On JK Rowling’s New Book and the Perils of Self Publishing

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because yay technology.

While I was off gallavanting around Connecticut, apparently the news broke that JK Rowling had written a new book and published it under a pseudonym. The book (a thriller called Cuckoo’s Clock, written by “Robert Galbraith”) came out in April and was well-received, getting starred reviews and some excellent blurbs. It was even Library Journal’s Mystery Debut of the Month.

It had also sold only 1500 copies in England since it debuted in April.

If you follow publishing at all, you realize that books normally debut to their largest sales numbers, and then go down quite quickly from there. Of course, that isn’t the case this time–now that she’s been “outed,” the book has shot to the top of the charts. But I want to focus for a moment on those first 3.5 months of sales she had when she was still anonymous. Let’s put in perspective.

The book wasn’t doing well. You hadn’t heard of it. It wasn’t “the next big thing.” It was on a trajectory for obscurity. Think of that. A book with a good marketing push, great reviews, solid blurbs, from a major publisher, great editor–you name it. Slipping away into obscurity with few people batting an eyelash.

Until the author is revealed to be JK, and then it explodes.

I’m fine with her publishing under a pseudonym. More power to her. This isn’t a post about me grousing about how unfair the world of publishing can be, even. This is a post about self-publishing, and the perils therein.

JK Rowling’s book was disappearing into the ether, with a ton of professionals working on it, and a ton of visibility through reviews and the other channels not easily open to people trying to go it on their own via the self-publishing/e-publishing route.

This isn’t to say that you can’t be a success in the e-publishing revolution. But I think it should be eye-opening to anyone considering trying to break in. I have a book I’ve been considering e-publishing. It’s a strange little duck of a novel, and I love it, but my agents have rightly pointed out they think there’s likely little market for it. Why haven’t I just thrown it out there yet?

Thanks for asking. Here are my main reasons:

  • I’m just too busy. This is the biggest one. What with all the other things I have going on in my life, I have no time to even just convert the word file to the appropriate e-format. Time spent doing that means time not spent writing something new. Something my agents like and try to sell. What’s the point in having professionals involved in my writing career if I ignore their advice?
  • Putting it out there isn’t as simple as cutting and pasting it and then hitting publish. Not to do it right. I’d have to line up a good cover. I’d need to reread the book and re-edit it. I’d ideally want to workshop the novel again and get it in fighting shape. Then there’s copy-editing. You stick a shoddy product out there, and you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. I’d either have to do it right or not do it at all.
  • If I did put it out there, I’d feel obligated to market the thing. And that takes time. Lots of time. And even if I was marketing it non-stop, there’s still a very good chance it would flop. And that’s the cold hard truth. No matter how many people you hear about who are making thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars through e-publishing, there are many many many more making nothing or worse–investing lots to make nothing back.
Can anyone be published today? Yes. Can anyone be read today? No. It’s one thing to be published, it’s another thing to have people read your book. Don’t mean to be a downer here. Just trying to keep it real. This isn’t to say don’t self-publish. It’s to say understand what the water’s like before you jump in.
Look no further than Robert Galbraith vs JK Rowling.

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