J.K. Rowling and the Missing Author Platform

or 5 things everyone can learn about marketing their books

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith AKA JK Rowling

I’m sure just about everyone has seen the news about JK Rowling’s book:  The Cuckoo’s Calling.  She published it under the name of “debut author” Robert Galbraith in April 2013.

To be clear, I really like JK Rowling and her writing. I’ve seen a bunch of articles about the recent announcement and the thing that sticks out in my mind is the marketing aspect.

According to the wikipedia article, in the 3 months since it released – it sold… 1500 hardcover copies and 7000 ebooks. These are decent numbers, but far from the bestseller status she or the publisher wanted.  After revealing Rowling wrote the book, the book jumped to #1 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble – plus the publisher ordered 140,000 additional print copies to be printed to meet the demand.

Before it was leaked that Rowling wrote the book…it had a cover quote from Val Mcdermid (plus endorsements from other crime writers), a review in Publisher’s Weekly, and a columnist at the Sunday Times read it – (that eventually got the tweet that started the investigation into the identity of Galbraith). Every author should be so lucky 🙂 there was clearly a publicist at work – or at least the publisher pulled a few strings.

What I want to illustrate here is that even with this help, the made up person was missing a few things.  Robert Galbraith had a website and some reviews.  No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No newsletter.  No connection with real readers.  In short, no author platform.

Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself 🙂

Here are 5 things everyone could learn from this situation:

  1. One of the biggest, richest authors in the world struggled with a new release.  That’s right – acting like a new author and doing a launch with publisher support didn’t bounce the book to the big lists.  It didn’t even do much on smaller lists.  If this is your first book or you’re just starting out – take a good look at where you’re at and don’t get discouraged 🙂  You are not alone.
  2. Authors – it’s important to build a platform!  I’ve said many times that it can be a solid base of sales and can amplify promotion efforts.  Some of the promotion was very good, but it was just left to it’s own momentum.  Not every piece of content needs to be viral, but without a mechanism to spread the word and connect with readers – it’s not enough.
  3. Traditional publicity doesn’t work the way it once did.  This may be the most controversial thing I’ve ever posted on this blog.  Articles in newspapers, TV appearances, and radio interviews used to be much more important. 20 years ago publishers would parlay this into getting more shelf space in book stores.  Today, it may account for a few sales, but probably won’t make you an overnight success.
  4. Differentiate your work, but don’t abandon what you’ve built.  Rowling seems serious about writing crime novels and has stated that more will be published under this pen name – and that’s great.  This is a different focus – and this has (in general) a different audience.  If you’ve proven yourself in others genres, don’t hesitate to let people know you write another genre under that name.  New readers will know you have some skill with writing 🙂 Many Harry Potter fans may never read her crime novels, but the fact that she wrote the Harry Potter books alone is enough to drive thousands of sales.
  5. Market like you mean it.  Kick, scratch, and claw for sales.  Putting a book out and not doing anything will help you sell…nothing.  As an author part of your job is to market your book.  A large traditional publisher can drive some sales (as evidenced here), but no one will care about your career/sales more than you. If you’re serious about writing as a career, build an author platform.

One last thought: sooner or later, every author hurts.  Half the articles speculated that Rowling leaked the news herself or planned the leak to boost sales (since the second print run jumped to 140,000 copies and she’ll likely hit the NYT bestseller list).  I’ve worked with lots of authors – big names, mid-list, and just starting out.  Every book is full of hope.  Every author feels it at some time.  It could be the beginning, the middle, or the end – but very few have a charmed publishing career.  I’d wager Rowling wasn’t satisfied with how the book was performing.  Perhaps she didn’t expect the sales of Harry Potter, but it wasn’t anywhere close to previous success. Whatever the reason, Rowling had an established name to fall back on. Other authors need a platform.

Posted in Other (The Kitchen Sink).

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  1. Pingback: Author Platforms Frequently Asked Questions? » Killer Book Marketing

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