Cuckoo’s the right word.


We read a lot of UK news around here, so no surprise yesterday when The Sunday Times outted JK Rowling as new author “Robert Galbraith,” whose debut detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling went on sale in April.

It seems likely the publishing house was counting on Rowling being outted by an astute reviewer on day 1. Given the author was represented by JK Rowling’s agent, and the book was published by JK Rowling’s publisher and worked on by JK Rowling’s editor, then this first time, unknown author was hyped through the roof — even though this author makes no personal appearances, it’s hard to imagine no reviewer would connect the dots. But they didn’t.

Failing a reviewer discovery, the publisher probably assumed some reader would pick up on the true author’s identity in the early weeks. After all, there was Robert Galbraith’s the over-the-top backstory (typical of Harry Potter). The lead detective’s had a truly Potter-worthy name: Cormoran Strike (a take off on the Cormorant Strike military exercises). All of Rowling’s usual tropes –Latin, drug use, loathing of the middle class — were there. And, best for last, the completely Harry Potter style cover

But again, no reader caught on.

The problem with all this publisher-author strategizing was, of course, they forgot that people just want to read a good book. The reviewers and the public were willing to give a new author a chance. They were willing to extended the author and the publishing house trust. In return, both the author and the publisher had to accept the results — lackluster — at least for 90 days.

It’s understandable that a famous author wants to see if he/she really has star quality writing ability or if their first huge success was an unrepeatable one off. But actually trying to find out by writing a book under another name? That is a writer deeply insecure about her talent and / or ambivalent about her earlier success. That’s an author who needs therapy.

It’s also understandable that while publishers may believe in an author and his/her work (even when they veer off their previous genre), they do have to cave in to the weird demands of very famous authors now and then. This book, no doubt, represents such a case. But, publishers spend a lot of money producing a book. Like it or not, they need a book to make its production/advertising expenses back — and then some — to stay in business.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released April 30. Until yesterday, it had sold only 1400 copies (500 by some stats) and had mixed reviews. That’s just not good enough for a publishing house, especially as July 31st is coming up fast. After 3 months, the window starts closing fast on “new book” sales. A new book is fading out of public view. It’s got all the hype it’s going to get. Sales start going down hill fast unless there is genuine reader buzz.

Most publishers hope to make the bulk of their sales on a book by month 3. If there’s reader enthusiasm — a lot of word of mouth — by month 3 a book might start generating more sales than when it was initially released. These extended sales are great because it means an author can be built up. New books in the series are generally then ordered.

However, since sales weren’t very good and reviews mixed, Cuckoo wasn’t going any place fast, ie, a net loss for a publisher. This is not to say it was a bad book, but realistically as a book by a first time, unknown author, it wasn’t doing even ok as regards sales. People kind of liked it, but they weren’t spreading the word. Low book sales mean no request for further books in the series. Very likely, author and publisher would have parted ways.

But Cuckoo wasn’t by a true unknown, a first-time author, and the publisher had an out — doubtless one which Rowling had agreed to readily because she’d tried to flog it to other publishers and they all rejected it as not good enough. So she ended up back at her own publisher. The discussion probably went something like this: If Cuckoo’s sales don’t start to seriously uptick after the first 60 days, there will be an “anonymous” tip sent out hinting that JK Rowling is the book’s real author. And this is what happened.

One of The Sunday Times‘ columnists, India Knight, received an anonymous tip on Twitter saying the novel was actually by Rowling. The Tweeter’s account was then immediately deleted. This tip was followed up on, and confirmed, and . . . voila, sales rocketed the following day.

It’s almost certain the publisher, who wanted to make serious money from Cuckoo, is the “anonymous” source. Since the clueless reviewers/public didn’t figure out this book was actually the work of a “famous” writer, someone had to tell them — and get Rowling’s huge fan base out buying. And it needed to happen in the first 3 months, by July 31st. Why? Can you say “Annual Report,” “Fiscal Year,” or “Stock Dividends”?

There’s nothing illegal about any of this, but it’s all a bit silly and demeaning for an author of JK Rowling’s stature. And as for the publisher, well, a corporation does what corporations do to protect their bottom line and their brands. JK Rowling is a brand. A brand can’t put out a bad product (in this case a book). This is especially true as her first novel for adults Casual Vacancy wasn’t that well received. And by not well received, we mean didn’t go as big as Harry Potter. It was still a 3 out of 5 book that made huge sales.

JK Rowling herself seems to indicate complicity in the whole Cuckoo scheme. “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer,” she said. Clearly, she’d expected her true identity to be revealed, just not within 90 days. She perhaps hoped her book would get great buzz and sell magnificently on its own. At the same time, she seemed to accept that her publisher would exercise its option to out her and make serious money off this book (and any future series’ books), if it didn’t. This “revelation” protects Rowling’s brand and makes her a lot of money.

