Replay & Update: JK Rowling unmasked
The perpetrator has been revealed. JK did it.
The Harry Potter author has been unmasked as the real person who wrote a detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, earlier this year.
The sad part is, while The Cuckoo’s Calling was critically-acclaimed, compared favorably to some of the best sleuthing books of the past, it sold, by one count, only 499 copies worldwide.
That is, until someone figured out Mrs. Harry Potter was the scribe. Now the printing presses are overheating.
Many critics were suspicious from the first. It was said to be penned by “Robert Galbraith,” a former plainclothes military police officer now employed in the private security industry. But some thought it was too polished to be a debut novel from an unknown. They were right.
More interesting is the list of publishers that rejected The Cuckoo’s Calling, despite liking it a lot. They said there was no “obvious hook.” Ultimately it was accepted by the same house that released Rowling’s previous adult fiction book, The Casual Vacancy. They surely knew of the deception because the book had the same editor as her last opus.
Of course, now there’s an easy hook for marketing: it’s from J-Fucking-K-Fucking-Rowling! That hook is big enough to catch Moby-Dick, another book that had a tough start.
Ms. Rowling said she found writing under a pseudonym—and a man’s one at that—to be “liberating.” She was hoping the deception could go on longer. Alas, the The Sunday Times, those sleuths, figured it out.
So entrenched we’ve become in franchises (euphoria over the new Disney-Star Wars deal without really knowing anything about it and even though the recent movies felt tired) and familiarity over evaluation and talent (Stephen King has also submitted a manuscript under another name only to see it roundly rejected) that even the author of the most popular franchise in history (unless you consider the Bible a franchise) felt the need to write under another name—and found when she did that no one was interested.
It reminds me of a family member, whom I’ll not name, who is constantly concerned with the status of things rather than the quality. If we go to a restaurant they’ll surely evaluate it by how big it is: “They’re the largest in sales; they must be good.” They’ll praise colleagues, companies and media by how much money they earn. Someone “knows what they’re doing” if their business grossed the most money last year. I’m fairly sure they don’t taste the food when dining out. They’re counting the number of customers.
Of course marketers know this sort of thing exists, and waste little time invading all sorts of media, social and otherwise, trying so hard to get you to see things their way, with phony reviews, fake people praising products effusively, paid promotion disguised as editorial, and outright jiggering of numbers to get certain brands to aways leap miraculously to the top of any screen in almost any search.
They do this because, despite what they’ll say about caring for quality, they know it’s hype that sells. The proof is in the Cuckoo—all 499 copies of it. Sort of like the way a pair of jeans is just a pair of jeans, until Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian (or Welsey Shaw) puts them on.
Ms. Rowling said, “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”
Amen to that.
So here’s the takeaway I want you to get from this: next time you’re unhappy with the stuff that’s “out there”—all the bad summer movies, the formulaic books, the stale TV shows—seek out, and buy, something brand new from an unknown quantity, something that looks a little different from what you’ve seen before. It doesn’t have to be Entertaining Welsey Shaw, when it comes out, though that’d be nice. It can be anything. You may be the very first person to uncover the next great discovery—consider that.
In the meantime, I’ve figured out a great way to ensure that Entertaining Welsey Shaw becomes a best-seller when it’s released:
Can’t miss, right?
UPDATE: Since writing this four months ago, The Cuckoo’s Calling has nearly 5,000 user reviews on Amazon alone! This is the novel that, as I said, had sales of exactly 499 before its author’s identity was revealed. While I don’t begrudge Rowling’s success, I think it’s sad people go with the herd and trust familiar names rather than their own ability to seek out works of value so very often, whether in movies, books, music or restaurants. My impulse is usually to seek out the new and try what’s different or unknown, not what I think will give me a pre-determined experience, which, whether it actually does or not, is the reason people by the million have sought out The Cuckoo’s Calling once they discovered who wrote it. It brings to mind a famous quote from Oscar Wilde: Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.