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J.K. Rowling has led a magical life, but it turns out she's been moonlighting as a Muggle. The Harry Potter author took on a false identity to publish her latest book, The Cuckoo's Calling, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. According to his author bio, Gailbraith is a former military policeman whose experiences directly inspired the crime novel. In reality, Gailbraith is Rowling: the best-selling author of all time.
"I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience," Rowling, 47, admitted this weekend. "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."
It truly was a well-kept secret. The Cuckoo's Calling, released in April, was rejected by several publishers, who felt that it wasn't worth taking a chance on a "first-time author." (Ha!) It did, however, meet with positive reviews, and sold pretty well... for a crime novel by an unknown writer. Rowling reportedly planned to keep the pseudonym through the release of her second Gailbraith book.
Rowling's plans were thwarted by social media, and a very determined newspaper editor. On Thursday, a UK Sunday Times employee tweeted praise for the novel, and received an anonymous tweet revealing that it was written by Rowling. (The mysterious tweeter's account has since been deleted.) The employee took the info to Times arts editor Richard Brooks, who did a thorough investigation of "Robert Gailbraith." He even sent The Cuckoo's Calling to computer linguistic experts, who determined that it had major similarities in style to Rowling's other books. After building a solid case, he emailed Rowling's PR team to ask directly if the book was hers -- and her spokesperson confirmed it.
Naturally, sales of The Cuckoo's Calling have skyrocketed, going up by 158,000 percent on Amazon. Everyone wants to get their hands on it. But would they feel the same way if they'd known all along it was Rowling's book?
The author's previous novel, The Casual Vacancy, sold well but received mixed reviews. The expectations for Rowling's books are so high that she's faced with a rare dilemma: remain the beloved, perfect author of Harry Potter, or continue to write and risk letting her fans down. Her solution -- to write and market her new work under a different identity -- was extremely clever and daring. (It is unfortunate that she felt the need to use a male name in order to sell her book. But the publishing industry's anti-woman bias is no secret.) By writing as Gailbraith, she was freed from the pressures of fans and fame, and was able to see her book received on its own merit. No wonder she didn't want to stop.
Wouldn't it be great if Rowling continued to do this every few years: sell a novel as a "first-time author," and let the chips fall when she's discovered? It would be pretty cool if every new author was a potential J.K. Rowling. In a way, they already are.