Rowling apparently didn’t just make secret arrangements with a publisher as herself, the novel was actually submitted to editors under the pen name (though it ended up with Rowling’s editor for The Casual Vacancy, David Shelley). At least one editor has now confessed to passing on it:
So, I can now say that I turned down JK Rowling. I did read and say no to Cuckoo’s Calling. Anyone else going to confess?
— Kate Mills (@Kate7Mills) July 14, 2013
Most of the news reports have focused on the fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling received pretty glowing reviews, with Publishers Weekly calling it a “stellar debut” in a starred review. Especially after getting Michiko Kakutani’d with The Casual Vacancy, that had to have been particularly gratifying, and it’s interesting to ponder whether The Casual Vacancy itself would have been reviewed differently had Rowling not been the name on the jacket.
At the same time, I think people are missing one of the other important illustrative elements of this story, which is that The Cuckoo’s Calling was not a great commercial success. It had sold only 1,500 copies in Britain. Despite all those glowing reviews and being published in a commercial genre, it didn’t catch on.
Some of this may have had to do with the fact that it was by most accounts, a quiet novel:
It’s equally possible, even probable, that commercial success wasn’t Rowling’s intent and that she wanted the thrill of receiving an honest appraisal of her work unencumbered from her reputation.
Still, it was a book written by J.K. Rowling. It received terrific reviews. It was published by great publishers. And it didn’t take off.