The Business Rusch: Blame The Writer

Business Rusch logo webOver the weekend, The Sunday Times of London revealed that mega-bestseller J.K. Rowling published a mystery novel under the pen name Robert Galbraith. The entertainment media and the blogosphere has been having a field day with this—how could they have missed it? Why would this fabulously wealthy woman ever sell a book under a name not her own?

Perhaps to get rid of the incredible scrutiny?

The entertainment media politely pointed out that the book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, got excellent reviews, generally refraining from admitting that once Rowling had become famous, her Harry Potter books usually got savaged by “real” reviewers, as did the literary novel she wrote last year under her name. (Although Time Magazine, in an article published Tuesday, hinted at the way that Rowling’s reviews changed depending on which name was on the book.)

Unknown and “new,” Galbraith got a fair shot from the reviewing class, untainted by money and the belief that any writer who hit the bestseller list was awful, and the critics liked what they saw.

While the initial articles about the Big Reveal mostly turned on the modest sales of Galbraith’s book followed by the gigantic boost in sales once Rowling’s name was on the title, the articles in the publishing blogosphere turned sour almost immediately, doing what traditional publishing does best: Blaming the author combined with a complete misunderstanding of the very business that the publishers (or at least those running publishing blogs) profess to know so very well.

This part of the story began when editor Kate Mills of Orion Publishing admitted via Twitter that she had turned down Galbraith’s book, not knowing that the book had come from Rowling.  Mills wanted other British editors to confess that they turned the book down because—obviously—they had.

The key for me in this little part of our fractured publishing fairy tale is this: Mills saw the book more than a year ago. How do I know this? It takes time to make book deals and then to publish the book. It takes a minimum of a year to negotiate that tortured labyrinth. So Mills read the book and remembered it.

Editors don’t remember books that fail. Editors don’t have time to read books that fail all the way to the end.

Mills read the book, remembered it, and actually considered it.  When asked about her tweet, she gave the appropriate editorial response, and one I believe entirely. She said, “As an editor you’ve got to love what you publish.  I didn’t love it…”

Exactly. I’ve said that hundreds of times, usually to my husband, after some writer who had just won an award with a story that I had turned down when I was editing for Pulphouse or F&SF, shook the award at me and said, “Regret not buying the story now?” I never did. Editors are hired for their taste, after all, and that story, whatever it was, wasn’t to my taste.

Just like Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t to Mills’ taste. She will probably keep her job after this because the book was so super-secret; most editors who turned the book down are probably cowering in their cubicles right now, because their publishers might not be as understanding. Time Magazine was accurate to call Mills “brave” for her admission; in some places, it could cost her job.

The fact that the same imprint, Sphere, of Little Brown Book Group published the book in the UK doesn’t surprise me either. Even though the editors there did not know, any more than Mills did, that the book came from Rowling, they like Rowling’s work. They published The Casual Vacancy. Writerly voices are writerly voices are writerly voices. Reader/fans feel an affinity to a certain voice, even if they don’t recognize it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Mills never read Harry Potter or started the books and decided they just weren’t for her.

Publishing is not an exact science. If it were, a pseudonymous JK Rowling book would do the exact same business as a book with Rowling’s name on it. Exactly the same.

Publishing learned that same lesson twenty-eight years ago, when a Washington DC bookseller named Steve Brown read an advanced reading copy of a book called Thinner. About two pages in, Brown thought that either the book, published under the name Richard Bachman, was written by Stephen King or “the world’s best imitator.” Brown did some research, tied the books to King, and then wrote King to ask.

The story broke that Richard Bachman, who had quietly publishing since 1977, was indeed mega-bestseller Stephen King. Bachman, who had had published four novels before Thinner, was actually King. Bachman’s sales rose by a factor of ten within the week, and then continued selling at King levels ever after.

Bachman was born in a different publishing era. No computer programs to compare the sentences, no quick and easy access, no anonymous tweets to a newspaper outing the author. Bachman had a chance to build a fan base, and he did: by the time the pre-King announcement had been made, the sales on Richard Bachman books had more than doubled, from an early print run of about 20,000 books to 40,000 books for Thinner. Bachman was slowly building a name, a reputation, and a midlist success.

He was doing what King wanted him to do: He was providing a safe place for King to experiment. In “The Importance of Being Bachman,” his 1996 introduction to The Bachman Books, King wrote:

The importance of being Bachman was always the importance of finding a good voice and a valid point of view that were a little different from my own. Not really different; I am not schizo enough to believe that. But I do believe that there are tricks all of us use to change our perspectives and our perceptions – to see ourselves new by dressing up in different clothes and doing our hair in different styles – and that such tricks can be very useful, a way of revitalizing and refreshing old strategies for living life, observing life, and creating art. …I love what I do too much to want to go stale if I can help it. Bachman has been one way in which I have tried to refresh my craft, and to keep from being too comfy and well-padded.

Sound familiar? There are echoes of this in J.K. Rowling’s public statements about being outted as Robert Galbraith. She said:

I 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 from publishers and readers under a different name.

After the publicity died down, King said he had this reaction to his outing:

Bachman was never created as a short-term alias; he was supposed to be there for the long haul, and when my name came out in connection with his, I was surprised, upset, and pissed off.

Clearly Galbraith wasn’t conceived as a short-term alias either; Rowling had sold another book under that name, and she was planning to slowly build a series. I’m sure her reaction to the outing was similar to King’s, no matter what she says in public.

Her experiment was working; she was getting good reviews and the book was selling exactly the way a hardcover mystery novel with a bad cover sells in England. Little Brown UK told The Bookseller.com that The Cuckoo’s Calling (which was released in April) sold 1,400 print copies and 800 ebooks domestically, plus 2,000 export copies and 3,800 audio downloads. That’s a good run for a first British mystery. Time’s article claims that the book sold 500 copies in the US according to Bookscan (which only tracks about 50% of sales). Galbraith was on the right kind of growth track for a classic mystery novel.

Before she knew who Galbraith was, bestselling mystery writer Val McDermid blurbed the book, saying, “The Cuckoo’s Calling reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place.”

After she found out who wrote it, McDermid laughed. She had no idea. She had liked the book so much that she had invited Galbraith to speak on a panel, only to be told he was unavailable.

Writers—readers—don’t do that if they don’t like the book.

The book’s quality is in dispute in only one place. Traditional publishing. Before the publishing industry started arguing on Tuesday whether or not Rowling did this as a stunt to generate publicity on the book (really? Seriously? Are you people that insane?), it was defending Kate Mills, the editor who had passed on the novel.

Michael Cader best defined the industry attitude in his comments on Publisher’s Lunch. He wrote:

At least one other UK editor, Kate Mills at Orion — another part of Hachette UK — was offered the manuscript and turned it down. She said, “I thought it was well-written but quiet. It didn’t stand out for me and new crime novels are hard to launch right now.” And to an extent her instincts were right, given the poor sales.

 (Those of you who don’t subscribe to Publisher’s Lunch might want to look at former agent Nathan Bransford’s blog where he makes similar statements. He wrote (among other things), “Some of [the book’s lack of commercial success] may have had to do with the fact that it was by most accounts, a quiet novel.”)

So let’s parse this analysis, shall we?

