I’ve been feeling a little snarky this week as a writer. You know, I sure wish I had J. K. Rowling’s problems as a writer. She now doesn’t need to find an agent, she has one. She doesn’t need to find a publisher, she has one and an editor who’s willing to go along with her charade as Robert Galbraith. When she decided to publish under that name, she didn’t start with seeking an agent for Mr. Galbraith, no, she used her own. So, I began to wonder just how serious she was about publishing completely incognito.
Lev Grossman in the July 29, 2013 issue of Time, reported on this story — some called it “shocking,” others “stunning” — with his own comments. It turns out Galbraith’s bio was as much a fiction as the book submitted under his name. I suppose that needed to be. Someone might have recognized Rowling’s bio. As it happened, Richard Brooks, a Times of London editor, sent the book to two experts for computer analysis. The experts found similarities to Rowling’s writing style. Mr. Brooks presented the evidence to Rowling’s agent and her charade was over. She issued a statement in which she bemoaned not being able to carry on the charade longer, and then said, “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”
Oh, poor Joanne. I do wish I had her problems of publishing with hype and expectation and receiving feedback under my own name. Yes, I am a bit envious of Ms. Rowling, and I suspect that any writer who’s been paying attention for the past 15 or 16 years harbors a bit of envy for her too. It can be difficult to watch another writer hit it big — for Rowling, extraordinarily big — when you’re struggling just to get an agent interested in your work.
I love the story Lev Grossman related near the end of his article about the aspiring writer in 1979 who submitted Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Steps, which won the 1969 National Book Award, as his own under the name Erik Demos to 13 agents and 14 publishers. Every one rejected it, even the novel’s original publisher, Random House. Now that’s a shocking story.
Publishing has changed so much in the last 40 years, I doubt there are many of the same editors left at the New York publishers. Everyone hungers for the next billion dollar mega-bestseller and no one has a clue what it looks like. But the interesting thing about Galbraith-Rowling is that under Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling sold only about 500 copies in the U.S. despite glowing reviews. Now that Galbraith has been unmasked to reveal Rowling, the publisher is going back to press for another 300,000 copies. Galbraith or Rowling? The book’s the same, the author’s name is the only change.
Whoever decided that the color of envy was green must have figured it usually involved money, at least in the U.S. Maybe also the U.K. It’s possible to envy someone their physical appearance or their good luck, their parents or their talent at languages or Tai Chi, but I believe envy, and its sister jealousy, are created by a desire to be rich and successful taken to the point of obsession. Author envy for another author’s success is far more common than one might think. I’ve learned it’s a waste of time and energy, time and energy better spent on my own writing, marketing and life. Why?
Some people just get all the luck…good or bad….and I want to be ready for mine….