Monday, 15 July 2013

What's in a name?

A famous name
A lot, apparently. Robert Galbraith's début crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, was published quietly on April 18th by Sphere and gained some enthusiastic reviews from fellow-practitioners Val McDiarmid, Mark Billingham and Peter James among others. Today it is Amazon's Number 1 Bestseller. Not because of word-of-mouth or Amazon reviews but because - you'd have to be living under a stone not to know this - "Robert Galbraith" is actually the pseudonym of J K Rowling.

Joanne Rowling published her first adult novel, A Casual Vacancy, last year with Little, Brown (of which Sphere is an imprint), under her own name  and received quite a lot of flak from reviewers. I don't in the least blame her for trying another route with her first crime novel. But did she? Cynical speculation is rife on the Net that the release of this information three months later was a calculated  marketing ploy.

I would like not to believe that of Rowling, towards whom I am generally well-disposed.

Still, this post is not about her but the thousands of extra readers who have bought Galbraith's book since the news broke. What is the mentality here? I haven't bought it myself because I don't want detective fiction in hardback or on my Kindle. but I might when it is paperbacked.

Not because it is by J K Rowling but because the reviews make it sound good and - here's the crucial bit - I hadn't seen any of these reviews until the author was outed.

Presumably the hundreds of thousands of new purchasers (and they are bound to rise before I can even put this post up) thought "Ooh, I love JK" or "I love Harry Potter" or even "I really enjoyed A Casual Vacancy"?

Once a certain number has been reached, the sales bonanza finds its own momentum.

What will happen in future ? Will the Cormoran Strike series be labelled "J.K.Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith"? The way that some books tell you they are "by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine"? (I buy all those).

What I find a bit odd is "Robert Galbraith's" biography on the Sphere site:

"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."

Should it perhaps have added "This biography is a work of fiction"?

I'm interested that J K Rowling should have invented not just her pseudonym but a whole back story for him, as if he had been one of her characters.

I remember E.V. Lucas's anecdote about W.P.Ker; when told that William Sharp dressed up in women's clothes when writing "Fiona McLeod's" poems, Ker exclaimed, "the bitch!"

Do we feel deceived? What do you think?

Photo credit: Daniel Ogren


maryom said...

I think it's all a marketing ploy from the publishers. Sales weren't high enough without JKR's name on it so now they've gone public - and look how it's paid off! I'd seen the book somewhere, somehow before this weekend (possibly offered for review) but I didn't think it sounded worth reading from the blurb - and I've sticking with that.

Unknown said...

I think it raises very interesting questions about branding and diluting a powerful brand. The rest is business and frankly, I expect nothing less from business and marketing. I've written several blog posts over the last couple of months where I've spoken about JKR and her brand. It's always been a question for me as to how she'd proceed once Harry Potter was done and how her marketing team would manager her branding. I think they may find they're skating on thin ice. But then I've not read the new Galbraith book.
I can only watch this unfold with my marketing hat on. I'm leaving my reader and writer hat out of it!

Unknown said...

I've nothing against pseudonyms. If JKR wants to write under another name why not? But my inner cynic rushes to the fore in this instance. Why wait months to reveal the secret if not just for book sales? I doubt JKR was too bothered either way. In fact, she may have relished the anonymity and the ability to write without undue pressure.

Mo said...

I'm also generally well-disposed towards her, and hope that this new line works better for her than The Casual Vacancy did.
The pseudonym was bound to be exposed sooner or later, and no doubt people would have been equally cynical whenever it had happened.

Jo Smith said...

I've not given this much thought yet, but I'm a little interested in why she chose a male pseudonym. To hide her identity more? Because she felt that the content of the book would be taken more seriously if the author were male? I suppose I'm interested because there are plenty of successful female authors writing in this genre and have been for years, but she chose a male pseudonym. Perhaps she thought the specifics of the story would fit in best with someone with the biography she created, and that someone with that biography was more likely to be male. provides a bit of a story on this, and actually refers to a couple writing in this genre who choose a female pseudonym in an attempt to become the 'British Karen Slaughter.'

(I like that when I comment on this blog, I'm asked to 'choose an identity' in order to post. Fitting).

catdownunder said...

I am not against pseudonyms because there can be good reason to use them - but I am not sure that using them as a marketing ploy is.
I also think that doing something like this makes it even harder for unpublished authors to break into print and yet it will raise their hopes. They will think "well here was an 'unknown' author" who managed to get published when the reality is that the publisher would have known full well who the author was.

Katherine Roberts said...

I bet I can keep my pseudonym secret for years...

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Kelly Robinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly Robinson said...

I've never seen a writer claim fake credentials for their pseudonym (they usually are vague), and I think it borders on consumer fraud. I don't think she intended this to come out, and it's why the publishers have hastened to purge that fake bio from the new printings and the websites. It's also why the proceeds are probably being donated, as it's illegal in some countries to profit from faked military experience.

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