First, the British mystery tradition—which Galbraith’s book falls into—is quiet. Agatha Christie’s novels are quiet. Dorothy L. Sayers novels are quiet. Multiple New York Times bestseller, P.D. James—who has had a mystery writing career with books published worldwide—writes quiet novels.

“Quiet” does not equal “poor sales.”

Secondly, as I said above, the sales are spot-on for a debut UK crime novel. Not great, not bad. But not J.K. Rowling numbers either because—clue stick, Cader!—the book wasn’t published under her name. It deliberately went under the radar, and that anonymous tweet short-circuited the book’s trajectory. Would Galbraith’s books have grown? We don’t know. Now the secret is out, and the experiment is over.

Mills was right to pass on this book; she didn’t like it, so she couldn’t nurture its growth. That’s the defense the industry should have given her, if, indeed, she needs a defense at all.

But what’s striking to me—and what I’m seeing on many publishing blogs I read—is that they all blame the author. If she had written a “bigger” book, if she had published it under J.K. Rowling, this book would be a success.

Traditional publishing is now claiming that the editors who rejected the book were right, and the author—in her insistence on anonymity and in writing a “quiet” book—is the one who ruined the sales of this novel.

Welcome to traditional publishing in the 21st century.

Their job isn’t to nurture books. It’s not to publish books that readers want to read. Their job is to publish blockbusters, and any book that isn’t a blockbuster is the fault of the author, not the fault of the acquiring editor or the fault of the sales force or the fault of the publishing company itself.

9780316206846_p0_v2_s260x420Have any of you looked at the cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling? Tell me what genre that is supposed to represent. Women’s fiction? YA? Before some of you jump on me by telling me this is a British book, realize this: I buy British mysteries in hardcover and I know what a good mystery book cover looks like from the UK.

This isn’t it.

Would Galbraith have sold another 5000 copies with a better cover? I doubt it, because the publisher did a standard print run for a debut mystery. The publisher did not promote the book beyond sending it to the publishing trade magazines for review, and it didn’t expect the book to find a level until the second book was published next year.

By not hyping this book, the publisher planned to show growth in the series, so that they could then buy the next two or three or whatever.

That’s how it’s done.

The bad cover was a mistake, but a survivable one.

The book did exactly what it was supposed to do. It came out within the contained British mystery field. It generated some buzz. It got in-genre readers and a few others, and theoretically, the next book would have sold double, and the next book would have sold even more, and Galbraith would slowly have become a reliable mystery name.

That was the same trajectory that Richard Bachman was on before his cover was blown in 1985. And for Bachman—and for King—and for readers—it was working.

Bachman and Galbraith are midlist authors, following midlist career paths. King and Rowling are blockbuster novelists because their novels hit the zeitgeist and became the next big thing.

What Michael Cader and Nathan Bransford and all of those industry insiders forget, if they even know, is this:

Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, sold to Doubleday at a beginning writer advance. Only a few thousand copies of that hardcover were printed, and King’s work took off with the paperback, because publishers had just realized that The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty had sold millions of copies—a surprise—and publishers were looking for the next Blatty. Instead, they stumbled on King.

This sort of thing happens all the time: Scott Turow wrote Presumed Innocent and it became a blockbuster, and publishers, searching for “something just like Turow” happened upon a working midlist writer named John Grisham who used to sell copies of his first novel out of the back of his car because bookstores didn’t want it.

JK Rowling’s first advance? Modest. She wrote a small fantasy novel that caught on with kids and became a phenomenon. She was not born JK ROWLING, BESTSELLING AUTHOR, when she finished that first book. The Harry Potter series grew, just like Galbraith’s series might have grown, like all the other bestsellers that were waiting, as midlist books, for something to tip them into the stratosphere.

Traditional publishing has become such a blame-the-writer game. The royalty statements aren’t accurate? Blame the writer for asking. Negotiate a contract? Blame the writer for insisting on good treatment. The book sold to expectations, but expectations changed? Blame the writer for writing a “quiet” book…

…or for not promoting enough or for not telling the editors her real name or for not providing a platform. Or, or, or…

Gee, traditional publishing folks, could it be that your expectations are off? Could it be a problem in your current business practices? You guys all wonder why independent publishing is taking off, why readers are reading self-published books in as great of numbers as they are reading books published by the Big Five.

Have you ever considered that it’s because you forgot how to build books, how to support authors, what readers really look for?

JK Rowling hasn’t forgotten. She just wants to be left alone and write.

Which, interestingly enough, was exactly what Stephen King wanted as he was writing the Bachman books. What kind of literature would we see now if King had the room to experiment without all the hype? What’s going to happen to Galbraith now that Rowling has to feel all those expectations—and now that she knows the books will be savaged in the reviews because she wrote another “quiet” book in a literary tradition she obviously loves?

You want to see the contempt traditional publishing holds for the people who it has built its business on? Read the industry comments about the Rowling/Galbraith incident. Not the comments from readers—who are happily lapping up the book—or the comments from the newspaper writers who are simply quoting press releases. Read what the industry bloggers are saying, think about the kind of cynicism it takes to believe that Rowling would do this as a publicity stunt, and realize that these people are the gatekeepers. People who have no idea about their industry’s history, no idea about what readers want, no respect for the writers who provide the content on which these vast publishing empires are built.

Remember that these gatekeepers just attacked JK Rowling for her choice of publication method, for her “quiet” book, and for her “publicity stunt.” JK Rowling, who has made billions for the industry.

What she is going through now is but one example of what all of us who have been in traditional book publishing for the last ten years have experienced. That contempt, that lack of respect, that blame, when something goes “wrong” by traditional publishing’s definition.

It’s a toxic environment in traditional publishing right now, and it will only get worse as the mergers continue. Welcome to the Blockbuster World. If you can’t provide an instant hit, we don’t want you. Even if you are JK Rowling, but prefer to be called Robert Galbraith. You’re a brand, not a writer. And you’d better be successful, no matter what traditional publishing throws at you, otherwise, it will toss you under that proverbial bus. Like it’s doing with JK Rowling right now.

I’m in the middle of teaching the advanced master class along with several other speakers, all geared at showing writers how to survive in this new world of publishing. I won’t have a lot of time to respond to comments this week, but I will read them all.

And remember, this blog is an example of the new world of publishing. Ten years ago, I would have said everything I just mentioned to all of the professional writers at that master class, but I wouldn’t have written about it in public, because I would have been billed a “troublemaker.” Maybe I am a troublemaker, but I can survive on my own now—and this blog is part of that.

The blog must pay for itself. So, if the spirit moves you, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

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“The Business Rusch: Blame The Writer,” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch51fwYBZq8kL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-66,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_

Note: A few folks have pointed out that the original British cover is better (and honestly, my fault for not double-checking in the middle of this workshop). Here it is, and it is a proper British mystery cover, which explains the debut novel’s good British sales. (And yes, those of you who have come over from indie and are thinking only indie thoughts and making indie-oriented comments, those are good debut sales numbers for the UK, as I said above.)




100 responses to “The Business Rusch: Blame The Writer”

  1. Thank you for such a heartwarming and accurate and thought-provoking article. I will make time to read all the comments. I just wanted to let you know that I felt comforted and completely vindicated. I am not yet published, about to go down the independent route. My first book was written as the qualifying novel for the MA award at Sheffield Hallam university. It is good, well written but very different. The publishers said that they wouldn’t know what genre to place it in. Moreover, they always asked – “Will it win awards” and when in all honestly my agent couldn’t say it would, they weren’t interested. So your ‘blockbuster’ comments were very helpful. Thank you.

