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The Cuckoo's Calling - Secret JK Rowling crime novel


Mogster
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Well this is quite a surprise. :o

JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, secretly penned a crime novel which became a rave-review bestseller without readers realising she had written it.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, a story about the mysterious death of a model falling from a balcony which is probed by a war veteran turned private investigator, won universal praise from critics when it came out in April.
It was released by Sphere, part of the Little Brown publishing, and marked as a debut novel from ‘Robert Galbraith’.
It's confirmed by JK Rowling herself, although she says she would have liked it to stay secret for longer. I must admit I didn't read The Casual Vacancy as it didn't really appeal to me, but this looks a lot more interesting.
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Seems this might actually be a genuine leak, if today's story about the law firm being to blame is accurate. I can't see how Russel's would want to be seen as leaking information if this was all a conspiracy.

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Here's why:

Until the weekend the novel, published in May, had sold around 500 hardback copies, with total sales rising to 1,500 when ebooks, exports and library copies were counted.

By today, orders on Amazon had rocketed by 4,000 per cent to number one on its list, with Waterstones saying it had sold out and signed copies attracting bids of £400 on eBay.


Of course, it's a matter of timing as to when to rake those profits in rather than continue to sustain a loss, but there's can't be any doubt that the pseudonym was always going to be a temporary gimmick just ripe for discarding at an opportune moment - these people (especially the notoriously litigious literary agent in question) don't work for those sorts of peanuts. And this form of 'reveal' is far more newsworthy - almost spookily apposite in its being a famously quotable, clichéd form of 'literary detective mystery' in itself - than simply saying 'erm, that book from months ago that didn't sell too good was by Rowling actually'. It needs a story, and here it is, just at the right time for the start of the summer holiday season.

To add interest to the queer tale of this 'unwanted' reveal, there's also a little detective mystery in itself if you compare http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23366660 and http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/harry-plotter-the-mysterious-case-of-jk-rowling-and-her-crimewriting-pseudonym-8710726.html . You'll see a few, er, 'discrepancies' in the stories - a solicitor who informs the publisher as soon as the fatal twitter leak is made, yet this publisher does nothing to contain or control the situation after the twitter account disappears until after a hiatus during which the Times Lit editor commissions textual analysis of the novel by 'two linguistics experts' and then begins a game of 'cat and mouse' with its publisher. I mean... doesn't that all strike you as odd? And all the while it's quite obvious that the reveal - a reveal - was planned all along (you don't get rich, or stay rich, by selling 1500 copies of a novel). Like I say, it's all flim-flam whichever way you cut it. And it works - here we are talking about it, after all.

I'll say no more on the subject. Either you have faith in the integrity and artistic purity of the publishing world and the media, or you're me. I'm afraid I'm me. No, really, I am.

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I don't doubt it was going to be revealed at some point. But surely that point would have been better timed for when there was a fresh print run and maybe a even a second novel by this Galbraith character on the shelves? It's so soon as to be practically pointless at the moment - as if a JK Rowling crime novel wouldn't have stirred enough interest on its own.

Also - the leak's been blamed on the law firm. They look untrustworthy and unprofessional now. If they've willingly decided to expose themselves for this criticism as part of conspiracy then they're fucking idiots. I mean, she's giving quotes against them in the press.

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I think you have to ask yourself what the real point of publishing under a pseudonym here was, after (obviously) getting the book deal as Rowling, and then ask whether that point had by now been served and its purpose exhausted. The timing does look very peculiar, doesn't it? And the various quotes attributed to various parties, as well as the media's reaction, do seem a bit... pat. I mean, what was this about, exactly, just as an example?:

Rowling's secret emerged after the Sunday Times wondered how a first-time author could produce such an accomplished work.

It's pure PR, is what it is. That is to say, an untruth: it's palpable nonsense, mashing up disconnected events to create a false sense of excitement, of value. It's just rubbishy, all-in-the-biz-together non-journalism. But sure, we'll never know the full truth behind exactly when the reveal should ideally have happened, unless we're inclined to take people's words at face value. Maybe someone decided to be bitchy a week before a planned revelation. It really could have been a secret held onto 'a little longer', as Rowling has said - but how long's that 'little longer'? When would be the best time to reveal this? After the novel had died altogether? Why wait until the second novel if this one had long since perished commercially? I think summer's the perfect time to do this, and this is what has happened, almost perfectly.

All I'm saying is that the publishing industry, whether it's music or book publishing - and the press that lives in symbiosis with it - is notoriously cynical. And one thing it craves is publicity.

And about that perfection, have you seen the amount of news this 'scandal' is making in the press? I mean, could you have possibly managed this better if you tried? Owing to all this, this novel's just about guaranteed better sales than her last effort, whereas without it, it would obviously have been a massive money drain. One thing is, I expect Russells to be sued to high heaven now if they've brought down the plans that Rowling and her agent had for the actual reveal. That's what you'd do, right, if this breach of trust really had scuppered your plans (even if it had strangely enhanced your outing strategy)?

