J.K. Rowling's 'Cuckoo's Calling' Is Selling Like Hotcakes

If J.K. Rowling has authored any other novels under a pseudonym in the past decade or so (and who are we to say she hasn't?), she should fess up now. At least for the sake of the bookstores. 

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If J.K. Rowling has authored any other novels under a pseudonym in the past decade or so (and who are we to say she hasn't?), she should fess up now. At least for the sake of the bookstores. They have so much to gain—and what has she to lose? (That's assuming she hasn't secretly been writing as E. L. James for the past several years.)

Not that it's particularly a surprise to anyone that a novel by the Harry Potter author sells better than a novel by an obscure military veteran-turned-first-time-novelist, but the numbers are still pretty staggering. As of a week ago, according to a report today in The New York Times, the novel had sold only about 500 copies in the United States; bookstores, Julie Bosman writes, "were contemplating shipping them back to the publisher." A weak showing—but not particularly surprising for a first-time British crime novel.

Then, late Saturday night, The Sunday Times went public with its revelation.

Within hours, The Cuckoo's Calling had shot to number one on Amazon's best-sellers list. Now, bookstores and distributors are falling over themselves to match the demand, which—while not quite Deathly Hallows-level—has been boosted by the element of surprise that was absent from Rowling's previous literary endeavors:

Little, Brown & Company, her publisher, appears to have been scrambling to meet demand. Nicole Dewey, a spokeswoman for Little, Brown, said that on Monday the publisher began to print an additional 300,000 copies, a huge undertaking that takes several days. Ms. Dewey said the books are expected to start shipping some time this week. That isn’t soon enough for many bookstores, which are locked in a fierce competition with Amazon, and with the e-book, which, compared with hardcovers, is inexpensive and instantly available. (The hardcover list price of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” is $26; a Kindle or Nook edition is $9.99.)

In Austin, Tex., customers have stopped by the BookPeople store asking for the title, only to be told that it is out of stock. Forty copies are on order, said a bookseller there, Carolyn Tracy, adding that at least eight people had asked to reserve copies.

There's also the (understandable) concern among some booksellers that readers will rush to devour the novel as an e-book before physical copies can be shipped to the stores. The real winners, it seems, are those lucky enough to have purchased first-edition copies—which are now going for as much as $200 or $300 on eBay. Congratulations, readers of obscure British crime novels—you are ahead of the curve!

The real revelation could be that Rowling's party was behind the leak all along. The first hint is that the initial tip came from an anonymous Twitter account that was deleted almost immediately following the tweet. Even more curiously, The Times's Julie Bosman points out that the paperback edition of The Casual Vacancy, which Rowling published under her own name last fall, is out next week, and surely this new burst of press won't hurt. Rowling stated she "had hoped to keep this secret a little longer," but that could be a ruse. Suspicions, at any rate, are mounting in the book world:

So, famous novelists, a helpful how-to guide if you're interested in publishing under a pseudonym:

  1. Write the book, in secret, as quickly and privately as possible.
  2. Don't let the publishing house in on the secret. Except maybe one very trustworthy person. Actually, no, wait on that.
  3. Get it published. But remain as nonchalant as possible. Perhaps allow yourself be sighted by paparazzi while casually perusing the recently released title in your local bookstore.
  4. Continue to keep the secret. That includes your spouse.
  5. Wait for the reviews, and sales, to trickle in. If history is any indication, they will be good but not great, because unknown first-time novelists don't tend to attract much press attention.
  6. Let your trustworthy publisher-person in on the secret. Instruct that person to (secretly) increase distribution by a modest 500,000%.
  7. Wait for sales to die down. Ideally, this should be right before your most recent previous novel is going to be issued on paperback. Also wait for a weekend, because best-seller lists count sales from Sunday to Saturday. Also, wait for a slow news weekend.
  8. Choose a journalist who you think deserves a really, really good scoop. 
  9. Quick! Make an anonymous Twitter account and tweet the scoop to your chosen journalist and then delete the account really quickly.
  10. Issue a statement sheepishly fessing up and claiming you wish you could've kept the secret longer. 

And if you own a bookstore, you may want to start scouring your collection of obscure novels from mysterious British authors so you can figure out which ones were written by J.K. Rowling. Start tonight. Good luck!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.