Have you ever heard of Robert Galbraith? Chances are that unless you were among a very small niche of crime-novel-readers, you would never have come across the name before. Galbraith is the author of a detective novel entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was published in April 2013 to great reviews but very little fanfare. He quickly became the subject of headlines all over the world; however, on July 13th, 2013, when the British newspaper The Telegraph revealed that Robert Galbraith is actually a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series. Wrapping up a story filled with as much intrigue and mystery as a novel in itself, Rowling admitted to having written the book in a public statement released soon after the news broke. But what was the reasoning behind all the secrecy, and what will the novel’s future hold now that its true creator has been revealed?
While movie stars and other celebrities are often the subjects of public scrutiny, there are few (if any) authors who have gained the same level of fame as J.K. Rowling. The author, who began writing the Harry Potter series in 1990, finally finished her novels about the boy wizard in 2007. The books became some of the bestselling novels in history around the world. Taking some time out of the spotlight to focus on raising her family after publishing her seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling admitted to fans via outlets like Twitter that she was still writing new books. At the time, she refused to divulge too much information about what she was working on, or when her next novel would hit the shelves.
In early 2012, Rowling made headlines when she announced the release date for her first non-Potter book. The Casual Vacancy, an adult novel that focused on a set of dysfunctional characters living in a small town, was published in September 2012 to a very mixed response. While many reviewers lauded the book for its exceptional character development, others complained that it was too contrived. The reaction from Rowling’s fans was just as mixed. Those who decided to read the book because they liked the idea of the premise were generally impressed, but many of the author’s devotees picked it up purely based on her name and expected something similar to the Harry Potter novels. With its graphic scenes of sex, drug use, and violence, The Casual Vacancy was far from what many readers were seeking, and several reader reviews complained that the book was too dark.
Standing behind her book—and freely admitting that it was a considerable departure from the magical world of wizards and Quidditch—Rowling completed the required press tours to promote her new novel. She claimed that the negative reviews didn’t faze her because she had written the story she wanted to tell. The Casual Vacancy was still highly successful financially and topped the bestsellers’ lists for several weeks. After the promotions for her new book were done, Rowling stepped out of the spotlight once again.
When The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was published in April 2013, no one suspected Rowling’s involvement. The book jacket for the detective novel claimed that its writer was a former member of Britain’s Royal Military Police who worked in civilian security. While it was freely admitted that the name was a pseudonym, there were initially no hints that it was Rowling who had written the novel. The new book garnered rave reviews, and the “new” author was heralded for writing such a gripping debut novel. Beyond the reviews in professional publications, several consumer reviews on Amazon.com noted that they expected it to be revealed that the author was actually someone famous because the book was “too good” to have been written by a first-time writer. Meanwhile, despite its positive reviews, the novel didn’t make too big of a splash. It sold only 1500 copies in the U.K. before its true author was revealed and was on its way to fading into obscurity.
When The Telegraph broke the news that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling, the revelation was immediately met with speculation bordering on denial from the legions of the author’s devotees. After The Casual Vacancy had so much buildup, could there really be a new Rowling novel on the market without anyone knowing about it? The story of how the secret was kept was actually quite the mystery tale in itself. While Rowling had used the same publisher she had worked with on her last book, no one on the team for The Cuckoo’s Calling realized who its author was except the editor, David Shelley, and a small group of people close to Rowling.
After the news broke, Rowling was forced to “come clean,” and she did so via a public statement released to both the media and her Twitter followers. Considering how much sway her name has for fans and critics alike, it is certainly understandable why Rowling chose to remain anonymous, if only for a little while.
Now that the secret of Robert Galbraith has been revealed, the book is no longer the obscure niche novel that it once was. Within hours of the news coming out, it had already moved to the top of the Amazon.com bestsellers list. Now, it seems, Galbraith’s book is getting the attention its original reviewers claimed it deserved in the first place. Rowling is no longer able to stay in the shadows, but she says she will continue to write more books about the novel’s main character, Cormoran Strike, under the pen name. She concluded her statement, however, by quipping that “[Galbraith] will probably continue to turn down personal appearances.”