Wednesday, September 12, 2012

J.K. Rowling's Adult Fiction Gambles

There is no doubt that J.K. Rowling's new book "The Casual Vacancy" is going to be a commercial success. That is a given based purely on name recognition alone. What Rowling wants, however, is to take a step beyond her status as a children's fiction star to acceptance in the realm of "serious" literary fiction. Nothing about this situation thus far is unusual but some of the actions her new publishing house Little, Brown & Co. have taken, largely under her direction, baffle me.
First was the announcement some months ago that many countries would not be recieving copies of the manuscript for translation purposes until after the book's September 27th street date. The agency did so based on a system of rating countries on their risk of piracy. Too high risk of a leak? You have to wait until after the US release. This is in stark contrast to traditional logic in publishing that says you want translators to have as much time as reasonably possible to work on your book. There seems to be worry that many european countries may end up with sub-par translations in the rush to get books printed in time for the christmas season.
The second point of surprise for me was the statement that they are sending out no copies for reviews. Rowling is incredibly adamant that the book be judged on it's own merits, not just her fame as the author of Harry Potter. It is still shocking exactly how slim she is cutting back the marketing. I would have expected at the very least for the New York Times or the New Yorker to get copies so the serious literary types whose attention she is courting would see it.
In general she is running a very low key marketing campaign: A small amount of internet ads, small store signage, and a last minute TV bump via appearances on The Daily Show and Good Morning America. I suppose the part I have a difficult time wrapping my head around is the equation of fanfare with being non-literary.
She is the author of one of the most, if not the most, successful children's book franchises of all time. So no matter what she does, of course it will still be in the conversation. But if she feels this is the best way to rebrand herself into an adult author, who am I to argue? And if she cares more about re-branding than book sales, the gamble may be worthwhile.
I'm sure it's relieving to some that her piracy paranoia has at least calmed to the point where "The Casual Vacancy" will be on e-books from day one. Their initial physical book run will be two million and I'm sure that money will roll although I personally will be waiting for the reviews.

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