Those of us in the “Harry Potter generation” understand what it’s like to wait for a novel. We’ve counted down months, weeks, days, and even minutes as midnight on “release day” approached. While I came late to Harry Potter (after Goblet of Fire was already released), I remember waiting, often impatiently, for Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and especially Deathly Hallows.
Even with The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling revealed in February 2012 that she was working on a new novel, but provided few details about it, other than that it would be very different from Harry Potter. Then, in April, we learned the title. Then, in July, the cover was revealed, and so on. Hype was most certainly built for The Casual Vacancy, and Rowling fans the world over waited with feverish anticipation to get her new book in their hands—which is why July 13th, 2013 was such a strange day for many of us.
On July 13th, it was revealed that Robert Galbraith, author of crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, was actually a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. Mind you, The Cuckoo’s Calling was released in April of this year, which meant that there was no waiting involved to get our hands on the novel: only the few seconds it takes to download the ebook for your Kindle or Nook, or the few minutes (or hours as it would have taken me at the time) to drive to the closest bookstore.
At the time that the news broke, I was with some college friends that I hadn’t seen in a while, and it would have been rude to drop my conversations with them to drive to a bookstore or download the ebook and start reading. In fact, as I planted my face in front of my smart phone and tried to keep up with everyone on my Twitter feed while they freaked out about the news, I felt as though that even bordered on rude.
Now a week later, we know much more about how the pseudonym was leaked than we did then—and the implications involved with such a leak. At least, we can report with more certainty now, rather than give speculation. I do, however, want to give some speculation first.
Why would Rowling write under a pseudonym in the first place?
J.K. Rowling is the author of Harry Potter, the best selling book series in history. Rowling is a household name the world over. Even those who haven’t read Harry Potter have at least heard of her—and if they don’t know the name “Rowling”, they do know the name “Harry Potter”. My point is this: Rowling’s name on the cover guarantees book sales. The statement “Author of the Best-Selling Harry Potter Series” on the cover guarantees even more sales. Why would J.K. Rowling not want that?
For several reasons, really. Rowling doesn’t need the sales, because she doesn’t need the money. She may have needed money once, as a single mother living in a small flat (a story that has been retold and embellished beyond count), but now, she is giving money away to charity. However, a better reason, I think, for using a pseudonym is that she can see how her book sells by its own merit, rather than by her name or Harry’s. Anyone who writes a review of a book with Rowling’s name on it is going to write the review in that context and compare it with her previous novels. Writing under a pseudonym means, once again, that reviews will be written on the merit of the book alone. Both great reasons to use a pen name, I think.
In fact, Rowling said this in a statement on her website following the revelation of her pseudonym:
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.
Would The Casual Vacancy have sold under a pseudonym?
There’s no question that The Casual Vacancy would not have sold nearly as well as it did. However, after Rowling was revealed to be Robert Galbraith, reports the next day stated that there was at least one publisher who turned the book down, meaning that Rowling did some “publisher shopping” before returning to Little, Brown, and Company, which published The Casual Vacancy.
I said in a previous article that The Casual Vacancy didn’t hook me from the first chapter, and I still have not completed it. However, I have started reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, and it has done a better job of “hooking” me. I don’t doubt that a publisher would have picked up The Casual Vacancy eventually, but it would have remained relatively unknown, just as The Cuckoo’s Calling did until last Saturday. I also certainly do not think that the BBC would have decided to make it into a series, as it has done.
What does the pseudonym Robert Galbraith mean, if anything?
I have to credit my friend Olivia who pointed this out on Twitter, though she didn’t say whether she discovered this on her own or read it somewhere. I am inclined to say that she searched for clues on her own.
Robert: From the Germanic name Hrodebert meaning “bright fame”, derived from the Germanic elements hrod “fame” and beraht “bright”.
[Galbraith]: One of the Galbraith coat of arms is a boar with a muzzle on.  Bright fame who can’t speak out?
This article states that “Galbraith” is a Scottish clan whose name comes from the Gaelic word for “British foreigner” and also states that the name Robert Galbraith loosely translates to “famous stranger”.
Leave it to J.K. Rowling to have a meaning behind everything she writes, even (and especially) a pseudonym.
Can we expect to read more books by Robert Galbraith?
Yes! Rowling confirmed in the same statement on her website that Robert intends to write a series of crime novels surrounding the main character Cormoran Strike:
And to those who have asked for a sequel, Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances.
In a similar statement on Robert Galbraith’s website, which was set up (along with an accompanying Twitter account, @_rgalbraith) on July 18th following the revelation, Rowling states in the FAQs section:
I intend to keep writing the series as Robert. I’ve just finished the sequel and we expect it to be published next year.
How was the pseudonym discovered? Who leaked the discovery?
Considering that it states directly in the “biography” section of the book that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym, that provides the very first clue:
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.
What does this mean for supply-and-demand at bookstores?
Considering that before the pseudonym was leaked, only 1,500 copies had been sold in the U.K. (with no report on how many had been sold in the U.S.), it is likely there weren’t many copies printed for the first-run publication. Shortly after the leak, Amazon.com was “temporarily out of stock“, but now their status has thankfully changed to “in stock but may require an extra 1-2 days to process”.
Another change to Amazon.com is listing J.K. Rowling as the author alongside Robert Galbraith.
For the second run, there will be 300,000 printed, which should help supply the demand.
What do the covers look like for the US and UK editions?
Take a gander below! I personally prefer the UK edition.
Which cover do you prefer? Do you think that The Casual Vacancy would have sold well under a pseudonym? Share your thoughts in the comments.