Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous

When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and appeared in bookstores in April 2013.

The book sold reasonably well for a first-time, unknown author. By midsummer, the sales number for the print book had reached about 1,500, and another 7,000 had gone to ebook and audiobook buyers. The book had received some reviews, mostly positive. The author was anonymous, the name Robert Galbraith being identified as a pseudonym on the book jacket.

But as with any anonymous author who debuts with a well-written book, questions arose and rumors floated.

It did not take long for the identity of the author to come to light. It was J.K. Rowling, one of the most famous and well-read authors of this generation.

The Sunday Times of London had used a couple of professors with software programs to try to sniff out the real author, but before their efforts came to fruition, they got a tip from a Twitter entry by a friend of the wife of a lawyer in a firm that worked for Rowling. The firm has apologized and made a $1,400 contribution to a charity designated by Rowling.

Rowling had hoped to publish at least three C.B. Strike novels before revealing her identity. That plan turned out to be far too optimistic. Her name was too well known and the means of finding secret information too pervasive for that to have worked.

There’s no particular moral to this story — except that an author’s identity will almost inevitably be revealed, no matter what.

Previous discussions about anonymous or pseudonymous authors have included such as

Louisa May Alcott, stealth novelist of the blood and thunder genre

Becoming George Eliot (part 1): The progress of Mary Anne Evans

Joe Klein:Don vs. Joe: the fight over Anonymous

A description of Artemus Ward for the caricaturist

Fanny Burney: paving the way for Jane Austen and the Brontes

Except for Ward, each of these authors tried to keep their identities secret, and each was eventually found out. At least for Alcott, the discovery of her secret authorship was not made until decades after her death.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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