  2. Alan Spade says:

    “think about the kind of cynicism it takes to believe that Rowling would do this as a publicity stunt, and realize that these people are the gatekeepers.”

    I have to confess, before reading about the gatekeepers reactions, I told my wife it was a marketing stunt by Rowling. Why ? Because she shouldn’t have told her agent about this, if she was to keep the secret.

    I just have written a blog post titled “the second secret identity of J.K. Rowling”. In it, I develop the theory of another book written by Rowling, only as an ebook, and self-published under a pseudonym. It’s such an easy thing to do ! And with the sea of self-published work, if you don’t tell anybody, your secret would remain a secret.

    In fact, Stephen King may have already done that. Anybody can have. Joe Konrath did, and nobody can tell which book is his. Every author who feels mistreated by her publisher can secretly self-pub her next project.

    • Exactly. But it wasn’t her agent that blew the secret. It was her lawyer, and she needed him for the legal documents she needed to sign for traditional publishing. Remember, she was in traditional publishing.

      That said, she now knows about e-books/indie thanks to Pottermore, so she might indeed go that route. Like you, it would wouldn’t surprise me if King has done it as well.

  3. Peter Dudley says:

    Very interesting. I stayed away from the whole thing for the most part because I figured the discussion would be a typical shouting match between people with few actual facts but a tremendous amount of loyalty to a prechosen position. There seems to be a lot of that these days, when publishing is the topic.

  4. Apologies if this is a duplicate of something someone else has posted.

    I went to Barnes and Noble this weekend, intent on buying Mrs. Rowling’s new book and supporting my local brick and mortar.

    But I couldn’t find it.

    I ran through every possibility. They sold out. The manager refused to carry it. Etc. Etc.

    But it was far, far worse.

    They never ordered it. Robert Galbraith wasn’t even a blip on the map for my local B&N so they hadn’t bothered.

    Of course, now that everyone knows who it is, they’ve remedied the problem and ordered 57 copies.

    I’m not sure where that number is in regards to normal print numbers. I can’t help but think what a logistics nightmare this is for the publisher and the printer.

    As it stands, I’ll probably end up ordering it online.

    • This happens all the time to debut authors or even established authors. Just because the book is out doesn’t mean the major stores carry it. It simply means they can order it if they see a need. Which is…no different from indie. 🙂

  5. Fantastic article and a very thoughtful breakdown!

  6. Paul Woodlin says:

    And here I thought publicity stunts were for people who needed publicity.

  7. James F. Brown says:

    From what I gather, Rowling isn’t happy about being “outed.” Some comments imply that her attempt at using a pseudonym is finished. How can that be? She’s certainly free to try again using other pseudonyms.

    If she does, I think she’ll hide those behind additonal layers of obfuscation, and perhaps self-publish rather than going trad pub. And I doubt she’ll be letting her lawyers (whoever they may be then!) in on it.

  8. Scott Nicholson says:

    All this tells me is that quality alone isn’t enough. And that celebrities sell better.

    Would have been interesting to see if she could have gotten two out and actually earned a contract for a third book–if the publisher had been patient with slow growth, and indeed if sales actually grew instead of declined (because surely the market will be even tougher in a year). And even more fun if it had eked out to six or so books before the leak.

    Besides, it’s easy enough to fly under the radar. Just stay quiet for five minutes and the world roars on by.

  9. Victoria says:

    Hopefully, one good thing out of all this mess is that those of us who like mysteries will pick it up and enjoy it. I’ll be picking it up this weekend and will roundly ignore the vitriolic nonsense surrounding it on other blogs.

  10. JJBrannon says:

    I loved the Samuel Holt novels.

    I didn’t love them any less when I discovered they were written by Donald Westlake for the same exact purpose as King wrote as Bachman and Rowling wrote as Galbraith.

    Westlake was exposed on his third installment by his publisher’s PR department, contrary to his agreement with his publisher, so Westlake walked away pissed and the publisher lost the other books in the series that Westlake intended to write. [There were others in the pipeline.]

    JJB

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you read the book and then read the fake bio, it seems to imply heavily that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym of the detective character, Cormoran Strike. Of course, this is totally a hindsight judgment from a happy customer, not the comment of somebody not knowing the author’s real identity.

    However, there have been plenty of magazines in the pulp era which swore they were publishing true stories in every issue, whereas it was actually just a fiction market. There have been as many writers with fake names and bios as there are Golden Age Hollywood actors with their “pasts” and “lives” provided by the studio system to cover up the real ones.

    “Ellery Queen” is a lie. “Carolyn Keene” is a lie. “Franklin W. Dixon” is a lie.

    Come to think of it, there’s Pseudo-Virgil of Cordoba, one of the world’s great medieval author-eccentrics. Heh.

    I guess my point is that I’m willing to believe author bios, but I don’t actually regard them as true until proven in some fashion.

  12. JR Tomlin says:

    Kristine, I am rather surprised that you didn’t know that the cover you show is on the US edition only. It is not on the UK edition which actually looks like a mystery. I’m a fairly big mystery fan and no way would I have ever picked up the US edition. That US edition does show that you can’t trust publishers to do even a fairly decent cover. It is terrible. Here is a link to the Amazon UK version:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cuckoos-Calling-Cormoran-Strike/dp/1408703998

    As for the novel not selling well, I disagree and have always disagreed. It was selling decently for a first-time, unknown mystery author.

  13. My tax accountant and business adviser gave me some very wise advice on one of our first meetings: success can be nearly as scary as failure, and both can sneak up on you. Your own wisdom in the Freelancer’s Survival Guide on the subject of professional jealousy applies as well.

    As a writer very much in debt to J. K. Rowling, not least for her demonstration of how to write serious issues under the smiling mask of ‘once upon a time,’ I have been consistently annoyed by the reaction both of the industry and the punditry. Publishing is not the only industry that feels entitled to the Sure Thing (the U. S. health insurance industry would be another such) but the vicious and envious response from fellow writers disappoints me. Success doesn’t solve all problems; it merely opens a Pandora’s box of new problems. I read these responses and bear in mind that if I’m successful in my turn, I’ll have similar issues with bottom-feeders.

    And as someone who’s had their own confidentiality violated (medical data) I feel very little mercy for the slime-mold who thought it a cute idea to release this information.

  14. The source of the leak was an attorney at the law firm Rowling uses. He broke his confidentiality obligation (and I would think he’ll lose his position over this, given how high profile this breach of professional ethics was) and told a friend, who also talked.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jul/18/jk-rowling-anger-lawyers-secret-identity

  15. Kris, you’re so right about Jo Rowling needing and deserving to stand on her own again via a pen name.

    I toyed with putting a male name on my only books with a male protagonist, but when the copy editor called the author “he” I felt I’d made my point. I still might reissue them under a sexually ambiguous name to see what happens. (I use mixed male and female POV in many of my books, but all are under my unambiguously female name.)

    And that awful U.S. cover!

