JK Rowling’s Experiment in Pseudonymity: Critical Acclaim No Match for Big Name

The revelation that “debut” mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling was actually written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith highlights quirks of the book business and challenges faced by authors both famous and obscure.

Rowling, who admitted to writing the novel after London’s Sunday Times uncovered the truth about the book published by Little, Brown in April, issued a statement saying:

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Liberating perhaps after publishing her much-anticipated first adult book, last year’s The Casual Vacancy, to tepid reviews that measured the novel against her blockbuster series.

“With J. K. Rowling’s new novel, ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ we are firmly in Muggle-land — about as far from the enchanted world of Harry Potter as we can get,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times.  “There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery.”

Despite the mixed reviews, The Casual Vacancy debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Meanwhile, “Robert Galbraith” met the fate of many first-time authors, attracting critical praise including a starred review in Publishers Weekly, but low sales (they’ve, of course, spiked since the weekend).

At least one editor, Kate Mills, at Orion Publishing, has admitted to turning down the manuscript, telling The Independent newspaper in London,  “I thought it was well-written but quiet. It didn’t stand out for me and new crime novels are hard to launch right now.”

The book revolves around Cormoran Strike, a veteran who lost part of his leg in the war in Afghanistan, and his female assistant Robin Ellacort, who are investigating a model’s death. The next book in the Strike series is due to be published next summer.

Reagan Arthur, publisher of Little, Brown, said in a statement that the book was being reprinted with a revised author biography, which reads, ‘Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.’”

Galbraith’s old bio, still posted on the website of Hachette Australia, portrays the author as a family man with the career experience to write with authority about his subject.

Born in 1968, Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years with the Royal Military Police, he was attached to the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), the  plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for protagonist Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who have returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.

J.K. Rowling’s cover is blown, and The Cuckoo’s Calling is no longer threatened with literary obscurity: it’s currently #1 on Amazon and #2 on BN.com, and out of stock at both.

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