Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who Outed Mystery Writer Robert Galbraith?

Much of what I'm about to talk about I already said in a comment at The Passive Voice. But here's the facts we do know.

1) Mulholland Books, a line at Little, Brown, & Company, released The Cuckoo's Calling in April of 2013 by a supposed debut mystery writer Robert Galbraith. According to ABC News, approximately 1500 copies of the hardcover book purchased between its release and July 14, 2013. It had several glowing reviews at this point.

Note: These numbers are not shabby for a debut hardcover.

2) On Friday, July 14, 2013, an employee at the Sunday Times London office received a Twitter tip that Galbraith was in fact famed Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. She passed the tip to editor Richard Brooks who started digging into Galbraith's publishing history. Meanwhile, the anonymous tweeter deleted his/her tweets and account from Twitter.

3) After discovering that Galbraith and Rowling shared the same agent, publishing house and editor, Brooks sent copies of The Cuckoo's Calling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Casual Vacancy to two language experts.

4) When both linguists confirmed that there was a strong possibility that the same person wrote all three novels, Brooks e-mailed Rowling Friday night and asked her point-blank if she was Galbraith. On Saturday, a spokesperson for Rowling confirmed the truth, and Rowling subsequently issued a statement.

5) The Cuckoo's Calling shot to number one on Amazon by Saturday afternoon, and hardcovers in the U.K. had sold out.

The big question for a lot of people is why would a international sensation like Rowling hide her identity when her name alone would guarantee millions in sales.

Frankly, I think it comes from two things.

The first is basic writer insecurity. It doesn't matter if we're one of the richest people in the world. There's a little voice at the back of our heads whispering, "You got lucky. You're really an untalented hack."

The second problem comes from writing in a different genre. Readers, and in a lot of cases publishers, expect you to write the same thing over and over and over again. Heaven forbid if you try something new to stretch yourself.

In Rowling's case, there's a third problem. She's judged negatively simply for being successful. If you read some of the blogs, comments or reviews, there's a huge amount of hate being spread around along with accusations of her lying or trying to trick readers. All of the 1-star reviews posted on Amazon US were posted AFTER the news broke.

I know this will be the unpopular position, but frankly, I feel sorry for Joanne. No matter what she does, it’ll be roundly criticized.

- She writes another children’s novel? It’s not Harry Potter.
- She writes another Harry Potter? She’s milking the cash cow.
- She writes an adult book? She’s just taking advantage of her fame.

Many of the WRITERS criticizing her are the same ones who proclaim, “If I couldn’t write, I would just DIE. I HAVE to write!” Put yourself in her shoes. Nearly every writer wants to be read. All of us know what it’s like getting bad review, but what do you do when people hate on you just for existing? In her case, it’s more than the ex or the crazy aunt or the jealous friends, so I totally understand the fake persona.

So the question becomes who was Richard Brooks's Deep Tweet?

Given the circumstances and Ms. Rowling's very sad public statement, I sincerely doubt it was her. She gotten to the point in her career that she doesn't need the money. In fact, she gives away millions to charities every year. What she wants most after the trashing she received over Casual Vacancy is the validation that she is a good writer. She had a vested interest in keeping her identity secret as long as possible. It gives her the opportunity to write what she wanted without fear of extreme repercussions.

So was someone close to her responsible? A desperate attempt to hurt her? It happened to Stephenie Meyer when a beta reader leaked an early draft of Midnight Sun. People can exhibit very odd behavior if they do not believe they are getting the attention, commendations, or rewards for their support of the star. But the only known problems within her family are the estrangement with her father. And if she's not talking to Dad, she'd definitely NOT going to let him know that she has a new book coming out under a pseudonym.

And that thought leads me to who has the most to lose if The Cuckoo's Calling is not more than a moderate success. Fifteen percent of a million dollars is a hell of a lot of money. Fifteen percent a billion even better, but would her agent stab her in the back and thereby risk getting fired? Especially since he's producing a BBC series based on Casual Vacancy? Neil Blair doesn't strike as that stupid.

