by S. L. Duncan
This week, Robert Galbraith was revealed to be a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, the true author of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, a book that ‘debuted’ with Little Brown’s Mulholland Books on April 30th, 2013.
Until the unmasking, the book had sold a mere 1500 copies. Decidedly bad news for any book at a big publisher.
Apparently THE SUNDAY TIMES of LONDON, which must have reporters lining its halls, begging for stories to report, decided to investigate how a debut novel could have been so confidently written and broke the story. Starred, for instance, and quite gloriously, by Publisher’s Weekly, which insists of its ignorance about the whole ruse. A careful trail of not-so-loosely connected evidence sent our intrepid reporter bounding through London (did Dan Brown just roll his eyes?) back to Little, Brown, where it was discovered that the editor of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING was, coincidentally, the same editor of THE CAUSAL VACANCY, Rowling's other Little Brown novel. Of course, there are no coincidences, and this great mystery ended with the revelation of the Harry Potter scribe as the author beneath the cloak of invisibility.
Now, whether or not you believe this all seems a bit too good to be true, what does seem to be honest is how the book performed on the market without a big name to push sales. It is true the book received good reviews. And a star from PW always helps to sell books. Yet, at the end of the day, the book only sold 1500 copies. Or 499, if we’re going by Neilsen Bookscan.
After the revelation? THE CUCOO’S CALLING sits at#1 on nearly every book list out there.
What we’ve just been subjected to is an amazing experiment for the publishing industry. The Debut vs. The Name (where quality of the story and writing are equal). And it seems there is an amazing separation of the two. Take note, because if you are a debut author, this is the hill you’re climbing. You could write like J. K. Rowling – hell, you could be J. K. Rowling – and regardless of your talent, or the brilliance of your tale, you may be happy to get 1500 copies of your book out the door.
So without a name to rely on – and something tells me “Robert Galbraith” wasn’t exactly making the blog rounds – it falls back to us as the author to build a voice for our books on the market. Publishing, it seems, is a slow handshake. A molasses introduction to win readers over and gain their trust, until one day they can just look at your name and know yours is a book they’d like to read.
What does remain constant, debut or superstar (and everywhere in between), is the need for quality in the work. So write hard, friends, and pay attention to all the wonderful advice on this blog about what you can do to make your work stand out.
And if all else fails, legally change your name to Stephen King or something.*
*That’s probably bad advice.
S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging onINKROCK.com and on Twitter.