J. K. Rowling, the richest and most famous author in the world, wanted to know if she could still succeed on her merits–if her work could light out into the world and capture an audience the way it once famously had. It’s reasonable and admirable of her to wonder. Having written the first Harry Potter book in cafés with her baby tableside in a stroller, the then unknown Rowling’s first foray into publishing included a dozen rejections of the novel that would later change her life and bewizard the world. But success and fame make for their own set of problems, as formidable in some ways as rejection. How could her new work get a fair shake, larded with the fat expectations of being a J. K. Rowling? It couldn’t. So using a method long popular with people wishing to start over, she concocted a new identity. And people liked this new book by this apparent nobody, Robert Galbraith: the reviews were good. Still the Telegraph reports the book sold fewer than 500 copies, pre-reveal. Post-reveal, it’s the #1 best seller, of course.
In the great fame sweepstakes of 21st century Western culture, very few acclaimed people are willing to surrender their standing–even for an hour. Rowling’s dance with anonymity didn’t last long. Perhaps it was a stunt, but no matter. The results were real. Early reviewers had only the book–and not the colossal reputation–to judge. And they judged it kindly. “Stellar…complex…compelling…assured..engrossing” read the accolades, though none of this enthusiasm helped move the needle on sales. Still it must please Rowling immensely to have had this improbable second chance at seeing how her work would fare on its own–and seeing that it won some praise. But Robert Galbraith, the pseudonymous scribe, would surely have to keep his day job.