    Not something you’d expect a gritty, dark mystery writer like Val MacDermid to blurb! (And isn’t Val’s writing getting a huge amount of exposure for a random act of kindness in helping out a new author, which we writers often do?) 🙂

    That the book was so badly covered is too often the fate of many “first-time” novelists in traditional publishing, but the U.S. version was completely off-the-wall.

    The title is probably Rowling’s and may represent the themes of the book, but it’s awkward and vague for any genre. The Cuckoo’s Calling? It doesn’t evoke any subject matter or genre, except maybe mainstream. “Cuckoo” is a dangerous word in a title. A male-protagonist, male author gets a girlish naked back wearing what looks like a Victoria’s Secret satin nightie? Cloud Cuckoo Land on the top half of the cover with a loopy cursive title? Sure, there were pulp detective “dames” on covers who showed skin, but this looks YA, as you said, instead of femme fatale. And the descriptions of the novel are hardly noir or even female.

    I agree that the manufactured military background of the author bio is in bad taste. As an ex-reporter, I know that sort of thing can backfire. It’s like “spinning” a resume into a lie.
    The truth could be veiled. “Galbraith lives in England, and is fascinated by military issues etc. This is his first detective novel.” God knows most first-time authors get skimpy bios. I had
    “CND lives in ______ with her husband” on scads of books.

    At least we all know bad book covers can happen to anyone, and the author knows her reviews are totally based on the book.

  16. RG says:

    The only problem I see with this is she pretended to be a former military vet to burnish Robert’s credentials. That was what bugged me about this whole revelation. Otherwise, I thought of Stephen King and completely got her motivations. I’m a brand new author coming out next year via an indie press. I’m scared because I know how hard the industry is now if you’re not successful, and I’m not a fast writer. Plus, my dream was always to be left alone to create, not to become my own personal marketing department. That’s why I went with an indie press. Respect plus assistance, rather than getting a small advance and demands on my time and probably getting dropped if I don’t perform. Not that anyone offered me the chance. I got lots of ‘it’s not for me’. But I’m not bitter about the industry. I just think it’s sad that there’s no room for people who would be happy to just tell stories. I’d love to make a living being mid-list. I’m not sure that will ever happen, but thank god there’s an indie press industry that will let me try.

  17. It’s sad that a writer as successful as Rowling will never again get to write because she loves writing. Clearly she’s not writing new books for the money. Why whould she? She has more money than she could ever hope to use and still she keeps going. I completely understand why she would prefer to write under a pen name, even if it meant the book not selling that well.
    It’s sad, really, that everything she does have to me a media circus…

  18. I remember seeing Stephen King at the 1981 World Fantasy Con. WFC has a reputation of being a con for professionals (writers and publishing people) and for “serious” fans. But even there, almost every time King showed his face in public, he’d be surrounded by people wanting him to sign books or just get close enough to have some of the King magic rub off on them.

    Kinda creeped me out. I’d love to be a successful* writer, but I don’t think I’d ever want to be a superstar like King or Rowling. “Successful”, yes; “famous”, no, not if the cost is anything like King or Rowling have to put up with.

    *for flexible values of “successful”

    • Sally says:

      I saw him at Worldcon in 1982, and he didn’t get much grief, possibly because he was in disguise/costume some of the time. I still recognized him * (and the badge that said “STEPHEN KING Wherever, Maine” was displayed), but the reaction from me as well as others was “is that…? yep. Hey, nice scary books, dude!”

      *because he was disguised as himself from “Creepshow”… but I know of a few people who thought for that very reason that it COULDN’T be him!

  19. Donna says:

    The trad publisher charged bout $11 for an ebook, and wonder why it didn’t sell more, before it was outed. They are totally out of touch.

  20. Stefon Mears says:

    Kris, what do you think of the author bio Rowling used for Galbraith?

    “After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative 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 Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.”

    Falsely claiming military and investigative experience to pretend to expertise. Isn’t this the kind of thing new writers are warned to stay away from? How would the industry have reacted if Galbraith were a real person without the claimed experience?

  21. Jack C. Nemo says:

    I’d go with chick-lit about a serial cuckoldress.

  22. Great article, shines a light on how the writer always seems to be wrong in traditional publishing.

    Ms. Rowling, come on over to the indie side. You can have all the pen names you want, write what you want, and make loads of money because you know how to write.

    Though as a veteran I don’t like people making up military backgrounds they don’t have, I understand that some people don’t see it as a bad thing — after all, it’s just another made-up character.

    • I think it was a very poor choice. That’s what stood out to me when I discovered it all; I think she got bad advice on this and took it. Since it was her lawyer who outed her, I suspect I know where she got the bad advice. 🙁

      • Sally says:

        I hope the English legal system will disbar that lawyer for failing the most basic bits of lawyering possible. That he has to stand in front of someone who wears a horsehair wig and get all gaveled and offer a public apology to Rowling for not keeping his mouth shut. And to servicepersons in general if indeed the fake military background was his idea (JKR still should have known it was a bad one).

  23. This just makes me sad. I’m no longer surprised by the industry (though I have been surprised by the reaction to JK Rowling’s outing as Galbraith by some readers out there–I guess I haven’t lost all of my naivete just yet), but it makes me sad for her. She could have enjoyed years of relative anonymity, writing in peace, watching her new series grow organically. Now it’s all dashed. She’s back under the spotlight, back to being savaged, back to all the expectations and the media hype, which anyone who has followed her at all over the years knows she detests.

    As a ginormous Harry Potter fan, I am beyond ecstatic to know another book exists in the world that was penned by her hand (despite not loving The Casual Vacancy). The odds were low that I ever would have discovered this book without knowing she’d written it, at least not for years down the road. So in that sense, I’m very, very happy she’s been outed. But for her sake, I wish her secret had been kept, that her wishes had been respected. She’s done so much for the industry, for readers, for kids, for too many charities to name. I am so saddened that the people she trusted could not be bothered to do this one thing for her of keeping her new pen name private as they were legally (never mind morally and ethically) required to do.

  24. Heather Dreith says:

    Thanks for being a trouble maker! Your blog is so interesting even though I’m not a writer. And if it hadn’t been for your free fiction Mondays, I wouldn’t have discovered the Retrieval Artist series. I am loving it and can’t wait to read your other works. Keep it up!

  25. Frank says:

    Kris, You used the perfect word, “contempt”. The contempt that our “betters” in the publishing field hold all of us who don’t live exclusively in their insulated world mirrors the contempt that our “betters” in DC hold the rest of us in flyover country. Humility has gone so out of style that it’s no longer even feigned by those whose livelihood depends on the rubes. The oikophobia displayed by the reviewers once they found out a best selling author wrote the book is a natural result of their general contempt for whatever “ordinary” people like. Just ask anybody what they think of Walmart, and you’ll immediately know what they think of themselves.

  26. Equal parts envy of the talent and sour grapes that the talent declined to fill their coffers yet again. Compare this with how the film industry treats its stars, and I have to agree with you wholeheartedly: on some level these people hate their authors.

    No – I take that back. At least some of them LOATHE their authors with an emotion stronger than hatred, in the way that the smallest of minds detest those that get the adulation and love of millions, rooted in their insecurity.

    Bravo for this commentary, and, of course…sure wish I had her problems! *grin*.

  27. RD Meyer says:

    Great post, Kris. I think the crux of the matter on publishers not nurturing books is that they want two things – blockbusters and instant gratification. They want books that sell well and sell immediately, and they can’t be bothered to bring along a work so that it gains the public’s attention.

