So we all know the most shocking literary news this past week (dare I say YEAR? No, I’ll reserve the tragic loss of thriller master Vince Flynn, at such an early age, for the top spot) is the revealing of Robert Galbraith’s true identity—None other than Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling.
For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, in April of this year a new crime thriller was published by first-time author Robert Galbraith. Titled “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, the book was well received and well-reviewed (including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal) but didn’t sell extremely well. I seem to recall seeing a statistic of only around 1,500 copies sold in the UK (don’t hold me to this, but you get the idea). As it turns out, as revealed last week, Robert Galbraith was actually a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling. In the event of the news, the book’s sales have skyrocketed and online retailers Amazon and Barnes and Noble have sold out at the time of writing this. Amazon now promises delivery of 1-3 weeks. The publisher has ordered an additional print run of 300,000 copies.
While many readers are just excited to see that one of the greatest storytellers of our time has a new offering in a new genre available for them to dive into, others are less impressed. They have called Rowling a coward, accused her of only revealing Galbraith’s true identity because the book sales were poor. Others are now taking the opportunity to quickly review the book and tell the world how it’s a disappointment from the writer who gave us Harry Potter…
…Which, in my opinion, is exactly why Rowling chose to publish as Galbraith in the first place. Remember Rowling’s last novel (her first since Harry Potter, and a very adult novel at that) The Casual Vacancy? Reviewers ripped into that book like somebody coming off the Atkins diet having a free day at the bakery. They scrutinized, nitpicked, looked so hard for flaws that they never had a chance to enjoy the novel. Why? Because the great J.K. Rowling, the woman who created an imaginary world and built an empire at the same time, had tried something else. And everybody lined up to tell her she couldn’t. I quite enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, and would have, no matter who had penned it. But I read for enjoyment, which apparently is different from a lot of the reviewers who read A Casual Vacancy.
Regardless, I agree completely with Rowling’s decision to use Galbraith. Not because she was scared of having yet another book ripped apart by reviewers, but because it gave her a chance to receive completely honest reviews from both readers and major reviewers alike. Being handed a book to read by an author you’ve never heard of allows one to have a completely fresh perspective, a blank slate of expectations. A coward? No. I say Rowling is braver than ever.
I ordered my copy from Amazon yesterday and anxiously await its arrival. Sometime in the next 1-3 weeks.
*Additional food for thought: Let’s not forget Stephen King did something very similar in the late 70’s and early 80’s, publishing a handful of novels as Richard Bachman. Like Rowling, he was also revealed to be the man behind the mask shortly after the books were released. King made a statement in Parade Magazine about Rowling’s decision. You can read it here.