The revelation that J.K. Rowling was the author behind little known author Robert Galbraith’s acclaimed but low-selling novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” released earlier this year, has been decried as a publicity stunt from some corners.
However, it’s hard to believe that Rowling, perhaps the most financially successful author ever, could really need the publicity for a book.
It’s far more logical to trust Rowling’s own explanation — that it was an experiment designed to offer Rowling a chance to “publish without hype or expectation” and allow her the “pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.”
We should be thankful to Rowling too, as her experiment is truly illuminating example of the fundamental unfairness and absurdity that lies at the heart of the book publishing industry.
It’s long been known that the publishing industry works through sheer numbers. Publishers throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, and the the mega-hits, of which there are few, pay for the flops, of which there are many.
What Rowling’s experiment reveals, however, is that even great book by an unknown author can simply get lost.
Since it was published in April, “The Cookoo’s Calling” has received almost universally positive reviews from readers and critics alike. How many copies did it sell? According to the New York Times, just over 1,500. Assuming that all prices were sold for around Amazon’s price of $20, the book presumably generated revenue of around $30,000. Whatever profit made off of that was presumably stuck in the four (or even three) digits.
Of course, things looking better for the publisher, Mulholland Books, right now. On Amazon, sales of the book are up some 507,000% since Rowling was outted.
What’s worse, there’s the revelation that some publishers, such as Kate Mills of Orion Publishing, actually turned down the book when the author was listed as “Galbraith.” While Mills admirably tweeted an admission, you have to wonder how many other authors turned down a chance to publish a book by one of history’s most admired authors.
Of course, not all books are immediate hits, and there is the possibility that Galbraith’s book would have garnered better sales via word of mouth. Unfortunately, as Rowling was apparently outted prematurely by a tweet, we will never really know.
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