Two Weeks ’til Lethal White Publication: How Is Rowling’s Latest Novel Selling?

Two weeks? A little more than Ten Days! Lethal White, the fourth Cormoran Strike mystery from J. K. Rowling writing as ‘Robert Galbraith’ is almost here.

What have you heard about it among your Potter-phile friends? Have you scheduled the day off on 18 September so you can devote yourself without distraction to a close reading? Are you planning to go to a Midnight Madness Release Party at your local bookstore?

Of course you’re not. There is next to no buzz or excitement about Lethal White, which is a mystery worthy of some reflection and detection, no? How about the clues, then; what do we know?

The Cormoran Strike mysteries are receiving next to no marketing push in the United States and, for a Rowling title, advance orders on Amazon are pathetic. The book is at #129 overall on the world’s largest bookstore’s listing and isn’t even in the top 50 for the categories of ‘Crime’ or ‘Mystery.’ Kindle? It is sitting at #289 there.

Things are a little better in the UK. At The book is at #21 there — but is being outsold by two math texts for school at #10 and #16 and by new releases from Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, #12), Shakespeare (Macbeth, #18), and Dickens (Tale of Two Cities, #21). Something tells me this is not a big book-selling season in Brittania or they use a different calculus for their best seller’s lists. On the book’s page there, Amazon lists the hardcover as #75 in “Books > Fiction.” Kindle has it at #42 at this writing.

I called the airport bookstore to see if I might once again get my Willa Wonka golden ticket and an early copy of Lethal White. Get this — they not only didn’t have a copy to sell me (as they did three days before Career of Evil was supposed to be for sale), I was told it wasn’t on their list of books to be sold this month. They only sell the books anticipated to be best sellers, twenty each month. Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White was not on the list.

What’s going on? Three thoughts after the jump.

(1) Marketing: The focus of the book’s sales push is in the UK rather than the US. The publishers ran a contest with Waterstones, the UK’s Barnes and Noble equivalent, with the prize of an autographed copy of Lethal White on offer. Only those in the United Kingdom were allowed to enter. The teevee adaptations were made for the BBC and only recently shown on American cable television with barely a gesture at promoting the ‘Strike’ series.

I received an email from Goodreads today, an online readers platform with more than 75 million members, and there was no mention of Lethal White, Galbraith, or Rowling in the descriptions of ‘The Big Books,’ ‘Exclusive Interview,’ ‘Required Reading’ (three featured books), and ‘September’s Hot Books.’ Only in the miscellaneous section ‘Book Ends’ did ‘Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White‘ get a mention and then only third on the list as a series with a new title. Do you think that Hachette Group, the owners of Mulholland and Sphere publishers of Lethal White, could have worked a little harder to get Strike 4 a visible placement in an email going out to 75 million people who self-identify as book buying readers?

(2) Amazon/Hachette: Maybe they tried really hard — and failed. There is bad blood between Hachette and Amazon stretching back to the publisher’s refusal to knuckle under to Amazon‘s draconian demands in 2014. They settled that disagreement late that year but Amazon acquired Goodreads in 2013. Do you think they’re petty enough to hurt their own book sales to spite Hachette? I think so. Sales of the Crimes of Grindelwald screenplay, a book that only die-hards want because the text in question is a movie not a book, are fairly robust at #585 overall and #10 in ‘Witches and Wizards’ (yes, #’s 1-9 are all Rowling titles, too); Crimes isn’t available until 16 November, two months later than Lethal White. Arthur Levine’s imprint at Scholastic doesn’t have a problem with Amazon or they with him.

(3) No Cross Over: I recorded a podcast with the ‘Alohamora’ gang at MuggleNet yesterday. It was a blast, as you’d expect. They are very serious readers of the books and we were talking about Ring Composition, so the conversation was fast, furious, and a lot of fun. After two hours of recording, we finished Part 1 of what I guess will be a series and chatted about other things. Lethal White came up. Two of the three hosts had not finished Career of Evil and the third was as excited as I am about Strike 4 and the series in general.

What that tells me — ‘that’ meaning only two of four podcasting semi-pro Potter Pundits have read Rowling’s current work and are looking forward to the next installment — is that there has been effectively no cross-over from the readers of the Hogwarts Saga to the Cormoran Strike mysteries.

You can explain this, I’m sure, as a function of the UK marketing focus, the relatively narrow readership of detective fiction (de gustibus!), or Rowling’s failure to achieve the defamiliarizing and transformative literary magic of her first series. All those reasons make something like a valid argument about why Potter fandom has been and continues to be indifferent to Rowling’s relatively realist fiction.

But I think it also needs to be noted that Rowling and her publishers have made exactly zero overtures to Potter fandom to entice their interest in the detective novels: no appearances on fan site podcasts, no call-ins or interviews with Potter Pundits as the Presence did for the last three Harry books, and no contests or incentives aimed at Harry Potter readers to foster Strike sales and interest. The only explanation I can come up with is baseless speculation about Rowling wanting to compartmentalize her writing life into ‘Harry Potter author’ and ‘Robert Galbraith.’

I find that pretty weak beer when her desire to maximize earnings for Volant and Lumos is so obvious. Why neglect Potter fandom, a loyal and proven audience for her work, but do the usual round of interviews — BBC, NPR, the big morning shows in the US, Oprah… — to the general public who will have little interest in picking up the Strike story this far into a series. She’s leaving millions on the table because she still wants Robert Galbraith’s novels’s success to be attributed to anything but holdover Potter Mania?

I’m not buying it, but I will be first in line to buy my copy of Lethal White on 18 September. Let me know what you think are the reasons Lethal White isn’t selling great guns a little over a week before publication!


