Rowling-Galbraith Debacle Highlights Debut Author Struggle

J.K. Rowling is Robert Galbraith, author of "The Cuckoo's Calling" - peoplewhowrite

J.K. Rowling is “Robert Galbraith”, author of “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

UPDATE: Sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling have shot up 41,000% since J.K. Rowling was outed as the true author, according to The Bookseller.

CNN contributor Bob Greene has shared an excellent insight on the J.K. Rowling-Robert Galbraith drama. As many of you know, the immensely successful Harry Potter creator wrote a novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Though the book was critically praised, sales languished until Rowling was outed as the real author.

Now, the book is set to make those who bought international rights for a relatively modest sum, very wealthy. For her part, Rowling has expressed deep disappointment in the slip — made via twitter by one Judith Callegari, the best friend of the wife of Chris Gossage, a lawyer representing Rowling via the firm Russells.

Rowling wrote in a statement that was quoted in The Bookseller:

A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.

But Greene’s focus isn’t on Rowling’s story, as made for TV as it is. Instead, he highlights the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle prospects for many talented, but unknown authors. He writes:

…consider the case of Chuck Ross — the protagonist of the most instructive, the most damning, and the most hilarious true story about publishing there ever has been.

I interviewed him and reported on his story almost 35 years ago. Ross, in the 1970s, was a young would-be author who was trying with no success to get his first novel published. He was receiving nothing but rejection slips.

Greene goes on to describe how Ross, trying to determine whether his unknown status or his talent was the issue, presented the work of National Book Award Winner Jerzy Kosinski as his own. Every agent and publisher Ross queried turned the book down. When Ross later revealed what he had done, the agents and publishers and question reportedly shrugged at the results of his experiment.

Indeed, as a first-time writer, I can attest to the immense difficulty in getting heard. It was only after four years of pitching that I found a literary agent who would take me on. I later discovered that mine was the first book she had sold. Had my agent been an experienced shark, would she have taken a chance on me? I don’t know, but what I do know is she managed to sell the book — Powder Necklace — to Simon and Schuster’s Atria/Washington Square Press imprint just two months after signing with me.

Judging by the pre-leak performance of the Rowling/Galbraith book, I can understand why publishers are reticent to acquire debut authors/writers who don’t have marquee names. However, it’s shortsighted business. Publishers can’t pin the industry on one or two juggernauts. They’ve got to cultivate and promote authors they really believe in, not only via social media, but investing in author book tours and creating opportunities for success by scheduling joint appearances with recognized names.

I would also recommend a boot camp for new authors. In retrospect, there are so many things I did not know about the business that would have served me, and ultimately the publisher, well had I been aware. Little things that seem obvious to me now, for example how important it is to establish relationships with bookstores in different markets.

For the industry to survive and thrive, there needs to be real support for the next generation or there won’t be one. That won’t be Amazon‘s fault.