J.K. Rowling may have just pulled off the greatest trick of her literary career.
The "Harry Potter" author had kept a relatively low profile since her first non-wizard novel, "The Casual Vacancy," hit shelves last September to decidedly mixed reviews. Most people assumed that we would hear about a new Rowling book maybe a year or two from now, followed by a traditional publicity rollout with perhaps an Oprah interview. But the world-famous writer decided to go a different route.
Rowling stunned readers by revealing that she had already written her next books...and it had been in bookstores since April. The secret of "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith has only recently been uncovered, but how did Rowling pull it off?
"The Cuckoo's Calling"
In April, publishers Little, Brown released the debut detective novel by Robert Galbraith to a warm critical reception. Publishers Weekly wrote "Galbraith combines a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime in his stellar debut." The positive reviews, however, did not translate to sales; the book only sold 1,500 copies. Journalists and critics knew that "Robert Galbraith" was a pseudonym, but without any other clues than an "About the Author" page that describe the writer as a former member of the military police, the mystery went unsolved for months.
Pulling Back the Veil
After almost three months, a single tweet was what pulled the first string that unraveled Robert Galbraith. A colleague of Richard Brooks, the arts editor for the Sunday Times, tweeted that she enjoyed "Cuckoo's Calling," commenting that it was too good to be a debut novel. An anonymous user replied saying that it wasn't and that it had been written by none other than Rowling. That account has since been erased, and many theorize that it was an orchestrated leak by the publisher, but regardless of the tweet's origin, it started an investigation by the Times that involved a linguistics expert who examined similarities between the Galbraith book and Rowling's previous two novels.
Brooks approached Little, Brown with the evidence, and a short while later Rowling released this statement: "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."
The public's reactions to Rowling's new book were immediate and in line with how her previous works have been received. "The Cuckoo's Calling" immediately shot to the top of Amazon's bestsellers list — it has since moved to #2 since going temporarily out of stock — and after calling every Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, the book appears to be flying off bookstore shelves just as quickly.
Little, Brown is already at work on a reprinting that will add Rowling's name to the "About the Author" page. The next Robert Galbraith book is already scheduled for release next summer, presumably with much, much more media attention.