Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The greatest storyteller of our generation has just authored an enormous tale. Yes, I’m talking about J. K. Rowling. But the enormous tale I’m referring to is not The Cuckoo’s Calling. (see related story J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling Soars to No.1.) It’s is the drama behind her outing as the real person behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. We, the public, are all characters in this narrative. And the outcome is as creative as… well as a Harry Potter adventure.
Act 1: A Franchise Becomes Part of our Collective Consciousness
Here’s a plot summary. In Act 1, our hero, J. K. Rowling, pens a series of books that’s loved by children and adults the word over. Harry Potter’s success catapults the books out of the author’s control and into the world’s collective consciousness. The series is “ours” now, because we all know it, love it, and have integrated its memes into our lives.
“What’s next?” the world asks when the Harry Potter series comes to an end. We expect something amazing from Rowling. Something that will capture our imagination once again.
We all sort of know, in the back of our minds, that no human could probably ever recreate the captivating quality of Harry Potter. But we all secretly hope her next book comes close. The world is eager to love anything that comes out of Rowling’s imagination.
Act 2: A Casual Disaster
Then Rowling goes and writes A Casual Vacancy. This is Act 2. The public is ready to cherish anything Rowling writes… except maybe a wordy, crass mystery that’s, well, sort of boring. A Casual Vacancy is a commercial and critical bust. The public shrugs, thinking, “lightning never strikes twice,” and we go on with their lives. Our hero, Rowling, is at her lowest point.
How does our hero get herself out of this mess? She does what she does so well: She creates the situation that sets a bold new, victorious, series of events in motion. Rowling, either consciously or intuitively, knows that the problem with this story, at the end of Act 2, is one of public expectations. The public expected her to clone Harry Potter. She didn’t. They are disappointed.
To overcome this public problem, Rowling has to involve the public. Somehow.
Act 3: Readers Create Rowling’s New Identity
Thus, in Act 3, Rowling writes us into the story and conjures a cloak of invisibility for herself. She throws away her credentials and writes as a nobody. Robert Galbraith is a person with a blank history. Her next book now has the chance to gain a following, not because of what has come before, but because of the merit of the writing—as judged by us, the public. With no expectations, The Cuckoo’s Calling gets good reviews.
According to her own web site, 8500 people bought English language copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling before Rowling’s identity became known. (I’ve read the figures 500 and 1500 elsewhere, but who’s really counting?) Those 8500 (or 500 or 1500) people play their part. They prove that Rowling’s new persona, that of a chilling mystery writer for adults, is legitimate. She earns it from them. From us.
WIth solid reviews, Rowling’s actual identity can come out. Who knows if she designed the leak or it just came naturally? Either way, she knew it would happen. In this world of digitized lives and 24/7 surveillance, no thinking person could really have assumed her pseudonym could have remained a secret for long. Like the master author that she is, she set up the characters and the situation, and the plot unfolded naturally.
Now the stage is set for us to all go out and gobble up Rowling’s new book. Her new persona as a writer for grown-ups is here to stay. Why? Because we, the public, were characters in this story. We were part of the creation of this new persona.
An Interactive Story
You’ve heard of enhanced e-books, you know, books with interactive elements? Well, the story of Rowling-a.k.a.-Galbraith has been a large-scale interactive story. All the readers who loved Harry Potter, who were disappointed by A Casual Vacancy, and who’ve heard the good reviews about The Cuckoo’s Calling—we’ve all played a role in the plot. And J. K. Rowling has emerged the hero.