It was revealed yesterday that Robert Galbraith, the author of a crime novel entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling published in May, is in fact J.K. Rowling. The book had garnered good reviews, yet languished at number 4,159 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Until the revelation was made, that is. Now the book is in the no. 1 slot and sales have risen by 415,000% according to today’s Times.
It was indeed brave of Ms. Rowling to test her literary mettle by publishing under an assumed name, but it would have been even better if she’d tried to do it from scratch rather than using her existing agents. As we know all too well, many a worthwhile book never sees the light of day for the lack of an agent. And many less worthy books succeed in getting published because the author has managed to find an agent.
What was also interesting was that Ms. Rowling chose a male pseudonym in the belief that it would increase her chances of publication. (She had previously been advised to use initials rather than her name, Joanne, to publish the Harry Potter books.) In the crime genre there are many highly regarded female writers, so I found it surprising that it should still be considered an advantage to be male. A much more revealing exercise would have been if Ms. Rowling used a female pseudonym and tried to find a different agent or approached her own agent anonymously.
A sidebar to the Times article discusses the literary merits of crime writing. John Banville, aka Benjamin Black, reportedly writes ‘about 100 polished words a day as himself, but more than 2,000 as Black’, a statement that did not endear him to attendees at the Harrogate Crime Festival in 2009. While it’s true that some crime writing is formulaic, much of it is visceral, analytical, well researched, tightly plotted and full of brilliant dialogue. And, after all, at its heart every novel is a mystery story, isn’t it?
I wonder if Ms. Rowling will be appearing at CrimeFest or Harrogate next year. I’d better book my place now.