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'Didn't stand out': Editors kick themselves over Rowling's crime book

One leading editor bravely admitted that she had turned down The Cuckoo's Calling because it failed to stand out from all the other manuscripts sent in by hopeful authors.

When the manuscript for a new crime novel by an unpublished author landed in the in-tray of publishing houses, it is fair to say it did not cause much of a stir.

'Rowling's comeback for the masses'

J.K. Rowling's new novel The Cuckoo's Calling zooms up the Amazon best-seller list, Literary Editor Susan Wyndham explains.

One editor described The Cuckoo's Calling as "perfectly decent, but quiet". But yesterday (Sunday) those who rejected the novel were reeling from the news that it was written by JK Rowling.

The book, said to have been written by a former military police officer named Robert Galbraith, was critically acclaimed, but had sold fewer than 500 copies before the Harry Potter creator was named as its author. Last night it shot to the top of Amazon's bestseller list.

One leading editor bravely admitted that she had turned down the novel because it failed to stand out from all the other manuscripts sent in by hopeful authors. Kate Mills, publishing director of Orion, said she thought the work was "perfectly decent, but quiet" and confessed she could not find a unique selling-point for it in a crowded market.

"When the book came in, I thought it was perfectly good - it was certainly well written - but it didn't stand out," she said.

The Cuckoo's Calling was published in April under the name of Robert Galbraith, who according to his biography left the Army in 2003 to work in the private security industry. It was published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown, which last year published Miss Rowling's first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.

The new novel achieved glowing reviews and laudatory quotations for the cover from well-known crime writers. But suspicions were aroused by the author's assured style and skill at describing women's clothes and people's appearances, leading some to speculate that an established female novelist might be behind the book.

British author J.K. Rowling.
British author J.K. Rowling. Photo: AP

Further detective work by The Sunday Times uncovered the fact that Galbraith and Miss Rowling shared the same publisher and editor, and yesterday she confessed to being the author. "I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience," she said. "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name." The publishers said the book had sold some 1,500 copies in hardback, but figures compiled by Neilsen Bookscan suggest that the number bought from British retailers was actually 449.

This changed overnight with the revelation of the book's actual author. A surge of orders on Amazon.co.uk lifted it from 5,076th place to top of the sales chart.

J. K. Rowling revealed as the real author behind <i>The Cuckoo's Calling</i>.
J. K. Rowling revealed as the real author behind The Cuckoo's Calling

It was not clear why Miss Rowling offered the book to other publishers before it was accepted by Sphere.

Her spokesman said: "I can confirm the book was treated like any new novel by a first-time writer. We are not going into any more detail than that or commenting further."

I thought it was perfectly good - it was certainly well written - but it didn't stand out.

This is not the first time that Miss Rowling has faced literary rejection. In 1996 the manuscript of her first Harry Potter book was turned down by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury picked it up.

The Telegraph