Should all this reflect badly on Rowling? Truthfully, publishing contracts probably make it extremely difficult for her to self-publish a book under another name and let the work stand on its own. If that was something she wanted to do. Was it? Maybe. One of the things Rowling said, in remarking on Cuckoo, was that she didn’t want to get a lot of hateful reviews again just because she was famous. In other words, she felt Casual Vacancy had been attacked unjustly because of her fame.

Ultimately, it’s readers who decide a book’s fate. If a book is not well received, that’s life. Authors must accept that. They can’t assign blame to the readers. Overall, the number of haters doesn’t outweigh the number of actual open-minded readers. A wildly successful, established author shouldn’t need to hide under various nom de plumes in a desperate desire to get what they believe is an authentic review.

If you are a famous author and you are publishing another book, in another genre, under another name, in order to get a good review because you believe people are out to get you and, apparently, any review that’s negative is from a hater and therefore inauthentic . . . well, that’s just a bit sad and rather paranoid sounding. But, that’s apparently what’s going on here from what the author herself has said.

This is why therapy is a good idea. JK Rowling is a good author. But she can’t own her own talent or fame. Authors have to own their writing, own the fact there are haters out there, and own the fact that they will never be liked by everybody. That’s the only way to have a sane life. If you can only stand to hear good things about your writing because you don’t fully believe in in your work — stop writing.

Rowling told the Times, “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.”

That really comes off as complete twaddle. The Cuckoo was totally hyped by the publishing house in a way no first-time unknown author’s book would be. And there were certainly expectations — by the publishing house, if not the author — that the book would sell and sell well. As for feedback? Apparently the mixed reviews of Cuckoo were expected — only this time she believed them. But those reviews still weren’t good enough to move the book, so her publisher outted her.

Translation: The book didn’t sell on the strength of the writing. It was an ok read but nothing so fantastic readers want to tell everyone it’s a can’t-put-down must-read. It was never going to be a best seller. However, sometimes audiences grow, especially over a few books in a series. Publishers often nurture new writers and allow time for this extended strategy to play out.

It’s sad that Rowling has no faith in the reading public. But her books do tend to reflect a pessimistic, even negative, outlook on people and life. What’s sadder still is that Rowling’s publisher didn’t have enough faith in her new book to let it run its course and allow it (and any future books of this series) to develop a following naturally.

One can only assume the publishers didn’t believe in Galbraith’s writing, or lost faith too soon when sales fell off, or, more realistically, that this is just everything going to (backup) plan: Let famous author do this, and 60 days in (if it’s not selling) reveal and make a killing. Win-win. Except for the readers who were duped.

Readers of Cuckoo were cuckolded. And it’s doubtful that title joke, played on the readers by Rowling (and her duplicitous publisher), was unintended. That Rowling still wonders why people write hateful reviews, especially after something like this, now there’s a mystery!

*For the record, Stephen King’s alter ego had no problem moving books — for years. We like JK Rowling and her books (the Potter series) a lot, but at some point an author has to accept books don’t sell well because of the writing, not the readers.*


Today is World Press Freedom Day, Hug a Journalist!

Freedom of the Press isn’t Free.

Journalists die for it.

Almost Every Day.


If you live in a country where freedom of the press is taken for granted and the only time you really think about journalists is when there’s a “John King screws up” moment and you hear about it from Jon Stewart on late night tv, lucky you!

So far this year journalists/media workers have been killed at a rate of approx 1.5 a week this year.  If you’d like to hear from the reporters themselves (most working in countries not very press friendly) on the various issues they face and their take on freedom of the press and what hampers it or endangers it, check out UNESCOs videos for WPF Day 2013.

You can read more about the individuals that died and learn more about the issues journalists face and the countries of most danger for journalists at the International News Safety Institute. But here is just the past April’s list

Women reporting war face a whole other set of safety issues, which you can read more about here. AND if you’d like to read a great book on women journalists on the frontlines WHILE supporting INSI’s safety work on behalf of women reporters, pick up a copy of

No Woman’s Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters


Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Use isn’t really free. And users aren’t really free.facebook-addict

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon purchased San Francisco-based Goodreads last week for  an undisclosed amount. Twitter and Facebook accounts continue to fill up with outraged comments from booklovers, who are joining best-selling writers and the Authors Guild in condemning the takeover.

But we tend to agree with Steve Almond, of Congnoscenti:

. . . .Big corporations find ways to monetize our aesthetic preferences, and our compulsive need to share these preferences on-line. If people don’t like this, they can (and should) opt out of Goodreads.

What we find a bit strange all the blame is going on Amazon. People seem clueless that Goodreads, just like Amazon, was created to make money for its owner.

Goodreads was simply Facebook for booklovers — a social media site designed with the ultimate goal of becoming so large that a huge corporation would want to buy the owner out for a huge sum.

So before people go off on Amazon, they need to at least consider the role Goodreads played in all of this. And too, they need to consider their own role in this because the users of Goodreads are really the ones to blame.