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Yes, I'd expect that, and so far no-one's talking about it (though, at the same time, I don't think it would great from a PR point of view). But with the name of the partner responsible for the leak out in the press I can't help thinking that someone has fucked up. I mean, this is personally embarassing for the man.

I'll be honest, I read the thing about waiting for a second novel in a piece in yesterday's paper discussing precisely this question - someone in the publishing industry was arguing that would be the perfect timing if you wanted to pull something like this off. Also, surely it doesn't matter how any of these novels did commerically prior to the reveal? It's not as if the publisher is "sustaining a loss" when they know they're going to get this story in the press at some point. I think after the lukewarm critical response to The Casual Vacancy it would be have been a spectacular coup for Rowling to have become celebrated as an unknown before an eventual reveal, as it is the novel barely had time to make a critical ripple. She and her publisher were always going to make money off this at some point, but she's lost the potential for further unknowing plaudits now, which would have made the unveiling all the more dramatic.

I mean, to be blunt, the idea that this has all been highly orchestrated isn't particularly cynical. Surely everyone rolled their eyes at the description of "leak" during the first round of stories? But the statements today against the law firm from Rowling camp strike me as odd. It's strong language and - lawsuit or not - Russell's can't be happy about it and the way the story makes them look. Why else name and shame the partner responsible? And if the timing's only off by a couple lf weeks, why would she come out with it at all?

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And yes, that line from the BBC story is fluffy garbage. But that's the BBC writer's fault - the chain of events is that the Sunday Times writer tweeted that it was surprisingly good for a first time novel, and the leak occurred in one of the replies. To read the BBC story you'd get the impression that the Times was just so suspicious about the sheer quality of the book that they commissioned an investigation. And no-one, other than the story you've quoted, is saying that that's the case.

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So what are we arguing about? - that this is a manufactured and temporary pseudonimity designed to drive sales that was leaked slightly early and surrounded by PR fluff, as opposed to a manufactured and temporary pseudonimity designed to drive sales that wasn't leaked slightly early and surrounded by PR fluff? Because it's meaningless either way. It's a manufactured and temporary pseudonimity designed to drive sales, surrounded by PR fluff.

I mean, it's not like the pseudonymity has been donned for any artistic, ethical, or stylistic reason. It's a commercial Plan B after the (relative) failure of Plan A, and the stunning revelation was always intended to happen. With what I know of the world of publishing, I'm erring on the side of calling this a pretty shallow mystery whose merit as news is entirely of the same serendipitous calibre as those scandalous revelations about Katie Price's latest boyfriend that you used to see every time she needed a career boost. It's just absolute rubbish. And it's successful rubbish too, because here I am adding to the unnecessary weight of verbiage behind it all.

You have to admit, though, that it is spectacularly well-timed rubbish. And on the coincidence of that timing I'd place more weight than on the words of writers and their agents, and their solicitors, and the press. So maybe I am particularly cynical after all.

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Yeah, we're splitting hairs, really. But I guess I'm intrigued by the possibility that someone like Rowling - who really, really doesn't need the money - might have genuinely wanted to see how her writing was received by an unknowing press, even if her publisher's longterm goal was always the reveal.

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I agree with Gorf 100%. Mark Billingham and Val McDermid were praising the hell out of this on twitter when it first came out, plus The Crime Vault wrote it up when it was first released and praised the hell out of it as well

Yet it only sold 500 copies

Three months later, someone just happens to leak that JK Rowling actually wrote it, and it is the best selling ebook on Amazon, and iBooks in more than one country.

Mind I will give her this much, it is actually an alright book

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Yeah but 500 sales, while shit, isn't that much of a shocker for a debut from an 'unknown' crime novellist. There's a publisher on twitter admitting she turned the book down, despite thinking it was good, precisely because its prospects were low, I just don't see how the poor performance would have been cause for sudden panic or a change of plan when they knew they always had this eventual reveal up their sleeves.

Also, is it really hard to believe they Rowling might have genuinely wanted to do this for creative reasons? She doesn't need the money, at all, but she's now proved that she can get good reviews without her name attached to a novel. In fact, she's planted the seed of doubt the The Casual Vacancy's reception was as much to do with critics reacting to her name as the quality of the novel itself. If she'd managed to write an equally well-received follow up before the reveal she'd have been able to claim that she'd procuced a second critically lauded series without the aid of her name. As it is, now it just looks like she was engaged in a cynical publicity stunt.

Also, read the statement from Russell's again - they blame their partner and admit full culpability while shoring up her and her publisher's story. I can't believe that a law firm would admit to breaching client confidentiality unless it actually had.

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Yeah but 500 sales, while shit, isn't that much of a shocker for a debut from an 'unknown' crime novellist. There's a publisher on twitter admitting she turned the book down, despite thinking it was good, precisely because its prospects were low, I just don't see how the poor performance would have been cause for sudden panic or a change of plan when they knew they always had this eventual reveal up their sleeves.

