Ok, I’m finally going to weigh in with my two cents on the whole JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith debacle. I don’t believe Rowling did any of this as a publicity stunt or that she leaked that she was the writer behind the pseudonym. What I think is that her fame on the much beloved Harry Potter books was a double edged sword and that the literary community expected more of the same—nice little children’s books—not something more ‘serious’. My point is proven when her first adult book had rotten tomatoes thrown at it by readers simply because it wasn’t yet another Potter book. It has more one star reviews than five on Amazon.
Discouraged and disgruntled that her successful brand had pigeonholed her into writing children’s books for the rest of her life, I’m sure weighed on her decision to publish her literary mystery under a pseudonym. In my honest opinion, I think she wanted it to stand on its own merit and achieve acclaim based on the book without her name factoring in either a positive or negative way. And I think she picked a male pseudonym because let’s face it: men are taken more seriously by the industry and readers alike. The most recent SFWA sexism fiasco goes to show how true this is. Women can apparently only write fluffy romance novels *voice dripping with sarcasm* but really I’m ok with that 😉
But when her book didn’t sell very well in spite of great reviews and the small amount of publicity the publishers gave it I think the publishing house decided to deliberately leak that Rowling was the author. I’m a big fan of Konrath’s blog and as much as we want to believe that a great story will sell, we know that’s not the case. Joe constantly points out that to some degree luck is involved. For a book to be a bestseller a book needs two things—a great story AND luck or lightning strike or whatever you want to call it. Rowling experienced rejection from publishers for the first Harry Potter novel but when it was finally published she had her lightning strike moment and the book took off.
There are lots of really well-written fantastic books out there that never get that lightning strike. The book being traditionally or indie published has very little to do with lightning striking these days. It reminds me of a statistical phenomenon called regression toward the mean. Basically, great success is often followed by a significant drop in performance. Athletics demonstrate this statistical fact all the time. Statistics were against her chances of winning the lottery twice or the stars aligning perfectly a second time around regardless of starting from scratch with a different genre.
However, my one take away from this is that publishers currently offer very little to debuting or midlist authors that guarantee success or sales. They put all their eggs in only a handful of baskets—that basket being their already proven biggest and brightest bestselling stars. Those are the authors that get co-op space in bookstores which they can’t promise anyway and the king’s ransom share of their marketing budget. And if they can’t sell a no name like Robert Galbraith then what can they do for me that I can’t do on my own?
All any of us can do is make sure that we’re writing a book worth reading, that it’s edited professionally, that it has good cover art, and that we actually market it. Beyond that it’s all a roll of the dice!
And if you want to read more from Porter Anderson on Jane’s blog, I found it insightful and couldn’t agree more about the revolution of e-books.