You may have noticed the huge story this week in which someone at The Sunday Times worked out that a book released in April, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, was in fact written by none other than JK Rowling under a pseudonym.
Some people have been reacting to this in a confused manner- “why would she want to use a pseudonym? Why would the publishers let her when they’re losing potential sales?” To me it seems simple: just look at The Casual Vacancy. There was a massive rush of anticipation around it: “JK Rowling’s first book since Potter! What’s she going to do next?! I hope it’s just as amazing!!!!”
But then the book wasn’t what everyone expected and they were disappointed: The Telegraph deemed it “uneven, and often harrowing.” This isn’t good news when judged against the bestselling children’s series of all time; the harrowing part at least could have been interesting on its own terms. Rowling seemed excited by this new venture, and she was quite promptly shot down as no one seemed to deem it worthy of her, when she was obviously proud of it. I can therefore understand why she might try and avoid this happening again for a while.
Luckily, at least The Cuckoo’s Calling has been receiving better reviews than The Casual Vacancy did, even before anyone knew it was Rowling: the general gist was that it was a “scintillating debut.” The only problem with that is that many critics focused on how impressive it was for a new author to write so skilfully: would they have considered the writing so good knowing that the writer had, in fact, had an awful lot of experience? Let’s hope so, because writing is writing and reading is reading: quality should be measured evenly for everyone.
I’m sure the publishers were happy to let Rowling go down this route because realistically it would have leaked eventually, like Stephen King’s alter ego Richard Bachman- he, at least, managed to write five books before being discovered. Despite many fans lamenting the fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling only sold 470 copies before the revelation, others have pointed out that 470 isn’t bad at all for a few months of a hardback release for an unknown author. It’s likely that every one of those 470 sold plus the good reviews would have meant more to Rowling than the thousands after her secret was leaked; it’s not like she especially needs the money either.
What will be interesting to see is if Rowling continues the series using the name Robert Galbraith rather than reverting back to her real name (as it’s been reported that she may) and also if she’ll try using a pseudonym again in the future. If she does, she may have to try a different writing style as experts found it easy to match up similarities between these two books and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Hopefully she was at least encouraged by the reviews of The Cuckoo’s Calling compared to The Casual Vacancy.
Lots of Twitter users had some fun with the news- this is my favourite: