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J K Rowling's surprise bestseller

22 July 2013

The revelation that Robert Galbraith was really J K Rowling and the huge subsequent demand for The Cuckoo's Calling have dominated the headlines this week. It's an ideal silly season story, complete with a villain in the shape of the lawyer who, for some extraordinary reason, confided the truth to his wife's best friend, who promptly tweeted it to Sunday Times journalist India Knight.
Knight's colleague Richard Brooks, the arts editor, investigated and found that this unknown author just happened to have the same agent, publisher and editor as Rowling. More interestingly, he had the work analysed by two linguistic analysts who, though they couldn't definitely say, identified strong similarities between The Cuckoo's Calling and Rowling's other work.

Rowling herself said: ‘To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.' One can't help thinking 'she doth protest too much' but actually she does seem to have been genuinely upset and one should remember that this is a writer for whom money is not really very important any more, she has so much of it. Eat your heart out, undiscovered authors!

There's another element to the story. For her publishers, Little Brown, Christmas has come early, with an unplanned major bestseller in July, generally a sluggish time for book sales other than summer reads. The book trade in general is jubilant.

But for other authors it is hard not to think cynically about the huge power of the bestselling author's name. It has transformed the modest sales of Robert Galbraith's novel from around 1500 copies to hundreds of thousands, probably millions, around the world, simply by having a huge brand name attached.