So, we all know what's been going on with "Robert Galbraith" and his alter ego, J.K. Rowling. How on earth did this closely guarded secret seep out? Why, oh why, can't we trust people to keep secret pseudonyms under wraps? We must credit those highly sophisticated readers who saw a "woman's hand" in the descriptions of clothing; we must also recognize that J.K. Rowling's style is so dazzling, so unique, that it was bound to be recognized sooner or later. The whole thing is just so unfair, so bloody unfair. Who would be so dastardly as to blow the cover of a well-intentioned best-selling writer who just wanted the "liberating experience" of escaping from her own name? Find that person, please, and hang him (or her).
Now that we've got the obligatory hand-wringing out of the way, let's admit what we all know but don't necessarily like to publicize. And perhaps, in the process, we can admit exactly how our industry works (as if everybody doesn't already know).
I'm assuming J.K. was feeling a bit insecure as a result of the decidedly unenthusiastic reception of The Casual Vacancy,which was recently cited as one of the most abandoned books of recent years (i.e., "abandoned" in the sense of starting it but not finishing it). I am guessing that she was looking for unbiased evidence that she is a good writer, that the Harry Potter phenomenon was somehow the result of her stellar writing or plotting abilities. (It was not.)
J.K.R. is in the most enviable, and rarest, of positions among modern writers. She doesn't need money. She doesn't ever have to worry about where her next book contract is coming from. By virtue of what's she done in the past, she is guaranteed a huge audience willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. This gives her the ability to say, "I'm writing under a pseudonym, and that's that." Because surely any agent IN THE WORLD would say "That's a really bad idea, and I won't let you do it." I suspect, too, that if the publisher had known who Robert Galbraith really was, they would never have published the book under that name.
Now editors who rejected the book (I was not one of them, I admit - not because I bid for it, but because it wasn't sent to me) are explaining apologetically why they didn't buy the book. Most come down to, "Not really different/distinct enough, not a good enough marketing hook, competent and decent but I didn't love it." Which I can say, now that I've read the first two chapters, would have been exactly my reaction, too.
Listen, we all know that the bigger your name, the bigger your publishing contract and the more books you sell (usually). I can name a dozen people right off the top of my head who haven't written a good book in years, but whose work rockets to the top of the best-seller list based on past history. It's not uncommon - in fact, it's the norm. Does this really come as a surprise to anyone? And does it come as a surprise that J.K. Rowling's writing and plotting don't really stand out in a market (i.e., crime fiction) that has some really stellar people working in it? If we're going to be deadly honest here (and why not?), she's a mediocre writer, and perhaps she should recognize this and be thankful for her success rather than trying to have the market reassure her of something that just isn't true.
This situation reminds of the movie Soap Dish, in which Sally Field plays a soap opera actress. When she's feeling insecure or unloved, she has her assistant take her to the mall, where she allows herself to be "discovered" behind her disguise so that adoring fans can flock to her, their love fully on display. What I'm wondering about here, though - and I admit I don't know this - is whether this "revelation" was initiated by the publisher or by the JKR camp. If the publisher, I say, "Hooray" (without irony). Anything we publishers can do to sell scads of copies to keep the money coming in, is just fine by me. I know that if I was Robert Galbraith's editor, I'd be standing naked in Times Square (next to the Cowboy) declaring Galbraith's true identity.
If it came from the JKR camp, I think the whole thing is pretty damned tacky. It was a grand experiment that failed... the imagination of the mystery reading public was not captured by The Cuckoo's Calling. That should have been the end of it, though maybe a decade hence the secret could have been let out. I'm reminded of a warning often repeated by my father: "Don't test your friends, because they won't pass." Don't test readers, either. They have too many other choices.