A good friend and follower of my blog brought my attention yesterday to the following post about the latest revelation about J K Rowling’s pseudonym and I thought I would share it here this morning.
It is particularly interesting as I approach the release of my debut novel and what kind of book sales you might expect not only from an unknown author like myself but also one published by a smaller press than Harper Collins — albeit Parthian has an excellent reputation!
It’s hard work getting you work out there and even harder finding that indefinable quality that makes it sell, the ‘breakthrough novel’ as they say. And by makes it sell I mean far and wide beyond the scope of family and friends, the postman’s brother’s girlfriend etc. Parthian tell me they’d look for 1000 books as a good initial sell but hope for a lot more. Some books do far less than expected and some achieve sales not even the marketing people see coming. It comes down to a combination of good marketing which is finding the target audience and clearly the more universal that is the better the place you start, and then a good publicist who makes sure the world knows it exists. Fine with money being no object, much harder for the likes of the small presses and even harder for the ones going it alone. No wonder Twitter is full of people shouting their heads off about their books — can you blame them?
If we knew what that quality was I’m sure we’d all be bottling it! Who knows what touches people? It should be strong writing and a great story but since we all interpret that differently we’re already faltering. But that’s just it — we don’t and we probably never will define it exactly and there will always be surprises.
Many readers I know talk about loving a first novel and then being disappointed by the later ones which is another point and here I mean the ones that follow that ‘breakthrough’ book. I only bring this up because it kind of fits the theme in the sense that once you have your audience, as J K Rowling did with the phenomenal sensation that Harry Potter was, how easy is to strike gold twice? And how much of your name is what’s exploited in an attempt to do that? How much attention do people really pay to the writing? Maybe with the agents and publishers pushing the name perhaps less attention is made to the quality of the next books — but that isn’t always the case and very often isn’t the case. But sadly it is a game of numbers. Welcome to the real world, I guess!
What this J K Rowling exposé is — is an experiment in sales and why people buy books — is it the name — I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy but this is a figure I found on the Telegraph site — The Casual Vacancy’s first week tally of 124,603 copies , second only to Dan Brown. The article goes on to say:
A spokesman for Little, Brown, Rowling’s publisher, said: “Sales across print and e-book editions have exceeded our expectations.”
In total, £1.3 million was spent on copies of the novel, according to The Bookseller.
Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals, released on the same day, sold 20,682 copies over the same period and now tops the hardback non-fiction chart.
The record for biggest weekly sale of 2012 – albeit not in its opening week – is held by EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey, which sold 665,000 copies over seven days in July.
So by comparison the rather meagre 470 copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling sounds rather low but as James Smythe points out for the rest of us with a debut this isn’t a bad start. I does come down to expectations and the divide between best sellers and the rest of the authors in the world is a little like the way the earth’s wealth is apportioned to a fraction of the population with rest of us struggling. It’s a disparity that’s clear to see. But I agree 470 isn’t bad for an unknown and unlike unknowns like myself, she wouldn’t have been trying to sell it to all her family and friends now — would she? Are these genuine punters looking for a good crime read?
So maybe good writing isn’t enough on its own. It’s sadly true that luck must play a role. If J K Rowing had Tweeted/talked about this amazing new author Robert Galbraith to all her millions of followers I wonder if that would have had a similar boost to sales. As a huge Manilow fan I once read that if he released an album of silence the die-hard fans would buy it and it would no doubt sell more than many artists. The power of a name and persuasion by respected leaders? Pack mentality perhaps? This reminds me of the power of Stephen Fry Tweeting about a YouTube clip of an unknown singer who became an overnight sensation. But I guess we live in a got to have it now world and the real test is longevity.
Some accuse the leaking of this information as a marketing ploy but I just see it as an extension of the experiment because how many copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling will be sold now? I think the effect is evident in a reported a 156,866% increase in sales over just one day on Amazon after the release (New Statesman.) Some of this will be blatant curiosity and some — die-hard fans who buy it because she wrote it which kind of knocks on its head the idea that you need to keep an author in the same genre or you lose readers.
Actually and on that note, many writers who are published in one genre are sold in another under a different name, so is she really that different? And in this game of numbers I suspect it’s a canny publicist who would leak this information — and why not? We are a fickle nation and very loyal to the writers we like. I kind of doubt, as accused, she leaked the information herself — does she need the money? And she must know the result — which says it’s not so much about her writing but her name and would she really want that?
Immaterial I guess if the book sells.
It’s a hard game and it leaves people like me shouting a lot about my debut and hoping it will be enough to breakthrough and create that loyal fan base of people who buy me when I release something very different under the name Jemina Jetsom leaked to the press by my talented publicist!
But what a position to be in.
I wonder what would happen if you took the experiment one forbidden step further and lied that she also wrote my novel or your novel and while the writing is nothing like hers — would the book sell? And if it did – then the true power of the name comes to light, right? Interesting thought?
But then again, isn’t this experiment really only coming up with the answer we thought it would? Reminds me of my favourite section of Richard Adams’s The Plague Dogs, where the men in the white coats decide to put dogs into tanks of water and submerge them for increasing lengths of time. The story is told by a dog to his friend and the friend says — “So what happened?” And he replies — “If you hold them in there long enough — they drown.”
Really? So who knew if someone leaked that J K Rowling wrote this book the sales would increase?
It’s not rocket science. But it is food for thought.
What do you think?