    And why? Mostly because they know there are a lot of poor schlubs out there who will fall over themselves for the chance to be noticed by a major publisher. Publishers can afford to have no patience because most writers will elbow their own mother out of the way for the chance to see their stuff in print with the words “Hachette” or “Harper Collins” beneath their name.

    To resolve this, the supply of authors willing to be treated like garage has to dry up.

  28. allynh says:

    I look at John Banville who also writes as Benjamin Black. Banville writes sentence by sentence, Black writes a novel in a few months. Banville writes with pen and paper, Black uses word-processor.

    Charlie Rose has utterly changed his webite so I can’t find individual interviews, but go to minute 37 to start the John Banville interview.

    http://www.charlierose.com/watch/40015096

    What practical way is there to be at a King/Rowling level of success and have multiple pen names without some idiot spilling the beans?

    It seems that no matter how many corporations you set up to bury the actual author name, no matter how many nondisclosure agreements signed, there will be some idiot who has to tell someone such a juicy secret.

    Is it even possible to have secret pen names once you start making millions.

    • Yes, I personally know two megabestsellers who have secret pen names. One has and has had multiple pen names for decades.

      • allynh says:

        When you get the chance you might go into detail about how to set up and maintain multiple secret pen names, or at least point me in the right direction. This is not an idle question, I hope to be a multi secret pen name billionaire. HA!

        How do I have vast success without being outed like King and Rowling.

        • Jacintha says:

          I think the self-pub option should take care of that, or at least make it easier. Maybe you have to also invent and register several different publishing company names?

      • harry says:

        But here we have it, in your own words … and if Rowling truly wanted to do this and keep it secret, she could have.
        This is a fact.
        There are many, many ways for any competent person to achieve this – and the fact this secret came out seems to suggest she allowed it to.
        Nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise.
        No matter who you are, it’s not that difficult to establish a secret identity. And if someone says, “Is this actually you?” I doubt you’d just say, “Ummm, yes.”
        It just doesn’t make sense.

        • You need to read Stephen King’s essays on Bachman to see the answer to that. He writes it, and I think the same thing happened with Rowling. I’m so sorry to see how cynical you are about another writer. It’s quite sad, actually.

          • harry says:

            Firstly, make no mistake, I have great respect for you, your knowledge of the industry is much more than my own, and I appreciate the help you give through your blog.
            Secondly, I have great respect for JK Rowling, she deserves the success she’s earned. She’s written great stories.
            For you to call me cynical for voicing my opinion though, doesn’t seem fair.
            My opinion is based partly on what you’ve said about pseudonyms.
            And that truth is, if someone REALLY wants their identity kept a secret, it’s not that difficult to do so.
            Your husband, someone else I have the utmost respect for, does so quite successfully.
            I’m pretty sure if I guessed who Dean recently wrote that secret novel as, and asked him, he’d say No, you’re wrong.
            Just as Ms Rowling could have if she’d really wanted to.
            As neither of us were actually there, neither of us know for sure what really happened anyway, so I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

            • Fair enough. Good points. I’m seeing so much actual cynicism on this that I’m quite sensitive to it. Remember, neither Dean nor I are in the public eye in the way that Rowling or King were. It’s hard to keep a secret that way, and usually it’s being done with lawyers. The problem here was her lawyer, so her cudgel was ruined from the get-go. Seriously, read the King history on Bachman. You’ll see what I mean.

        • Harry, you appear not to have done much (any?) business. The leak came from an associate in Rowling’s law firm. It would have been INSANE for her to hide her own identity from her legal representatives.

          A lawyer involved apparently didn’t understand his confidentiality obligation, though he was an attorney at a reputable firm, and who apparently couldn’t STAND having a juicy secret. So he told a friend, who also couldn’t stand having a juice secret… And voila.

          These things do happen, alas, and it happened to Rowling. But they’re not SUPPOSED to happen. Generally, there are people you do not lie to if you want HUGE problems down the road, and these include your attorney, your accountant, and the income tax authorities.

          • harry says:

            Laura, that’s actually quite funny.
            Not having a go at you … Just, please check your last sentence.
            You said “Generally, there are people you do not lie to if you want HUGE problems down the road, like your attorney…”
            …if you WANT problems…
            Well, it seems what you’ve written is true.

            As for me never having done any business, the opposite is true. In thirty years of working, I’ve had a normal paid job for less than two years, and worked in my own businesses the rest of the time.
            Then again, they’ve been small businesses that actually produced real stuff or got work done.
            Kris’s assessment of me as cynical was somewhat correct. I’ve done enough business to make cynicism my default position in business, though I try to be equally cynical towards everyone.
            However, it does seem, in most business dealings, the most honest people are the ones actually doing the work, and the least honest are those who stick their noses in later, hoping to do nothing much and taking a share of what’s not theirs to take.
            Agents of all kinds, lawyers, consultants etc. are the worst, in my experience.
            Basically, anyone who’s not actually producing something.

            And you know … just a thought … as Ms Rowling doesn’t need the money, she only needs one trusted friend to be in on the secret identity thing. That person could have it all in their name, deal with publishers, agents, lawyers, accountants, tax people, and whatever else, leaving Ms Rowling to write books.
            And that person’s reward would be whatever money was made. Or the first however much, anything over that going to charity.
            In her shoes, I’d have just done that. And I hope now she will.

            Kris, thank you, I will read the Bachman stuff when I get a chance.

        • Angie says:

          Let’s compare it to home security. It’s widely believed that if a professional burglar really wants to get into your house — no matter who you are, no matter what kind of security you have — they’re going to. And it’s pretty much true. Just as it’s pretty much true that any pseudonym can be broken.

          The question is, does anyone want to break into your house in particular?

          I’ve heard, “If they want to rob you, they will,” used as a reason not to bother with special locks or alarms or anything like that on your house. But that assumes that a professional burglar wants into your house. The fact is, your average house isn’t a particularly attractive target. It doesn’t stand out from its neighbors. Unless you have a bunch of cardboard cartons with logos of expensive electronics gear piled up on your curb, a burglar has no particular reason to want to burgle your house as opposed to your neighbor’s.

          If you have deadbolts on your doors, dowels in your slide windows, and alarm system stickers around, but your neighbor has none of those, and besides has a lot of foliage around their house and no exterior lighting, a burglar who comes by looking for a target of opportunity is going to try which house? Because they won’t expect a particularly large pay-off on one or the other, they’ll go for the least defended target.

          Writers like Dean and Kris (and me) are average houses. There’s no particular reason why anyone would care that much about cracking our pseuds and publishing them to the world. There are some precautions we can take, and if we do then our pseuds are probably safe.

          Rowling is a 50-room mansion with three sportscars in the driveway, millions of dollars worth of electronics and artwork visible through the windows, and people loaded down with jewels walking in and out. She’s a very attractive, high pay-off target, and to a pro burglar her “house” is worth putting in some effort to burgle.

          She took reasonable precautions with her pseud, but it was cracked, bottom line, because someone wanted crack it, her in particular, to get the fame and attention that’d come with outing JK Rowling’s pseud. If Lawyer-guy had told his wife’s friend that he knew one of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s secret pseuds, she’d probably have shrugged and gone on with her day. The public break happened because it was Rowling, a particularly juicy target, if you look at the payment the cracker gets being attention and notoriety, as corresponding to the payment the burglar gets in fenceable valuables.

