Days after Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was outed as the author going by the name Robert Galbraith, the author explained why she would go to the trouble of publishing under an unknown name considering her own name is good for instant bestseller status. “I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre,” she wrote in the FAQs section of the Robert Galbraith website, “to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.” Galbraith’s secret identity was revealed via tweet by the best friend of the wife of a lawyer representing Rowling via the firm Russells.
In 2012, Rowling made a departure from her Harry Potter fare to pen an adult novel The Casual Vacancy which received mixed reviews. By contrast, her Galbraith debut was not only warmly reviewed, but beat sales expectations for a first-time author. “At the point I was ‘outed’,” she explains, “Robert had sold 8500 English language copies across all formats (hardback, eBook, library and audiobook) and received two offers from television production companies.” When she was revealed as the author, sales shot up 41,000%.
As a debut author, it seems the moral of this story is to refrain from despising small beginnings. If a writer of Rowling’s stature — she’s one of the bestselling authors of all time with more than 450 million copies of her Harry Potter series sold — would forgo the guaranteed success (sales success anyway) for the struggle of the early writer, there’s got to be some value in it.
Insisting the pen-name reveal was not a clever marketing scheme, Rowling says, “Being Robert Galbraith has been all about the work, which is my favourite part of being a writer.”