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JUL
14
9 MOS

J.K. Rowling's Secret Novel: 4 Fun Things to Know

From the hidden meaning of her pen name to skyrocketing sales to the mystery of who leaked her identity, all you need to know about "Cuckoo's Calling."

TELEVISION: J.K. Rowling
The news that Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling had secretly published the crime novel Cuckoo's Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith caught the world by surprise. 
 
Fans rushed to buy the book, sending it skyrocketing to the top of Amazon's sales charts from somewhere around no. 166,000 on its ranking of book sales.
 
Bookstores that had ordered what they thought was the debut novel from a retired British army officer reported selling out of the few copies they had on hand. 
 
More about this story will unfold over the next few days and weeks, but here are four fun facts about the story so far:
 
1. J.K. Rowling is a good writer.
Harry Potter fans did not need convincing about this, but the reviews for Casual Vacancy, her first adult novel, were mixed when it first came out. 
 
In hindsight, it's clear that some of that had to do with the expectations and hype surrounding one of the world's beloved children's authors making the transition to a new genre. 
 
Treated like any other unknown first-time novelist, the reviews for Cuckoo's Calling were very positive.
 
Publisher's Weekly, in a featured starred review, said the story combined a "complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime" to produce a "stellar debut" that would have readers hoping "to see a lot more of this memorable sleuthing team" in the future.
 
Library Journal named it "mystery debut of the month." The review called it "totally engrossing" and "grand beach read."
 
Best-selling crime novelist Val McDermid blurbed the book (it is not clear if McDermid was in on the deception): "The Cuckoo's Calling reminds me of why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place."
 
2. She's got a sense of humor. 
Robert Galbraith isn't just a random pen name. Loosely translated it means "famous stranger."
 
"Robert" is derived from old Germanic, meaning "bright fame," and "Galbraith" is a Scottish clan (Rowling lives outside Edinburgh, Scotland) whose name comes from the ancient Gaelic word for "British foreigner."
 
Clearly, the title was a winking clue that slipped by most readers and journalists. As the British would say: "Cheeky fun, Jo. Cheeky." 
 
3. It's a tough market for unknown authors, but Brand Rowling is gold. 
Before The Sunday Times of London outed Rowling, Cuckoo's Calling had sold perhaps a few thousand copies in both hardcover and e-book editions -- and that's with good reviews.
 
Those sales are not bad for a debut novel by an unknown writer but not enough to sustain full-time writing as one's primary job (at the high end it might be $5,000 in royalties). Being a writer is a tough way to make a living.
 
On the other hand, post-revelation sales underscore the power of Rowling's brand in the marketplace. The book went to No. 1 on Amazon. Casual Vacancy sold about 1.5 million copies (hardcover and e-book) in 2012 and was the best-selling hardcover of the year. Expect Cuckoo's Calling to sell in that range this year. 
 
4. Publishing's secret has given way to publishing's biggest whodunit. 
Rowling's identity was very carefully concealed. The book published April 30 to little fanfare but good reviews. Rowling said she enjoyed the anonymity and the chance to be judged on the quality of her work, without preconceptions of Harry Potter complicating reader's opinions.
 
Before this weekend, there had been almost no rumblings connecting Rowling and the novel. Indeed, Rowling said, "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name." 
 
The Sunday Times of London broke the story when one of its columnists, India Knight, tweeted on July 10 that she was enjoying the novel.
 

Someone tweeted back that the novel was written by Rowling.

The star columnist asked how the tweeter knew Galbraith's identity. "I just do," responded the tweeter.


And this:

The original tweets have been deleted, but the information was enough to send the Times arts editor Richard Brooks hunting for clues.

He quickly noticed that Galbraith shared the same high-profile agent and editor as Rowling, which was a puzzling coup for a debut novelist.

He confronted Rowling's team with his evidence, and they admitted she was Galbraith.

The New York Times says the entire Twitter account of the leaker has been deleted.

But businessinsider.com believes (from the responses above) that the leaker goes by the twitter handle @judecallegari.

That account is still active. It has only a few dozen followers but has been in use for about two years. A quick scan of the Twitter feed does not suggest an obvious link to Rowling or her publisher.

Now the secret is out, and the big mysteries are: Who leaked the news, and who is Jude Callegari?

The circle of people who knew Galbraith's real identity was probably very small. Rowling's agent, Neil Blair, and her editor at Little, Brown, David Shelley, knew.

Beyond that, the circle probably included a few people in Blair's office and a few at Little, Brown. Rowling said she had hoped her identity would have remained secret for longer so it doesn't appear right now that she orchestrated the leak. But a tweet to @judecallegari for comment has gone unanswered.

So for the foreseeable future, the No. 1 parlor game in publishing will be trying to guess the identity of the Cuckoo's Calling leaker.