          Does that make more sense?

          Angie

      • Mmmm — are any of the pen names megabestsellers in their own right — as well as the original names?

        Or only midlist?

        • Yes, a few of those pen names are bestsellers. Not mega-bestsellers, though. Just at the top of the Times list when they release books. But those names grew. Many others by at least one of these authors got discarded when the midlist career for that pen name didn’t work. Fun, isn’t it?

    • allynh says:

      Kris – Yes, I personally know two megabestsellers who have secret pen names. One has and has had multiple pen names for decades.

      HA! I just realized that you meant you & Dean as the examples. The problem is you guys aren’t making hundreds of millions on book sales(yet!), with millions of Rabid Fans(tm) buying/selling fake autographed copies of pen name books on ebay, or having people show up at conventions claiming to be your pen name authors. HA!

      I see Laura’s and Jacintha’s points, and agree that harry hasn’t thought things through. That once you are a mega celebrity any attempt to say, “That’s not me” comes under massive attack by all the chattering masses demanding that they really do know your “secret” and you “better not lie to me.” At that point people refuse to let you have a private life, often camping out on your doorstep until you confess.

      It looks like that if you reach a level of success that requires lawyers, staff, etc…, that you will be outed by people who have no concept that you want to live a perfectly private life despite the level of success of your books. That they can’t separate the success of the books with the quiet life of the author.

      In fact, too many people who are on the “inside” of a secret would feel that you have no right to a private life because their personal status is based on your success, and being the person who has all of the secrets is a massive ego trip for them.

      What we are all facing is the very real fact that many of us will achieve massive success like Amanda Hocking who very publicly went from $14k a year income to millions, will never be allowed to live a private life. The same when King made the mistake of being very public in the beginning, doing the American Express commercials, “Do you know me?” Now he has book tours standing outside the gates of his house in Maine, with no way to stop them.

      I don’t know of any of us who are ready for that level of success. To have to suddenly deal with making tens of millions a year, and the mob of people demanding a piece of you, and your money. Those same people being enraged when you point out that you are still living a quiet life, and how they tell you how they would spend your money if they had it. HA!

      There was an interview of Charlie Rose with Nicolas Berggruen that may point to a way forward, once real money starts coming in. Berggruen put all of his money into a foundation. He essentially works for that foundation.

      Go to about minute 23 to see Nicolas Berggruen
      http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60184201

      Watch Charlie while he interviews Berggruen. Charlie is all status based. He needs to be the guy that talks to billionaires. He cannot comprehend what Berggruen has done, because it threatens Charlie’s status. HA!

      • Um, no. I am not that vain or that clueless about my own standing. I mean bestsellers of King’s and Rowling’s level. I personally know two bestsellers of King’s and Rowling’s level who have pen names of longstanding, writers who have not yet been outed.

        • allynh says:

          Of course, that’s exactly what you would say to cover your & Dean’s mega success. HA!

          Okay, I’m having too much fun with this, but that doesn’t change the fact that we need a plan to be both successful and invisible. How do those two bestselling writers have their success without being outed. Are King and Rowling just a small number that had the bad luck to be outed while others have no problems.

          How do we, who are just starting out, do that. I’ve read Dean’s threads about DBA accounts, etc…, is that the starting point. Is there anything beyond that that we need to know. Curious minds want to know. HA!

          • They did it like Rowling did, with lawyers drawing up the paperwork. One had successful pen names before becoming a megabestseller, and those names, already secret, just continued. The difference between these folks and Rowling is that their lawyers actually did their jobs and kept everything confidential.

          • allynh says:

            It looks like I’ll just have to “gird my loins” and go for it, best I can.

            Trouble is, I’ve checked Amazon for a “gird” and can’t find any available. Plus, the only “loins” I have are in the freezer. I plan on poaching then with scolloped potatoes. Otherwise it sounds like my goose is cooked, in a nice apricot glaze, BTW. HA!

            I’ll let you guys know how things go. But then again, secrets aren’t secrets if more than one person knows. Yikes! Never mind. I wasn’t here.

  29. Sean Black says:

    Very enjoyable post as ever, Kris. I think it’s pretty much nailed on though that David Shelley knew it was Jo Rowling and he was the one who shepherded it through Little Brown per her wishes.

    The sales were very respectable indeed for an unknown debut author, and along with the reviews I think most publishing houses in London would her been quite pleased with the book’s performance. Most people (not you obviously) would be very surprised just how low hardcover sales for a debut actually are.

  30. Great post, Kris. I love the fact that Rowling has made billions. I also love the fact that it hasn’t ruined her love for storytelling!

  31. This really says it all. Thank you so much for the analysis. It clears away all the fog.

  32. I don’t even understand this mentality. I’m glad someone revealed it’s her, because now I have a new series of books to read that I might have otherwise ignored because I don’t read crime novels.

    However, the overall reaction is ridiculous. I don’t understand any of it. Let the woman do what she wants.

    • Kat J. says:

      I agree.

      Though I think she should keep the name, in spite of everything. It is what it is – maybe she can pick up an entirely new audience.

  33. Suzanne Korb says:

    Wow! Thanks for this. Every time I think there can’t possibly be any more diabolical news about traditional publishers, you go and post something completely surprising!

    Also, I agree that the US cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling is a bit naff, but maybe it was a book mainly geared towards British readers. The UK cover is nice. Looks like a proper seedy mystery novel.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cuckoos-Calling-Cormoran-Strike-ebook/dp/B0091LLCTM

  34. Jacintha says:

    I think the UK cover is a great deal better. Gives me more of a hint of the detective genre, mainly.

    The rest is just disturbing. I guess it’s par for the course disturbing, at this point. Thanks to you and Dean again for providing so much guidance for ways not to be smashed by it.

  35. Ilsa says:

    Ah, I’d hoped you weigh in on this and you’re right. I immediately thought of King, too; he made all the same points about the freedom the Bachman pseudonym gave him. What I particularly loved was the way he handled the Bachman fallout, doing what he does best: telling stories about it in THE DARK HALF and SECRET WINDOW, SECRET GARDEN (and a bit about fans and their expectations in MISERY).

    When you’re JK Rowling or Stephen King or Nora Roberts, maybe what constitutes the challenges you set for yourself changes, too. Perhaps what you want is the space to see if the writer in you has what it takes to tell a good story, regardless of brand.

    One thing about the cover, though: I think it’s changed. The original article in the New York Times showed something completely different; that image is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/books/a-detective-storys-famous-author-is-unmasked.html?ref=media

    You have to wonder if, once the story broke, the publisher decided to go for something radically different, with more popular appeal (for the British reading public, and maybe for everyone) or to simply reinvent the thing and start over. I agree: this new cover doesn’t say mystery, but the first one does in a very traditional way. So if I have the sequence down, the book’s initial modest sales aren’t because readers wouldn’t instantly recognize the book as a mystery.

  36. I’ve seen a couple of the blogs you mention and stopped reading around the second paragraph. I’ve also heard a couple of interviews on the radio with publishing “experts”–and found myself turning them off after a couple of minutes, preferring silence to that.

