J.K. Rowling: Publicity Wizard or Mere Muggle?

Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, you know who J.K. Rowling is. I bet you never heard of Robert Galbraith or “The Cuckoo’s Calling” until it was revealed on Monday that Robert is Rowling and that “Cuckoo” is about….

Forget what the book is about – the news here is that Rowling penned the book under a male pseudonym and a reporter for the London Sunday Times revealed this past week that she was the author. The second of Rowling’s adult novels, this one was well received by critics but sold only 1,500 copies since its April release. That is about 450 million less copies than her Harry Potter books. Unsurprisingly, since the big reveal, sales of “Cuckoo’s Calling” have increased 500% and it’s near the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.

Rowling told The Times of London that the experience was worthwhile: “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 skeptic in me (and it’s a big part of me) says this was magnificently orchestrated by Rowling and her publisher.  After basking in the glow of every single Harry Potter book, then writing adult fiction (“The Casual Vacancy” that can best be described as “meh”) what’s a famous author to do other than test a new genre and gauge public reaction without exposing her true identity? She knew that a good number of Muggles would gravitate to a crime mystery “Cuckoo’s Calling” written by a certain J.K. Rowling.

These shenanigans got me thinking about whether I would go incognito to test a wild idea, start down a new career path or pen a ground-breaking manifesto. Let’s assume I’m a well-known person with a tremendous following (neither is true).  And I am sick and tired of the “hype” and “expectation.” Would I have the courage of my conviction and let the chips fall where they may? Or would I come up with a new pen name (just as Rowling, and Stephen King, Anne Rice and others before them) and time the unmasking and glorious hype just so?

I’d like to think I’d use my real identity. But it’s hard to imagine the kind of success that allows the freedom to choose and the preordained acceptance of that choice.

What would you do?

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

  • http://www.twitter.com/tweetingscript Roxanne Hilburn

    I tried to do this, and it didn’t work. I started my @tweetingscript project on twitter where I’m tweeting a short film script. At first I did not have a photo of myself attached to the profile and no one paid attention, but I was set on doing it anonymously (leaving the possibility that I could be a male?) since female writers have a hard time in the screenwriting industry. However, once I posted a photo people started following me. My thoughts are, audiences like to put a face on what they’re getting. Possibly makes them feel more connected?

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    The inspiration for my work is inspiring those around me to embrace their individuality and that includes both successful and not-so-successful endeavors. I think once you have a personal brand that is familiar with your audience, you should remain married to it- for better or for worse.

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    This poses an interesting question. Thanks for posting your insights into the recent J.K. Rowling potential public relations “shenanigans.”