JK Rowling better received when she hides her identity as a man

The Times of London revealed Sunday that JK Rowling is the author behind “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a detective novel published in April under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Galbraith’s bio admitted the name was a pseudonym and claimed the author was a first-time writer and ex-military police investigator.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” released in April to excellent reviews but tepid sales just seven months after Rowling’s debut adult novel “The Casual Vacancy” received just the opposite—fevered sales but luke-warm reviews at best.

As the New York Times points out, something doesn’t add up. Sure, it’s possible that Rowling just happened to write one mediocre book and then a fantastic one immediately after. But by all counts the criticism centering around “The Casual Vacancy” seemed to center on a lack of nuance and sophistication—in short, it seemed to imply Rowling was a great kids’ writer, but just didn’t have the stuff to write for adults.

The narrative appears that, seeing the “meh” reviews for “The Casual Vacancy” and with another book on the way, Rowling decided to call out our bias by publishing anonymously—to see if we’d like her work better if we weren’t prejudiced against it being by JK Rowling. And it appears she was exactly right.

It also seems interesting that Rowling chose a male identity for her pseudonym. If only for gender equality being particularly potent in the zeitgeist this year, with the “Lean In” sensation and reproductive rights coming center stage in Texas, it seems an odd contrast that the world’s most famous female author can’t get a good review for her own work, but an unknown military police investigator scores rave reviews.

Interestingly the only author to top “The Casual Vacancy” for adult fiction sales is Dan Brown, who wrote his first (much less successful) book under the female pseudonym Danielle Brown.

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience,” Rowling said this weekend. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Of course, the trick is all part of a great marketing play for Rowling’s publisher Little Brown. Within hours of revealing Robert Galbraith’s real identity “The Cuckoo’s Calling” shot to the number-one spot on Amazon’s wish list. And now Little Brown has got a triple threat up its sleeve: A JK Rowling book, with great reviews, with a sequel on the way. Little Brown announced Sunday a follow-up in the Galbraith series will release next summer.

So there you have it: Rowling leaning in, by first leaning out.