    So I was laughing by the time I got to the end of your essay, Kris, because I am SO USED to the ignorant, idiotic, shortsighted, bullsh*t blame-the-writer attitude in publishing, I didn’t even REGISTER it. I didn’t form CONSCIOUS THOUGHTS about why I was walking out on these “expert” blogs and “expert” interviews about a story that, in fact, I find interesting. (I’m not a HARRY POTTER fan, but I’ve always had tremendous respect for how well Rowling stayed focused on her work while under such a bright spotlight.)

    I think a superstar writer’s reasons for choosing to create under a secret pseudonym are quite understandable–and I wasn’t at all surprised that publishers, agents, etc. DIDN’T GET IT. I didn’t consciously examine my “yep, same-old same-old idiotic bullsh*t from industry bloggers and mouthpieces” reaction when I stopped reading/listening to each of those blogs/inteviews after a couple of minutes. Didn’t need to. I am so wearily ACCUSTOMED to publishers, agents, and most editors not understanding writers, readers, or books, and dismissing and denigrating writers, readers, and books–even though their entire industry and all their salaries and expense-account meals are built on our backs (and, in particular, on the back of someone like Rowling, who made millions (billions?) for that industry–even beyond her own massive sales, Rowling got huge numbers of people into bookstores and developed a generation’s love of reading).

    I’ve written about this in my column a number of times. You and I, and others like us, i.e. WRITERS whose work total strangers spend their hard-earned cash and hard-won free time to read, are the special snowflakes in this equation, yet we’re mostly treated like street garbage.

    It’s the people who’s ming-boggling, tall-building-leaping, unparelleled skils are based on things like making and answering phone calls, attending meetings, opening envelopes, sending and answering emails, and pushing paper who are treated as SPECIAL in the publishing world. They’re IMPORTANT.

    You, me, and–gods help us–JK ROWLING(!)… we’re just those silly, tedius writers they’ve got to put up with as the main drawback to their own IMPORTANCE in the publishing world.

    (As a caveat, I’d like to add the reason I’m so happy at DAW Books is that it’s the first/only house I’ve dealt with in my 25-year career where they -do- where they value writers and books and -do- understand that we are what the industry is built on.)

    • Gael says:

      Indeed. Given the entitlement mentality and the superiority of the Cader set, they probably thought she was being SELFISH “not” to provide them with a JK Rowling windfall when they are all drowning. I can just hear it. “…How dare she do this to us, cheat us out of our money after we’ve done so much for her!” No doubt they think they made her what she is. It’s terrible that they’d do this to her.

    • Ron Collins says:

      Tell us how you really feel, Laura. 🙂

      The equation in the publishing world is really not much different than the equation in any other profession. Leaders/corporate managers are treated as the “special” ones, and designers/contributors are … uh … not. The difference I see most starkly is that it’s relatively rare in the corporate world for contributors to turn on themselves in such catty, public fashions.

    • Frank Dellen says:

      “It’s the people who’s ming-boggling, tall-building-leaping, unparelleled skils are based on things like making and answering phone calls, attending meetings, opening envelopes, sending and answering emails, and pushing paper who are treated as SPECIAL in the publishing world. They’re IMPORTANT.”

      I will steal that and I will use it in a novel.

  37. Just so- Big Pub wants only blockbusters, and yet, is not good at picking them. My eyes were opened years ago at a writer’s conference, when author after author on a panel held up a different best-seller and told how many times it had been rejected before publication- the average was 50! So the much-vaunted gatekeepers can seldom tell when they have a big one on their hands. Yet other writer friends cannot get their acknowledged good books published, because they “won’t sell enough.” Self-fulfilling prophecies from an industry that cannot tell which mess will stick when thrown against a wall- but operates on the luck that some of them will. They’ve become the equivalent of buggy-whip producers facing the advent of automobiles. Their irrelevance is matched only by their frothing author-bashing as their ship sinks. Now the readers decide value, as it should be.

  38. This is a good article, Kris. I’ve always found it interesting when people wonder why a successful writer would put something out under a pseudonym when putting his or her real name on it would make it a guaranteed best seller. I think you hit the nail on the head. But you’re looking at it from the perspective of a writer rather than that of a publisher/agent/accountant whose primary concern is the money the book generates.

    I’m working on a mystery series about a PI, but I’m also working on a sci-fi, techno-thriller that is entirely different in tone, subject matter, complexity, etc. I plan to release the sci-fi book(s) under a pseudonym for a couple of reasons: 1) the sci-fi books are written for a different market than the mysteries; and 2) I don’t want the mysteries to be judged on the same standards as the sci-fi novels.

    But I’m also an unknown writer (currently). Other than my family and a few friends, no one will know or care that Merrill Heath and Louis Merrill are the same person.

  39. Nancy Beck says:

    Unbelievable. Why in heavens name would any writer – especially an uber-famous one – write a book under a pen name for a publicity stunt? The mind boggles.

    Could it be that the writer just wants to be left along and – horror of horrors – write? Nah, couldn’t be that simple. Has to be a conspiracy somewhere in there.

    I thought it was Women’s Fiction, too, or possibly Romance. But the darned thing was selling, and trad publishers thought this was bad thing? Because it wasn’t selling in stellar/outlandish numbers? Oh puh-lease. As you and Dean have said over and over, in this new indie world, you can sell modestly – provided you have enough titles out there – and make a good living.

    That’s something trad publishers will never understand.

  40. Rachel says:

    I always wanted to write whatever I want to write, and around the time Twilight came out I started wondering how I would do that if I had a blockbuster success in one genre before I had a chance to branch out. (Meyer’s sci-fi The Host is my favorite of her books, but it’s the only non-vampire book she’s written, and it seems there won’t be any more.) I’m glad that there’s a way to get around that, but I have a question. How exactly do you create a secret pen name? When you’re a beginning writer, I would guess it’s easy, because no one cares, but when you’re JK Rowling or Mr. King, how do you keep that under your hat? Separate email addresses, obviously, a separate PO box, separate websites, separate agents… do you set up an entire alternate reality career?

    • Sure you can, Rachel. When you’re a big gun, you use all the corporate tricks that big corporations use. As a smaller one, just get a DBA and work that way. As an indie writer, you can easily control what name you’re published under. You can do the same in traditional publishing, if you really need to be secret from everyone. Usually there’s no need, although there obviously was one here.

      • Daniela says:

        Wouldn’t necessarily work in Germany, especially not if you’re an indie writer because German law states that you have to put your name and actual physical address (not a PO Box) in the imprint of the book, on your website, and even of your facebook-author-page.

        With the name you could theoretically use your pen-name if that pen-name is also on your mail-box (linking of course your real name with your pen name). But you still have to use your phyical address, either home address or the office-address if you can afford an office that’s not in your apartment or house.

        Even if you create your own publishing house you would have to mention your name as the owner/CEO in the legal imprint of book and website.

        And if you have a de-domain you can’t privatize your address so that it’s visible for anyone who does a whois-search.

        • Sally says:

          Wow, and Germany gives the USA a bad time about privacy!

          Have any German authors written under a pen name successfully? Seems stacked against people like Rowling who want to try something different, or women like “James Tiptree Jr.” who felt a male pen name would be best.

