which is more than respectable for a first novel. But there was always the possibility of revealing the ruse or having it exposed by someone else, which is what happened at the weekend when the Sunday Times named her as the author. The transformation in the fortunes of The Cuckoo’s Calling was immediate, with the book soaring from number 4,709 to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.” – The Guardian

The Guardian article goes on to discuss what this says about the publishing industry – how bestseller lists are skewed to begin with by the inequity of promotional dollars spent on unknown or “minor” authors versus the “brand” authors whose names are immediately recognized, such as Dan Brown and Rowling herself. The infrastructure, to a certain extent, creates success or failure for authors by doing so.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the whole thing. At first I felt vaguely offended by her use of a pen name – as if she were trying to duck her fame and pretend to be something she’s not by writing under an alias. But with further reflection, I kind of get it. Perhaps she just wanted to see what people would say of her writing in a different genre and for a different audience without the inevitable comparisons to her Potter oeuvre or any pre-judgment or ass-kissing by critics. Perhaps she just wanted honest reviews. And it’s not like she’s the first author to write under an assumed name – scores of authors (for many reasons) from Stephen King to Anne Rice to the Bronte sisters have done so – though usually from the outset rather than to obscure an already-successful literary persona.

At the end of the day, I am left with one question: Is the book any good? I intend to jump on the bandwagon and find out. If you’ve already read it (particularly if you did so before knowing its true author) I want to know what you thought of it!

Related reading:
JK Rowling publishes crime novel under false name
JK Rowling’s book ruse is a cautionary tale for unknown writers (linked above)
10 Harry Potter Hallmarks Found in J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling
JK Rowling’s crime novel becomes bestseller
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – review
J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
What did the critics really think of “Cuckoo’s Calling” (before they knew it was by J K Rowling)?

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