As you many have heard the big news in writing in the last week is that male debut writer Robert Galbraith has been… lets say outed as the female and decidedly not debut writer J.K. Rowling. The full story can be found on BBC and I recommend you read it.
It’s an interesting story because it does show fairly graphically the problems faced by a new author and the power of branding. Depending on which source you read, in the time between launch in April and the Outing the book had sold somewhere between five or fifteen hundred copies in I believe hardback. Which, lets be honest is not that impressive a number. Even if we assume the writer got a pound for every copy sold (which she certainly did not) that’s not going to yield anything close to a living wage, especially if we consider that under the old school book-are-sold-in-bookshops model that a titles first few months are the make or break. After that it it will be sent back to make room for the next new release. Even in the new world of electronic publishing as I have experienced it, the first couple of months are the best you’re ever going to get for title.
It’s worth dwelling on the following facts.
- This book was written by someone who can clearly string words together.
- But stripped of the ‘Big Name’ was turned down by at least one editor and probably others (doubt many will admit to it though)
- This is a book which has made it past the Gatekeepers.
- So by conventional publishing logical that means it is ‘good’
- It has received all the support traditional publishing can offer in terms of editing, cover art, etc
- Has received good reviews from fellow writers in the genre
- Still hasn’t sold very well
- At least not until ‘The Big Name’ is revealed.
Probably more by accident than design J.K. Rowling has offered us a really interesting live demonstration on the limitations of traditional publishing and the power of a writers Brand. Traditional publishing could sell very few Robert Galbraith books, J.K. Rowling on the strength of her name alone could sell them by the shed load.