July 20, 2013

What's in a name?

There was big news this past week in the book world when it was revealed that J.K.Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, published a mystery titled The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. What struck me as most interesting about the story wasn't that Rowling wrote a book using a fake name. Stephen King famously did it when he created the alias Richard Bachman. Like Rowling's pseudonym, people soon found out who Richard Bachman really was.

What caught my attention was how well The Cuckoo's Calling sold before the revelation and after. In the first three months after publication, when readers thought an unknown author named Robert Galbraith wrote The Cuckoo's Calling, the book sold 1,500 copies. That's nothing to sneeze at (I would love to sell 1,500 copies in three months!), but it won't land the book on any best-seller lists. However, I know several indies who sell more.

Once news broke that the author was really J.K. Rowling, the book zoomed up to #1 on Amazon within a day! Talk about a marketing strategy that works!

Aside from asking whether the revelation was a ploy boost sales, the events made me wonder about a few things:
  • Why wasn't Rowling's publishing team able to sell more copies of the book before the news? Isn't that what traditional publishing companies are supposed to do for authors in return for taking a big cut of book revenues? If they couldn't do it for J.K. Rowling, what hope is there for a truly new author?
  • For the rest of us whose real names aren't J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, what can we do to get more people to buy our books? Supposedly, The Cuckoo's Calling was a well-written book and well reviewed, but as we see here, a good book doesn't translate into good sales.
  • If the author's name is so important, at what level of success does the name naturally bring in sales? How big do you have to get so that just having your name attached to a book results in sales?
I wish I had the answers to these questions. It seems like the longer I work in this business, the more questions I have as I struggle to find success.

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