Which bring me to her publisher. Little, Brown & Company is a subsidiary of Hatchette Group, which in itself is owned by Hatchette Livre, the largest publisher in France and currently the second largest publisher in the world. Hatchette is also one of the big five publishers accused of colluding with Apple. Hatchette and the other four publishers settled with the U.S. government. Apple went to trial and lost. And that doesn't even touch the E.U.'s investigation into the matter.

In addition to the millions Hatchette will have cough up for the U.S. settlement, they haven't really had a major book hit since Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Out of all of Rowling business associates, they have the motive to "leak" the news that Rowling is Galbraith.

I have a very strong suspicion that Brooks's Deep Tweet is an employee at Hatchette. Eventually, the truth will come out. The publishing industry likes to gossip too much for it not to.

Note: And I was totally wrong! The lawyer did it! Chris Gossage, a partner at the British law firm Russells, told his wife, who then told her best friend Judith Callegari. Callegari sent the tweet, but Gossage may have just ruined his firm's reputation. Who's going to trust a lawyer who can't keep his mouth shut?


  1. What you said about Rowling being in a lousy spot. [nod] I've been saying for years that she'd be stuck once Harry Potter was done, for the exact reasons you stated. A different fantasy would be criticized for not being HP, or would be snarked for being too much like HP if people who love showing how superior they are could find a few points of similarity. If she wrote another HP after saying she wouldn't, she'd get snarked for breaking her word, and the same people above would say it proved she was a one trick pony who couldn't do anything except HP. And moving to something completely different would get people on her ass about that, because her fans want HP and millions of people will want to punish her for not feeding their habit.

    It reminds me of how some of the big name romance writers have been snarked and dissed and subjected to torrents of offended outrage for the heinous crime of changing SUBgenres in the past. Betraying her fans! Disrespecting her readers!! Oh noes! God forbid a writer should just want to move on and try something new.

    Rowling gets all of it in spades, because, as you said, her fame and wealth makes that many more people hate her, just because they think it makes them look cool to hate on anything "the masses" like.

    I don't blame her for writing under a pseud. If she can't trust her publisher (and I wouldn't put it past her agent either, if he thinks she'd never find out it was him) then she should indie pub. Do most of it herself, get editing and cover services through a dummy e-mail account, and there you go, nobody knows. She could write and publish and build up a mystery fan base as just herself, rather than having to be Megastar JK Rowling.


    1. Part of the reason I don't think it's Rowling's agent is because he made sure she kept her subrights (like movies, e-books, etc.), and he has done a bang up job helping her to exploit them. She's making a lot more money through those avenues than the initial HP books, therefore so is he. The income from the latest book is a drop in the bucket by comparison. Would he throw away ten of millions for the couple of hundred thousand he'd earn by outing Rowling as Galbraith? I doubt it, but people HAVE done stupider things.

      As for Rowling self-publishing, it won't happen. I think it goes back to the mentality of most writers contracted in the '90's and '00's--"I just want to write. Someone else can take care of the business."

      But hey, I'm not in her position, and most writers think my business plan of slow, controlled growth is a pile of dog poop.

  2. If it works in the UK the way it works here, her agent would still be making his 15% of her torrential income, because he'd still be the agent of record on those deals, even if she fired him. It might therefore be worth it to him.

    Granted this is all academic now that we know it wasn't him, but still. :)

    With Rowling's money, she could hire someone to handle her editing/covers/formatting/uploading for her, if she "just" wants to write. Have to be absolutely sure she trusted them, though, after this mess. :P


  3. Angie, the agent will be getting much more than 15% since he's the executive producer of the Casual Vacancy TV show. And it sounds like there were plans to build the Galbraith mystery series into a multi-media juggernaut as well.

    As you say though, it's all academic when the leak was someone poor Joanne had never met.

    Would she do better as an indie publisher? Probably, but for a lot of top-selling writers it's hard to justify leaving your trad publisher when they are treating you so well.