Ten Lessons Learned from the Outing of J.K. Rowling as the Author of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

evuwdDLfAyYCOver the past week, publishing has been ablaze over the revelation that J.K. Rowling wrote a new book, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Her hope was to be judged as a ‘first time mystery author’ and not as the celebrity writer of seven of the most popular books of all time.

But because of an attorney blabbing to the wrong person, the secret came into the open. In a matter of days, the secret was out.

There have been hundreds of stories on this incident.  The Telegraph has an excellent recap of how the word got out including quotes from the tweets.   The Leaky Cauldron also has a great post of what happened. But then it is one of the best sites for Harry Potter news.

Ten things to learn from this:

1) There was no conspiracy nor was this some well-orchestrated marketing plan to sell books. The publisher was completely out of stock when the news hit.  If they planned it, they would have had books in the warehouse.  Mulholland Books (Hachette) went back to press for an immediate reprint of 300,000 for the US market and her British publisher Sphere went back for 140,000 copies.

2) Once it is out there, it cannot be retracted and forgotten.  In today’s Twitter-Instagram fueled world, nothing is ever forgotten. The person who made the incriminating tweet immediately took it down and closed her account. But it was too late and it is easy enough to track back and find the incriminating tweet.

3) Computer programs can detect almost anything. Once the rumor got out that THE CUCKOO’S CALLING might have been written by JK Rowling, The Times of London (who broke the story) had a forensic linguist check it out. He used a Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program that was able to point out the similarities.

4) A new mystery by an unknown author (even published by a corporate publisher) can be forgotten quickly. The book sold 87 physical copies its first week on sale in the US and less than 800 total. It also sold around 1500 copies in the UK prior to the unmasking.

5) Amazon reviews are not always that helpful. Before the outing, there were 20 reviews on Amazon. In the five days after, there are now 284 of them. Many of the reviews are more about the author than the substance of the book.

6) Goodreads reviews can be more about celebrity than the content of the book. There were 27 5-star reviews prior to the unmasking. Today there are 333 5-star reviews.  It is impossible to separate the fondness for Ms. Rowling with an unbiased review of her new mystery (one of the reasons she wanted to write this as Robert Galbraith).

7) You can’t always trust your lawyer. Why would he tell his wife’s best friend? Why would she tweet it?  Think about it, if you knew it was confidential, why would you ever decide to tweet it?  Especially to someone who has 95,000 followers?

8) eBooks are perfect for catching intense, unexpected demand and for not losing sales. Stores that were lucky enough to even have physical copies sold out immediately. Books take at least a week to print and ship. Instead of lost sales, the eBook immediately filled the void.

9) You never know if that signed, first edition will be worth something.  Once the news was out, a first edition sold for $4,453 on AbeBooks. But Goldsboro Books in London had 250-signed copies and is sold them at face value.  I applaud the owner David Headley. I am sure good karma will find him.

10) It’s not about the money for Ms. Rowling. She chose to write a book without the hype of her celebrity. She wanted to be treated like any unknown writer and have the book reviewed on its own merits. In her statement, she mentioned that she was very angry and felt betrayed – and rightfully so.


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