  1. Michael Brett Fish posted these thoughts this morning on the HogPro Facebook page:

    I follow the box office closely with each new release, and sometimes you can predict the potential success or failure of a film by scouting your theatre on opening night. It’s not an exact science, but mere common sense.

    I’ve struggled since 2013 to get my Potterhead friends to read Strike. There’s no urgency. Most of the time I have to explain that it’s actually Rowling!

    I think it’s possible that Strike has flown completely and utterly under the radar in the US, and rather than generate hype with a great novel like Career of Evil, hype has managed to decrease.

    I’m weighing all of the factors… I think continuing to work in the Wizarding World draws the attention of popular fans that still keep up. It’s been 3 years since Career of Evil. In that time we’ve got Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, the Harry Potter merchandise revolution, and now a second Fantastic Beasts. Strike has never been associated with this movement.

    When you walk into BAM or B&N and see the giant Harry Potter displays, you’ll find Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts~ But Strike is relegated to the mystery section with no fanfare. I know they’re not supposed to be together, but marketing could have generated more creative ways to link the two. Perhaps a J.K. Rowling section, rather than a Wizarding World section?

    I think, by actively keeping her personas separate, Rowling genuinely managed to pull off a series without the fanfare. Maybe that’s what she wanted. Marketing teams working with Strike materials certainly seem to be acting as if they have their hands tied behind their back.

  2. There is another possibility for why Rowling insists on compartmentalizing her Wizarding World and Galbraith promotional efforts.

    Reverse thinking effect to cause, we see that, from the pseudonym to the ho-hum marketing efforts (the one hand tied noted by Brett), there is a disconnect between the very successful and, relatively speaking, middling sales of Potter producrs and Strike novels. Rather than wonder, “What are they thinking?” why not ask, “Is that what the author insists on?” and then reflect on why she would want this.

    The almost obvious answer is the idea that the Strike books are running in parallel and as commentary on the Hogwarts Saga equivalent numbers — and that Rowling wants to maintain this as a secret for as long as possible. Which secret would be blown if the Cormoran novels are put iunder the fandom microscope as the Potter books were and everything Fantastic Beasts is today.

    Or is there a more obvious or compelling answer? As I wrote, I find the idea that OCD JKR just wants to keep her “real writing” separate from her charity-legacy money making efforts (read that “Wizarding World fandom exploitation on stage and screen”) a step too far. If there’s money to be made for Lumos and Volant, I think she’ll go there — and the neglect of her Potter reading audience in the promotion of her Strike series is as mysterious as anything the Doom Bar Detective investigates. If you have a better answer than the Parallel Series theory, I’d love to hear it!

  3. Mr. Granger,

    There is one other possibility, and this one is a bit more awkward and problematic. In this scenario, Ms. Rowling is simply a victim of the showbiz industry. In other words, it could be that the publishers themselves are determining which of her works gets more notoriety, without even making the effort to try and test out whether these books can be just as good as “Potter”.

    This scenario also posits not only that this turn of events may be a representative of bigger problems in the publishing world at large. It should be no secret that the world of bookselling has now been conglomerated with the larger Entertainment Industry as a whole. The trouble is I wonder if the lack of both marketing enthusiasm, as well as a dearth of any genuine creative output from new and aspiring talent, might be a sign of just how much trouble the entire industry is.

    To give some further examples. Much digital ink has been spilled here about the empty and exploitative nature of “The Cursed Child”. Perhaps this pastiche can take on a bigger meaning if we look at it as part of a larger pattern.

    I’ve been noticing a trend lately where a lot of the big, legendary artists are all going back and revisiting there most famous works. Examples include Harper Lee with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Stephen King with a sequel to “The Shining”, and the most notorious is what Disney has been up to with “Star Wars”. The results in all of these cases has been mediocre at best.

    My thought is to wonder whether each of these artists have been simply forced into these straits due to the financial troubles the entertainment industry might be enduring. If any industry begins to suffer on an economic level, then sooner or later that’s going to hit the pocket books of the employees. This is different from any law of diminishing returns. I’m talking about a potential full on financial crisis that is happening, and that fans aren’t being told about. This would mean that studios and publishers are desperate enough to the point where they are willing to risk the future of their most successful properties just to make ends meet. The trouble is this doesn’t even work as a band-aid.

    In this scenario, “Harry Potter” is viewed by executives as a necessary “Tent-pole” that has to be propped up at all cost (or at least until every last possible dollar is wrung dry from it, and the books becoming unprofitable). A work like the “Strike Mysteries” is viewed as a “tadpole” which is treated as secondary to keeping the industry afloat.

    To be fair, I don’t even know how this all sounds. It’s just that I keep seeing a bunch of choices made on the Entertainment front that make me wonder if all of this is one ongoing example of executive desperation, rather than any genuine creative drive.
    At least there’s one way of looking at it, anyway.

  4. Note, though, that Lethal White is the readers’ most anticipated work by a large margin: Readers Choice on Goodreads

    And that Goodreads leads with Lethal White on their September series releases page.

  5. roo3story says

    I am a Harry Potter reader from a more recent time. I found an episode of the UK television show of Cormoran Strike on Bitchute and was reminded of having read Career of Evil–a book in the Relax and Read section of a university library which buys mostly popular writers to put on its very small shelf. Between my interest in how words work and my intrigue at the relationship between Strike and Robin onscreen and in the books, I’ve gotten hooked on the books and the series.

    I don’t care about marketing. I wish JK Rowling well with this series.

    Thank you.


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