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Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Book Bits: Random Rowling Thoughts and Links

BookBitsAs of today, publishers and bookstores are trying to meet the sudden demand for copies of J. K. Rowling’s “Robert Galbraith” novel The Cuckoo’s Calling.  (JK Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is Sold Out and People are Switching to eBooks.) Bookstores are concerned about the readers’ rush to e-books. Everyone’s in a hurry to get the book, and managers are afraid people just won’t wait for the hard copies.

The book shortage seems to scuttle the theory that the whole thing was a PR stunt. If it had been, the American and British publishers would have had books in a warehouse ready to ship when the news broke. In fact, according to the Parade Magazine article in the links below, she is very unhappy the news got out.

cuckooPersonally, I think the crime story was a good idea for Rowling. To continue writing, she really needed to break out of the Harry Potter typecasting. Fortunately for her, the book was well reviewed even before anyone knew the truth behind the Robert Galbraith pseudonym. Party, I fault the publisher for the book’s low sales when it first came out. They invented a bio for Galbraith–they could have taken the reviews and added more to that fake bio by saying “he” was very reclusive and, while “he” would like to approve press interviews, it would be too dangerous to his career.

We can also say that the crime genre–like romance and high-stakes espionage–is a crowded field. Many people shop for authors’ names before they worry about titles. By the time they have their reading fix from the genre authors they know, they have little time or money to commit to an author they don’t know. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Readers think that if they haven’t heard a lot of hype and word of mouth about a book, they are better off to skip it.

What Does It All Mean?

B&N wants to make sure you know this author isn't one of the unwashed masses

B&N wants to make sure you know this author isn’t one of the unwashed masses

Some authors have used the Rowling scenario to poke fun at the publishers who rejected this book when it was first offered to them. Publishers often have minimum expected sales figures in mind for novels they accept. In a crowded field filled with the big names readers routinely follow, a new debut book–from a publisher’s point of view–would have to not only be as good as the known authors, but offer something world shaking and new. The rejection of a book on this basis, doesn’t mean the publisher didn’t notice that it was well written.

Other authors have said that the fate of the Galbraith book, prior to the news about Rowling, was fairly typical for many new books. They’re well written, they get good reviews, and then they fade away. Some, like me, think publishers should do more to promote debut authors and mid-list authors instead of basing their overall marketing plans on the huge profits from mega-stars.

Amazon's listing implies the book had co-authors

Amazon’s listing implies the book had co-authors

One can also suggest that the declining number of book review sections in metro newspapers is also hindering the sales of new books from new authors. A typical Sunday book review section would often occupy two pages, providing space for a few mega-star reviews and interviews, and then include round-up articles about other new releases, books by regional authors, and lists of metro-area book signings. All of this served to put the names of non-star authors in front of prospective readers.

Unfortunately, the business rises and falls on star power along with the stubborn reticence of most readers to try anything that hasn’t been hyped. New authors are advised to have “platforms.” These platforms help, but they’re also a dime a dozen. When everyone’s pitching, readers return to the “safety” of the authors and titles they know.

The fate of the pre-Rowling Robert Galbraith would make a nice case study about the slings and arrows 99% of the authors in this business experience. Readers divide authors into two classes: BIG NAMES and UNWASHED MASSES. One can probably make similar statements about actors, actresses, singers, dancers and others who perform or offer one form of art or another to the public.

I’m happy that Rowling is breaking free of her Harry Potter quicksand. I’m amused by the news she wrote The Cukoo’s Calling because it shows just how fickle and star-struck most readers are. Those who even noticed this book prior to the news, probably said: “I haven’t heard of this book or its author, so they can’t be any good.”

Now the books, to the extent one can find them, are flying off the shelves. Same characters, same plot, same story, but the mega-star name (as always) casts a magic BUY ME spell over readers and they grab books they wouldn’t give the time of day without the catalyst of that magical incantation.

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Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including “Sarabande” and “The Seeker.”

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