Mergers and acquisitions are all about making a company more competitive. Remember the recent launch of Bookish — the “reader recommendation site” owned by  multiple large publishing houses?  Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads was simply to compete against the major publishers’ site Bookish.

Apparently the thinking among book retailers is that the biggest company with the best social media control wins. And they’re right. If large companies can influence and control buyers through the social media they own (which users feel they must belong to), they’re in a very solid position.

But this business model only works because people are addicted to “free” social media.  Ask yourself this, “If Goodreads had asked readers to pay to use the site, would it still exist as an independent entity?” The answer is probably not, because social media users tend to believe everything should be free — to the point of violating laws.

But things aren’t free and someone has to actually foot the bill to keep servers/sites running. Most of the time this is where big corporations come in. They buy social media and then use that social media to get these users to buy their products, a part of which purchase price goes back into keeping the “free” site free.

Big corporations are happy because they make money . Social media users are happy because their social media site continues to be free. The more savvy tend to get this. They understand how it works. The less savvy tend to be outraged.

At the core of every Social Media Site – Retail Corporation merger are users. And there’s a reason they’re called “users” and not customers, patrons, clients, etc If people really wanted a site to be “free” and really wanted to stop large companies from taking over their free social media site, they need only be willing to pay their favorite site, as a subscriber.

The answer is simple.

Published in: on April 5, 2013 at 10:09 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Mysteries to Die For — RIP

Over the weekend, one our county’s great bookstores called it quits after 19 years. Despite loyal customers, the down economy, rise of ebooks and a growing number of nearby big box stores (including a B&N) made it too difficult to go on.

The store held book signings, did new releases, hosted a monthly book group (which will continue), all the things great stores do, but that couldn’t reverse the current consumer trends.

It’s very sad, but people just don’t seem to realize the value of a bookstore for making friends with similar interests, discovering books they may never have hear of, or meeting authors and hearing them read their own works.

Honestly, facebook, google, and skype can’t compare. Unless you’re stuck on the International Space Station. However, to quote the upbeat Alan Chisholm, former store owner, “Life goes on!”

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 8:54 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Please, America, Don’t Be “That Guy.”

Tour de France concludes in Paris

Okay, normally we’d just “let it go” at end of a Tour de France, but hey, 2012 London, next stop.  So now is the time — America!!! — to improve our nation’s image in the eyes of the world.

We are going to just tell the truth in love, okay?

The Tour De France is the most popular sporting competition televised. It’s watch by more people in the world than any other sport, every year. Only World Cup soccer and the Olympics get somewhat close viewership stats and they only happen every 4 years! So Tour de France? Important!!

When a rider wins a title at the Tour,  be it King of the Mountains, Best Sprinter, Best Young Rider, or Tour Winner, it’s important. So important that typically some high-up personage, such as an ambassador from the winning rider’s country, shows up to give that rider his award.

The above picture is rider Tejay van Garderen being given Best Young Rider  (aka white jersey) of the tour. And our nation’s representative who is bottom left on the podium and has just given Tejay his crowning achievement? Yeah, that guy in the trainers, baggy shorts and awful t-shirt.

It’s absolutely an insult to the Tour, to Tejay, to the sport of cycling, to France, that this representative of America showed up on the podium as if he was going to a backyard birthday party for his 3 year old.

Every other person on that platform showed up in a manner as befitted the occasion (if not the climate) and that showed respect for the rider. Full make up, jewelry, high heels even! Every other presenter representing a winner’s nation (Wiggins) Britain, (Sagan) Slovakia, (Voeckler) France, wore a suit and tie. America’s representative? OMG?!

Please, please,  at the Olympics, for the sake of any American athletes that do perchance win, if you are asked to hand out a medal or pose on a podium don’t insult your athletes victory, or the Games, or the host country, or  (further) decrease the world’s opinion of Americans by dressing like “that guy.”

(And “That Guy” is probably an incredibly sweet guy who meant well, but  when the rider who just pedaled 120k in 90 degree heat looks better pulled together? Come on.)

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 6:21 PM  Comments (3)  
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Changing lanes. In case you didn’t know, it requires space.


During the holidays it’s easy to fall into old patterns, drive down familiar roads and  . . . get stuck.

So today we thought we’d remind you of one of life’s road rules, if you want to change lanes (or let someone else do so), you need to allow space. Don’t get stuck in your own mental gridlock this year.

Lighten up, space out, and let yourself (and those you thought you knew) change.

Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 2:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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And speaking of things orange . . . Hail and farewell, George Whitman

Give what you can, take what you need. 

This was the creed of George Whitman, just a guy from East Orange, NJ. If you never had the chance to meet George, who died last week at the age of 98, . . . check on some of the links. George was pretty much put the independent in indepedent booksellers. He will be missed.

You can read a good bit of his life story on the Shakespeare and Company website.

This commentary piece on George is from our local paper, and by local lad, John Yewell.

Jeanette Winterson of the Guardian also has a nice rememberance.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 2:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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