Also, is it really hard to believe they Rowling might have genuinely wanted to do this for creative reasons? She doesn't need the money, at all, but she's now proved that she can get good reviews without her name attached to a novel. In fact, she's planted the seed of doubt the The Casual Vacancy's reception was as much to do with critics reacting to her name as the quality of the novel itself. If she'd managed to write an equally well-received follow up before the reveal she'd have been able to claim that she'd procuced a second critically lauded series without the aid of her name. As it is, now it just looks like she was engaged in a cynical publicity stunt.

Also, read the statement from Russell's again - they blame their partner and admit full culpability while shoring up her and her publisher's story. I can't believe that a law firm would admit to breaching client confidentiality unless it actually had.

It doesn't matter how much money someone has, they can always use more. You don't get to that level of success without ego. Imagine if she had only sold 500 copies after the book being out for a year and then people find out that you wrote it. There would be a tremendous amount of people that would be laughing at her arse saying that she can't actually sell books unless her name is on it which would pretty much mean that people aren't buying it for the book, but are buying it for the fact that she wrote it.

Kind of like exactly what is happening right now in fact

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Yeah, but the money was always going to be made. It was just a matter of when. If she'd got the second book out both of them would be topping the Amazon charts. As it is there'll be probably be a (relative) drop off among those who read the first and find their curiosity satisfied.

And I completely agree with you about ego, I just think a celebrity author's ego is as likely to be served by getting good reviews without their name attached as it it is by big sales. Most books aren't massive success stories. Most make hardly any money. I find it hard to believe anyone was expecting this to be one, especially since there wasn't (as yet) a massive marketing campaign behind it. Crime series don't tend to pick up until the second or third novel, is my understanding.

And, again, there's the nature of the leak. All they needed was an anonymous twitter account if this information was supposed to get out there. Or a mysterious telephone call to a paper. The publisher could have done some actual PR and teased the mystery, building up some suspense (as well as extracting further sales from crime fans who wanted to know the identiy of a mystery author but wouldn't buy something by Rowling). Instead, the partner of a law firm that doesn't even gain directly from sales has been hung out to dry and Rowling has publically criticised them.

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Yeah, but the money was always going to be made. It was just a matter of when. If she'd got the second book out both of them would be topping the Amazon charts. As it is there'll be probably be a (relative) drop off among those who read the first and find their curiosity satisfied.

And I completely agree with you about ego, I just think a celebrity author's ego is as likely to be served by getting good reviews without their name attached as it it is by big sales. Most books aren't massive success stories. Most make hardly any money. I find it hard to believe anyone was expecting this to be one, especially since there wasn't (as yet) a massive marketing campaign behind it. Crime series don't tend to pick up until the second or third novel, is my understanding.

And, again, there's the nature of the leak. All they needed was an anonymous twitter account if this information was supposed to get out there. Or a mysterious telephone call to a paper. The publisher could have done some actual PR and teased the mystery, building up some suspense (as well as extracting further sales from crime fans who wanted to know the identiy of a mystery author but wouldn't buy something by Rowling). Instead, the partner of a law firm that doesn't even gain directly from sales has been hung out to dry and Rowling has publically criticised them.

If she got a second book out after people found out she wrote the first one then sure it might end up topping the Amazon charts, but that wasn't the case beforehand. I doubt she had anywhere near the royalty payment that a first time crime writer would, so there is no way in hell they are going to be happy with 500 copies being sold in 3 months. Im ean really, it gets leaked and the most that happens is she is "very angry" and the firm of solicitors have apologised?

She hasn't threatened to sue for a confidentiality leak or anything?

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I'm not she can, at least not effectively. She can hardly sue for damages when sales of the book have increased.

But again, you're talking as if a law firm naming one of its partners as breaching confidentiality isn't a big deal.

And I wasn't clear above, I was suggesting that she might want to get a second well-reviewed book out before unmasking herself, just to prove it wasn't a fluke and to enable an even more shocking reveal.. I'm not suggesting that she wanted to toil unrecognised indefinitely, I'm just saying that a) I can see why someone in her position might want to do this for reasons beyond the cynically financial and b) the business with the law firm feels like a fuck up. No one had to be named if they weren't actually to blame.

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But again, you're talking as if a law firm naming one of its partners as breaching confidentiality isn't a big deal.

I suspect Rowling might well prefer to write and release books without the hype of a "JK Rowling" book being attached to them. It's not as though she's writing to pay the mortgage any longer: if she was, and wanted a sure fire success, Ginny Potter and the Red Room Of Pain would quickly fly off the shelves.

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That's the thing. Simply releasing a new book as herself would result in big sales, while releasing under a pseudonym only to reveal herself a few months later would inevitably have resulted in low sales followed by the big sales she'd have had to start with.

Whatever you think of her, I think Rowling seems genuinely interested in exploring her range as a writer for its own sake rather than simply churning out novels to keep the cash flowing. She's presumably still raking in money from the Harry Potter franchise, and has so much that she could probably sit back, do bugger all and live a very luxurious life. If she really wanted to sell books for the sake of it she could easily have just written a new kids book in the Harry Potter universe. Instead I can certainly see the appeal of writing something completely different with none of the expectations that come from such a famous name.

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