Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's a Matter of Trust

I’m sure that most of you have heard the recent headlines about the revelation that Robert Galbraith, author of a mystery called The Cuckoo’s Calling, is actually J.K. Rowling. Reports say that the book sold about 1,500 print copies and another 800 ebooks) however, now that the truth is out, sales have skyrocketed and the publisher, Little Brown, is doing a 300,000 copy print run.

There was widespread speculation that the unspectacular sales prompted either Rowling and/or her publisher to reveal the truth, but according to an article in The Huffington Post, this is not the case. It seems that one of the partners in the law firm representing Rowling told his wife’s best friend. The best friend then apparently posted the news on Twitter, and thus the trouble began.

I use the word trouble because the issues this situation raises are indeed troubling. First, when a client pays a lawyer big bucks to keep things private, they should bloody well be kept private. Second, why did people assume that a very rich author would feel compelled to boost sales in the first place? Where was the trust that maybe Rowling took the high road, and was outed by others?

Although I haven’t read reviews of the book, reports indicate that they were favorable. Yet, if Robert Galbraith was a real person, he wouldn’t be earning enough royalties to live on, and this is also troubling. Rowling’s fame has catapulted sales, but what does it say about the plight of unknown authors, despite great reviews in respected publications? (See my earlier blog on the dismal sales of Pulitzer prize winners). Have readers lost so much trust in unknown authors that the majority will be doomed to the remainder bin before they’re recognized?

But there’s another trust issue at play, addressed in an insightful blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Rusch has a lot to say about the Rowling incident, but she’s particularly struck by the way traditional publishers are blaming Rowling for the novel’s slow sales. They said this would have been an instant success if she’d used her real name, if she’d written a “bigger” book, ie. an action-packed thriller instead of the “quiet” mystery she wrote. In other words, it was Rowling’s own fault for not writing a blockbuster because, as Rusch points out, that’s all most of the big publishers are interested in these days.

And here’s where the trust issue comes up again. Rusch states that traditional publishing has become a blame-the-writer game. If sales are poor, it’s the writer’s fault, if the author asks for a full accounting of royalties, the writer shouldn’t have asked, and heaven forbid if they’re fighting for a better contract.

To read her blog, go to


Marian Allen said...

Where's the respect? Fortunately for J. K. Rowling, she's big enough to stand up on her hind legs and spit in their eyes, but the whole thing is, as you point out, indicative of the lack of respect writers get from Big Pub -- or whatever snazzy nickname being used for -- oh, yes, the Big Five, now, isn't it -- for the high-finance publishing industry. Bah!

Unknown said...

The whole things is sickening. I feel for JK - I am sure she would like a Harry-free identity, as wonderful as he is and was for her. I also think it's outrageous that the lawyer blabbed. But most of all I feel for us writers. Thanks for the post.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks for your comments, Marian and Gwynneth. I wonder if J.K. will try again with a new lawyer and a new pen name. I would.