What new novel rocketed from selling 2,000 copies in 11 weeks to orders for more than a quarter of a million in two days?
Harry Potter and the Pseudonymous Author? Maybe The Casual Nom de Plume?
How about The Cuckoo's Calling? If you've never heard of it, you had plenty of company until Sunday. That's when the Sunday Times of London blew J.K. Rowling's cover and revealed that she, not the nonexistent author Robert Galbraith, wrote the far-from-bestselling mystery novel about an Afghan war veteran investigating the death of a supermodel.
Before Sunday, the book had sold about 2,000 print copies in the United States and United Kingdom since its April 30 publication. By Monday, it was No. 1 with a bullet on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and bricks-and-mortar book stores were scrambling for scarce print copies.
Nicole Dewey, vice president and executive director of publicity at publisher Little, Brown and Co., wrote in an email, "We have 10,000 copies in print in all formats. Mulholland (the Little, Brown imprint that published the book) is going to press for 300,000 copies and we will start shipping those to stores later this week.''
The Cuckoo's Calling features a troubled but tenacious British Army officer turned private detective named Cormoran Strike. It was described in press materials as the debut novel by a former Royal Military Police investigator now working in the civilian security business. The author bio mentioned that "Robert Galbraith" was a pseudonym — but gave no hint of whose.
The Sunday Times owes its discovery of the multimillionaire author's name game to an anonymous tipster, who tweeted that Rowling was the book's real author and then deleted his (or her) Twitter account. The newspaper's arts editor, Richard Brooks, began looking into the book and its publishing history. When he inquired about it, Rowling and her publisher admitted she was the author.
Before that, Rowling, 47, had just about everyone fooled. Last year, having sold more than 400 million copies of the seven Potter novels, she released her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. It received intense media coverage and inspired breathless reader anticipation for months. The gritty social satire about a small British town garnered mixed, sometimes harsh reviews (I liked it), but that didn't prevent it from becoming the bestselling hardcover fiction book in the United States in 2012 with 1.3 million copies.
Aside from a few remarks in interviews that she might like to try her hand at writing detective fiction sometime, there was no buzz about Rowling being connected to The Cuckoo's Calling.
The book got very good reviews. Publishers Weekly called it a "stellar debut," British crime writer Mark Billingham called Strike "an amazing creation," and Scottish crime writer Val McDermid raved the book "reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place." Its positive reviews did not, however, lead to stellar sales.
I haven't yet reviewed it. Frankly, among the several hundred new mysteries I received in the runup to the summer reading season, it didn't jump out at me. Now that I have a copy on my iPad and have begun reading it, I see resemblances to Rowling's earlier books — Strike's name sounds like it came from a class roll at Hogwarts — but I doubt I would have picked them out without knowing she had written it. (It is, so far, an engaging mystery novel; look for a review in Latitudes soon.)
I'm sure I don't feel nearly as bad as Kate Mills, publishing director of British house Orion, who, according to the Telegraph, turned the book down as "perfectly decent, but quiet."
On Amazon.com Monday afternoon, print copies were back ordered for one to three weeks, although e-books were available immediately. The Cuckoo's Calling was ranked No. 1 in books overall, print mysteries, digital mysteries and print fiction, bumping down James Patterson and Dan Brown.
Little, Brown publisher Reagan Arthur announced a second Cormoran Strike book is scheduled to be published next summer.
Rowling posted a statement at www.jkrowling.com: "I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name."
One mystery remains, though. Who was that anonymous tweeter, and did he or she know that, as it happens, The Casual Vacancy comes out in paperback on Thursday?
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. Times wires were used in this report.