From The New York Times:
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” became the publishing sensation of the summer when word leaked that its first-time author, Robert Galbraith, was none other than J. K. Rowling, the mega-best-selling creator of Harry Potter.
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“It makes me sad,” Roxanne Coady, founder of R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., and the online retailer JustTheRightBook.com, told me last week from Maine, where she said she was sitting near a stack of unread new books. “Because not everyone turns out to be a J. K. Rowling. It reminds me how difficult it is for even good books to succeed.”
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Ms. Rowling’s last book, “The Casual Vacancy,” an adult comedy of manners published under her name and the first since the end of the Potter series, was met with high expectations and withering reviews from prominent critics. Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times, “the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is not only disappointing — it’s dull.” The Los Angeles Times faulted “Rowling’s inability to engage us, to invest us sufficiently in her characters.”
Still, with hardcover sales of just over 1.3 million copies, it was the No. 1 hardcover fiction title of 2012, according to Publishers Weekly’s annual ranking, outselling John Grisham, James Patterson and Danielle Steel.
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In any event, a publishing contract is hardly a guarantee of critical or commercial success. Much depends on how a new manuscript is treated by the publisher. Morgan Entrekin, the president and publisher of Grove Atlantic, is widely viewed as a master at introducing new literary talent to the marketplace. He published “Cold Mountain” by then first-time novelist Charles Frazier, which went on to win the National Book Award and sell over 11 million copies.
“There’s no question, if a publisher decides to get behind a book, to invest its publishing capital, to use its traction with the chains, with Amazon, fight for the promotion money to get the book into the front of stores, you can do a lot to bring attention to a worthy first novel,” he said.
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“I invested tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of publishing capital over nine months because I believed in that book,” Mr. Entrekin said. “This is what publishers can do to add value. It’s not slapping on a name like J. K. Rowling.”
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Of course, most new books don’t get that kind of support. Suffice it to say that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” didn’t, even though Ms. Dewey told me it “was treated like any new novel by a first-time writer. Little, Brown sent out bound galleys and talked it up to retailers, as they do with all new titles. We aim for all of our books to reach the widest possible audience and make every effort to market and publicize each title in a way that connects it with that audience.”
I spoke to several book retailers, at both large chains and independent stores, and not one could recall seeing an advance reading copy, or hearing anything from the Little, Brown sales representatives.
“There was absolutely no buzz,” Ms. Coady said. “There was no direct correspondence from the editor or a publicist. We didn’t hear anything from the sales representatives. They’ll usually tell us that there are five to 10 books on their list that we want to make sure you read. They know our customers and what they like, so we trust them. This book wasn’t one of them. I don’t know if we bought any copies. Maybe one.”
Link to the rest at The New York Times