Cuckoo’s Calling Fallout: Denials of a “Stunt,” Empathy from a Pseudonymist, A Post-Revelation Rave, and an App for Uncovering Authorship

Reverberations from J.K. Rowling’s outing this weekend as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, continue, and not just in Amazon raking in sales of the Kindle version as the printer works overtime to get physical copies of the crime novel into bookstores.

In the three days since London’s Sunday Times broke the news, we’ve seen:

Emphatic denials from Rowling and her publisher, Little, Brown, that the whole thing was a sales-boosting stunt. The Bookseller quotes J K Rowling’s spokesperson, Nicky Stonehill of Stonehill Salt PR: “We can confirm the story in the Sunday Times was correct, and it was not a leak or elaborate marketing campaign to boost sales. We are not commenting any further.” The Bookseller also quotes the publisher that the revelation, “was not a leak or part of a marketing campaign.”

Praise from Stephen King, who said in an email to USA Today that he wrote a few books under a pseudonym years ago and was discovered by a reader who recognized his style.

King says, “I would have told her it’s an impossible secret to keep for long.” He adds, “Jo is right about one big thing — what a pleasure, what a blessed relief, to write in anonymity, just for the joy of it. Now that I know, I can’t wait to read the book.”

A post-revelation rave on the Daily Beast from Malcolm Jones:

I have no idea what I would have thought of The Cuckoo’s Calling had I read it without knowing who actually wrote it. If I’d believed, like those early critics, that I was reading a first novel by a former British military policeman, I’d have probably been over the moon, too. Instead, I knew all along I was reading a Rowling novel, so my expectations were pretty high from the start.

I wasn’t disappointed.

A lesson on how predictable our prose can be from Patrick Juola, a professor of computer science at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, who explained to Time how he identified similarities between The Cuckoo’s Calling  and Rowling’s previous books.

Juola uses a program — Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program, which is a free download available for anyone to play around with — to pull out the hundred most frequent words across an author’s vocabulary. This step eliminates rare words, character names and plot points, leaving him with words like of and but, ranked by usage. Those words might seem inconsequential, but they leave an authorial fingerprint on any word.

“Prepositions and articles and similar little function words are actually very individual,” Juola says. “It’s actually very, very hard to change them because they’re so subconscious.”

So now we know: there’s an app for that.

Comments: more
  • Hope Coulter

    I’m not surprised, but a bit sorry, to know about these apps. Couldn’t any attentive English major puzzle out the authorial fingerprint just as accurately–and have more fun along the way?

    • Tashamaria Tromer

      Alas, there’s an app for making attentive English majors redundant, and therefore replaceable by yet another app. Sorry.