Lethal White: Marketing Effort and Sales

Here are two facts and some uninformed speculation late at night about the marketing effort being made for the promotion of Lethal White and its sales thus far.

The facts:

(1) The Marketing of Lethal White has been Low Key, at best, and so thin that “negligent” might be a good word for it. Rowling did one ‘interview’ with The New York Times as Robert Galbraith (she answered approved questions in writing rather than live and in person). She changed the banner on her Twitter page to a Lethal White header and listed herself as “Author sometimes known as Robert Galbraith.” And…

Well, that was about it. Her tweeting to her follower-audience of 14.4 million the week before and of the book’s publication focused on Brexit, volun-tourism, and — who knew? — Crimes of Grindelwald. Her publishers bought the requisite advertising in book review sections of the legacy print media — and Rowling moved on. Last week she did a Lumos event on Broadway with the Cursed Child crew and began the promotions for the next Fantastic Beasts film by sitting for an interview on the Today show.

She mentioned two times during these appearances that she was writing crime novels but never said the name of the book published six days before.

(2) Sales have been good, not great. On the ‘Rowling Sales Scale,’ of course, they have been less than pathetic, but it is not fair to judge any author other than Dan Brown or James Patterson with that unit of measure. I don’t have any numbers other than Amazon sales, lists in the moment and the best sellers of the week, and those results are not eye-poppers. Lethal White was at #13 a week ago and #2 today on the ‘Best Sellers of the Week’ lists and that is quite good (if being shut out of #1 by The Wonky Donkey must be a little humiliating).

What’s to complain about being #2 at the World’s Biggest Bookstore and at USA Today, which uses the Amazon list as part of its calculation? I’m afraid that this list, the week‘s compilation, inflates Lethal White’s success because it was the week of release and may include all the pre-ordered books shipping. If you look at the hourly count at Amazon today, Strike4 is #39. I have to suspect that the drop next week will be at least as great as the climb this week from #13 to #2. (Anyone more familiar than I with the Amazon algorhythms for calculating best sellers, please check in.) Rowling did not make either the combined eBook and print or the ‘Hardcover Fiction Best Seller’ list in tomorrow’s New York Times.

(3) The Uninformed Speculation from Effect Back to Cause? Rowling is not only happy that her Strike books are not being marketed with the push that would make them #1 best sellers on Amazon and in the print newspapers — interviews in a variety of magazines, broadcast media, and papers, outreach to the Harry Potter fandom through fan sites and conferences, and advertising buys and pushes at booksellers conventions, trade journals, and mass media — she insists that these efforts not be made. Rowling continues to act as if her experiment with the Robert Galbraith pseudonym is a live venture and she will only know if the novels are any good, that is, become best sellers on their own relatively speaking, which is to say, without invoking the magical name of ‘J. K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter novels’ on the cover of the books or in active promotion.

Which is nigh on unbelievable, frankly. That would suggest she is a prisoner of heroic insecurities and in need of oversized confirmation in a test that cannot be taken seriously because everyone knows ‘Galbraith’ is Rowling.

What else could it be? Again, look at the problem backwards. What have we learned since Lethal White was published just here on this web site? There is the possibility that Rowling does not want Harry Potter fandom’s legion of fine-tooth-comb serious readers going through the Strike books because of what they would discover. Beside the gaffes like “Basra, Afghanistan,” and “Ciarra Parker” that editors missed in reading Lethal White. She’d rather that no one (or relatively few readers) realize the books are an experiment in intertextual allusion and commentary on Rowling’s own Hogwarts Saga in structure and plot points. Not to mention the mythological underpinnings and probable direction of future books.

Let me know in the comment boxes below what you think of the marketing efforts, the sales figures for Lethal White, and why there seems to be so little effort to promote the novels of the world’s best selling author. It’s a mystery as least as difficult to figure out as the stories Rowling-Galbraith is giving us and a public domain puzzle we should be able to solve, I think, with the available clues. “The game is afoot!”


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    I’m not sure sure about your seemingly “negative” reasons she’s not promoting. I REALLY do believe she wants them to stand on their own and be successful because of what she’s written rather than any connection to Potter.

  2. John…….While detective/private eye novels are not my…..as those in the UK would say….”cup of tea” (no pun intended) I’m also surprised that the sales on these books are not up to the higher Rowling standards.

    I walked into the Fireside Book Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio last Saturday and in the front window display was a copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone’ with the newer cover art. Lethal White was on a book display shelf all the way at the back of the store. I asked an assistant how many did you order….”6 copies”…..how many have you sold at this point….”2 copies” !!! This is in a quiet bookish little town in Northern Ohio.

    Same thing when I walked into a place you visited with us when you were in Hudson, Ohio last….The Learned Owl Book Shop……though the assistant didn’t have a clue how many copies they ordered and how many were sold up to that day…..there in the window display at the front of the store was a large new cover copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ not Lethal White…though at least they had it on display at their front counter.

    John, I wonder if the time of the year Lethal White was released has any bearing on this…we are getting closer to the Halloween season for sales, so the stores are fronting Harry Potter rather than a JKR detective series even though it is new.

  3. David Martin says

    I once heard an author (sorry, I don’t remember who it was) say that there are two kinds of authors: those who enjoy writing and those who enjoy having written. JKR is clearly the first kind. It may be that she has not been heavily involved with promoting Lethal White for the most mundane of reasons: She’s busy with her other projects (the play and the FB movies) and she doesn’t need the book to be a gigantic success. She doesn’t need the added fame or publicity or money that such a success would bring. She enjoyed writing it and that, for her at this point in her life, may be enough.

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