          • Daniela says:

            Well, in this case the argument seems to be that one shouldn’t make it too hard far lawyers to sue you. Germany and the internet is still a problematic issue. Just recently there was a case where a prominent blogger was harassed and stalked and the main advice given to her was to get off the internet which just wasn’t feasible for her. German officials and politicians still lack awareness and knowledge when it comes to the internet.

            There are several law-blogs who critizise the law that forces you to put an actual address on the website by stating that the right to privacy should out-weight any other consideration.

            Anyway, back to pennames. It’s a relatively open secret that numerous literary writers write pulp-fiction under pennames. Since they are using a publisher the pen-names are closed and people in the business tend to keep quiet about it. Soem others use their agency as a go-between, even for indie-publishing.

            There was a case of an artist (not a writer but an actor and comedian named Atze Schröder) who has created a character and he does his shows as this character. He keeps his real identity very quiet. He sued several news-papers to stop them from printing a picture that showed him without his wig or to print his real name.

            There are numerous German writers who’ve used pen-names: Erich Kästner, Kurt Tucholsky, Hans Joachim Alpers (Fantasy and SF writer and publisher, one of the really big ones in Germany). Mark Brandis (wrote a very successful SF-series) was the pseudonym of Nikolai von Michalewsky. That name stayed a secret for decades. Or course pre-internet days and by using a publisher.

            The probably most well-known German person using a pseudonym though was the German chancellor Willy Brandt who’s real name was Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm.

  41. Linda Adams says:

    As a reader, I’ve noticed the same thing, and it’s just as bad in TV. If it doesn’t get instant success, it’s not worth the time. That’s a shame because it may be a book that takes time to build momentum.

    A few years back, I read a great book that was a mystery set in the art world with a forger. The author was supposed to be having another one coming and sponsored a contest to promote it for a painting. I won the contest. The author was very enthusiastic and was going to get it out by a certain date (the painting was from a 1920s flapper photo of my grandmother). Then was late by about 3 months, and I just got a quick note missing all that enthusiasm. Something had happened. I went back to her site, and the series had been dropped by the publisher. She now was working on a new book under a pen name to try to sell that.

    And I’m finding now, as a reader, that I’ve been disappointed in the best selling authors. They’ve been around for a while, essentially the same book, and the books feel like they’ve run out of steam. These authors are not going to live forever. Vince Flynn just passed on. What are they are going to do when other authors who have been successful quit or die? This may snowball in the future because the publishers haven’t been building their stock like they did in the past.

    • Jason says:

      My father has sworn off James Patterson at least three times, but he keeps going back to that well. He moans about the cookie-cutter simplicity of the stories.

      He’s well aware that there are many other writers, but he’s not adventurous in his choices.

      • Gael says:

        It’s too bad those other writers don’t have short, free things up that readers like your dad could try with little to no investment. Hmm.

      • Sally says:

        James Patterson hasn’t written a book in years. He comes up with basic ideas, then hands them off to others. All of his work is actually done by the people whose names are in much smaller print on the cover of the book. (I do like that he gives them some credit rather than only using them as ghost writers; at least he’s mostly honest about his current hackery.)

        So your dad is actually reading Patterson-esque. He’s completely a brand name now.

  42. Angie says:

    What all the people — including a well known indie pub pundit who should know better — sneering about how she perpetrated a “publicity stunt” to make more money don’t seem to get is that Rowling is one of the richest women in the world. It’s not about money for her, obviously. At this point she could make more money with a good investment counselor than she ever could with anything short of another Harry Potter sequel.

    Jumping over to a completely different genre had to be done out of love, and a deep desire to write that kind of book. If she were really so greedy that her billions aren’t enough, she’d be writing more HP for the rest of her life. Clearly it’s about the writing, not the money.

    Angie

    • Gael says:

      Bravo! Really well said. I totally agree.

      • Beautifully put, I absolutely agree too. Even before they figured out where the leak came from, I was defending her. Why on earth would she want more publicity? She doesn’t need the money. She just wants to write. She tried publishing in a different genre under her name and the whole world trashed the book because it was different from HP. So she tried again with a different name… and look what happened. I feel bad for her.

        M.W

  43. Suzan Harden says:

    I expected BS from agents/publishers/editors over the outing of Galbraith. What pisses me off is the sheer nastiness from other writers saying these things. None of them gets that the poor lady wants to write without the tremendous weight of HP on her shoulders.

    I’ve gotten a couple of bad reviews simply for being an indie writer, but for the love of Murphy! Every single bad review The Cuckoo’s Calling has received on Amazon US alone were posted after Joanne was outed. I frankly don’t blame her one bit for creating Robert Galbraith.

    On my own blog, I laid out who I believe had the most motivation to leak Rowling’s secret identity. Who knows whether I’ve picked the right suspect, but given the gossip-love in this industry, the truth will come out eventually.

  44. Andrea K Host says:

    Rowling wanted an alt identity to produce books judged on their own merit. She’s lost that now. The greatest beneficiary of the outing is her publisher. The person most likely to have outed her: someone from her publisher.

    I wonder if she’ll stay with them past whatever is currently contracted.

  45. Lisa Grace says:

    Huh. The buzz I’m hearing in self publishing circles is totally different.

    No one is blaming the author, but realizing that her agent knew who she was, we deduce so must her publisher.
    They are the ones who “outed” her to increase her sales. The person who outed her originally on Twitter, opened the account, anounced J.K. and Robert G. were the same person, then deleted the account. This is how the agent who passed on her book found out.
    Frankly the sales were slow, and sinking lower. The UK Telegraph announced that less than 500 books had been sold and the previously mentioned numbers exaggerated.
    The publisher had someone “out” her because they knew sales would pick up.
    It’s funny what a different view self-published authors have over the matter.
    The only fault some of us found (here in the USA), is that giving Robert G. fake military credentials is tasteless and some ex-military and their families do take offense (notice Bob Mayer’s comments.)Soldiers have given their lives in service to our country. We have the Stolen Valor Act in place (Obama re-signed the new one in June 2013) to prevent deception.

    • Heavens, no. The agent had to agree to this up front, so he had no need to “goose” sales. He knows how the traditional business works, which is much slower. And no, they didn’t need to know it was her, since she has several corporations and could have signed the contract through a corporate identity that is not tied to her Potter series. It’s quite possible to work with traditional publishing, and no one in the publishing house knows what the author’s real identity is.

  46. Dafaolta says:

    it’s a shame she wasn’t able to keep this under her hat. I blame part of it on the fact that so many Potterites are still suffering withdrawal from the series, hungry for anything with her name on it. If she could have started Gaibraith while HP was still running, she might have been able to hold onto her alternate identity a little longer at least.

    The publishing industry isn’t the only group who should be rallying to her defense (not that she should actually need to be defended). The entire YA/Paranormal industry should be genuflecting and kissing her feet. All those girls who came of age graduating from HP to Twilight/Vampire Academy/Blue Bloods pumped a LOT of money into the pockets of Industrial Publishing too. And the early ones moved up to Vampire Diaries and True Blood, both on paper and on screen.

    If I were her, I’d keep going with Gailbraith so long as she had books to sell, but I’d look at starting another name along with it and her own. I’d definitely take that new name and self-publish it. I’d have someone I trusted build an identity online that would include a look I could faux over Skype and pretend to be a recluse. But that’s just me.

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